April 01, 2023
This time of year, high-school sports phenom Jimmy Dance usually mixes in some spring turkey hunting for a break from his off-season work to become the greatest quarterback of all time.
In the veritable heart of SEC football country, the Florida Panhandle teen, now a senior, would normally be focused on spring practice for his high school team, with athletic expectations so high that fans from Jacksonville, Mobile and even Valdosta would line the practice field to see what was so special, then wonder if he was going to choose their favorite school and win a national championship. Big-name coaches would show up, too, all wondering the same thing.
A can't-miss star-in-the-making who received his first college offer in middle school as an AF Day School seventh-grader because he could already run a 4.5 40 and throw the pigskin 75 yards, Dance was going to change the game, and perhaps even bring peace to the world, too.
But that's all changed. He's still chasing trophy longbeards this April, but the only "pigskin" he's interested in now are the wild boars that are tearing up agricultural fields just outside of town.
A NEW DANCE WITH STARS
Last April, just before his final spring workouts were to begin, Dance made an announcement that would make Bear Bryant roll over in his grave. In a press conference in the school cafeteria with media from all across the country expecting to hear his college of choice, Dance performed a flea flicker to remember.
Instead of dramatically donning a cap from his college of choice, he pulled out a 7-foot-6 flipping stick and flung a hookless bass jig right into the front shirt pocket of an unsuspecting Sports Illustrated reporter in the back row named Sidd Finch.
"I'm gonna be the next KVD,” Jimmy said, referring to bass-fishing legend Kevin VanDam, who has since announced that 2023 would be his final year of fishing in pro tournaments. "I've decided I really don't want to play football for a living, so I'm retiring from football and going to go bass fishing. I'm much better at that, especially in my Gheenoe."
The announcement went over like a lead balloon for those in attendance at the press conference, including Finch. "That's the most foolish thing I’ve ever heard," said the reporter, who has his own amazing back story from his athletic past. "You must be a dang fool to give up football stardom to chase those little green fish." Even more puzzling to many, Dance said he was exploring a scholarship to fish collegiately, and football would not be his fall-back plan.
A FOOL TO GIVE UP FOOTBALL?
Reporters, including Finch, quickly spread the zany news that many across the Southland thought couldn't possibly be true, that the viral news flash must be some sort of fictional tale born straight out of the late George Plimpton's Out of My League, or something like that. But it was true. Jimmy Dance was going to college to fish for bass, not throw a football. The bass world reacted, too, and by the end of the day, Dance's smartphone was blowing up with sponsorship offers from many of the most popular fishing brands. Pro bass anglers from Alton to Zaldain expressed their opinions, too.
One of bass fishing's all-time best—who asked to remain anonymous for this story—had this to say about the sport he helped revolutionize, with millions in career earnings and incredible fame that even stirred one music star to write a song about him.
"Wow, what can you say?" said the legendary angler and TV star, dancing around his own college football interest with his signature orange-and-white ball cap with a "T" on the forehead. "Bass fishing is a powerful thing, and it has treated me well all these years, so I wish this young man well as he starts to try and live out the dream that Ray Scott created so many years ago. I only wish he doesn’t choose Florida to go to school. There's certainly some great bass fishing a couple of states north of there."
Another one of the sport’s most legendary figures, who lives a good many miles to the west in the heart of the southern Great Plains, is a football fan in his own right, and said he had hoped that Dance would come and play football a few hours north of Dallas.
"So, he's not going to play football for Tennessee, Texas, or Florida?" said the blonde-haired television superstar with an infectious laugh that millions have heard on one of the sport's longest-running TV shows. "Well good, if we can't have him sooner or later, I'm glad he's not going to the school that the other guy you're quoting loves so much. No, seriously, he's really good with a rod and reel, so maybe he'll be kissing bass on TV before long and be well on his way to becoming America's next favorite fisherman."
IT ALL BEGAN THE EVE OF APRIL 1
The fact is Jimmy Dance, who seemed poised to take college football by storm and maybe win a Heisman Trophy, has had bass fishing on his mind for a long time. His father, Ike, said it started when Jimmy was 14 and became intrigued by bass fishing as a sport when one of the nation's big tournament circuits visited a nearby lake. The father and son attended the tournament, and Jimmy met many of the superstars and collected dozens of autographs. It was life-changing. Soon after, Jimmy was watching the pros on TV every week, from networks like Sportsman Channel, Outdoors Channel and MOTV, and started thinking about his own future.
The following spring, Jimmy convinced Ike to enter them in a team bass tournament sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. "I wasn't sure what to think because, honestly, Jimmy had never shown much of an interest in bass fishing, let alone tournament fishing, ever before," Ike said. "If it had been April, I might have thought it was a joke. But it was March, so I said , 'Uh, sure!' and figured he'd forget about it a few days later with April's spring turkey season and spring football practice approaching."
In the tournament on March 31, Jimmy and his dad had a fishing performance for the ages, boating a five-bass limit of local bass that weighed 48 pounds, 9 ounces, and won the tournament by a whopping 27 pounds. That weight total almost seemed like a joke to the other competitors at the weigh-in. As phenomenal as Dance was on the gridiron (he passed for 67 TDs in his seventh-grade season on the AF Day varsity), he was even more of a natural on the water. He bought a Gheenoe, as well as an old Johnson outboard motor, because he thought it looked cool, and then competed, all by himself, in the Southeastern High School Bass Fishing Association. He won every tournament he entered against two-angler teams in much bigger and faster bass boats. Double-digit bass were common in his creel. Eventually, he figured he'd be a fool not to chase little green fish.
And, when he reaches the big time, he says he'll do it only using his Gheenoe and a styrofoam Yeti cooler for a livewell, while replacing his football cleats with flip flops and changing the way the world views tournament fishing.
So, move over KVD, Jimmy Dance is on the way and may be the reel deal, proving that a little foolishness is exactly what the sport needs sometimes.
No matter what's in the future for Jimmy Dance, and other fool-hardy anglers, know that fishing should always be fun, even a little tongue-in-cheek.
After all, it's April Fools Day. Enjoy your own fishing today—and every day, for that matter. Your story may also sound too good to be true.