Bill Dance And A Giant Memphis Swimming Pool Full Of Fish (Guest Post)
Ed. Note: I’m happy to bring you this guest post from Memphian Joe Sills about the Kids Katch fishing event at Mud Island River Park this past weekend. At the end of the post, I have more info about Mud Island.
Every spring for the past seven years, Memphis has drained the Gulf of Mexico.
Not the literal Gulf of Mexico—the scale version that ebbs daily at the tip of Mud Island. The acre-sized chlorinated pool is mostly home to sun-soaked tourists and the occasional swan-shaped paddle boat, but this weekend, it was home to 1,500 pounds of catfish, 175 kids and a famous fisherman in a Tennessee hat.
On Saturday, the fish, kids and legendary Memphis-based fisherman Bill Dance converged on Mud Island River Park for their annual Kids Katch Youth Fishing Experience, an event that saw hundreds of fish taken from the riverfront swimming pool hooked in just three hours.
“One kid caught 53 fish,” said Kids Katch emcee Bill Dance, the renowned angler and television host who’s regarded as one of the top five fishermen of all time. “We watched some of these kids catch their very first fish, and that’s a special thing. To watch the grin and excitement when they jump up and down and scream and holler, it means a lot.”
Dance said kids came not only from Memphis, but also from as far away as Caruthersville, Missouri and Oxford, Mississippi to cast a line at Mud Island. “The fish come from catfish farms,” he said. “The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) donates some and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) buys some. A lot of people take theirs home, but the ones that aren’t taken are released into the Wolf River Harbor.”
The fish are common channel catfish—Mid-South natives—and thanks to a partnership between Bass Pro Shops, TWRA and the RDC, they inhabit Mud Island River Park for a few days each spring.
“The water is typically chlorinated to keep the algae down, and because we have so many kids that end up wading in it,” noted RDC President Benny Lendermon. “In the springtime, we empty it out once and fill it with non-chlorinated water. That’s why there’s not fishing there all of the time.”
For Dance, who’s made a career catching fish and falling off of docks around the world, helping kids fish in his hometown is a special treat. “I was fortunate to have a daddy and a granddaddy that gave me the greatest gift of all in introducing me to fishing, and I can’t tell you how many families came up and thanked us on Saturday. When little bitty kids come up and thank you, it’s a great feeling.”
He’s emceed the event since its inception. When asked whether he’d trade his signature-UT hat for a Grizzlies cap at the event next year, he opted out. “I watch the Grizzlies and I pull for the Grizzlies. Jerry West and I fished together when he was here and we were good buddies, but I love college football and I love fishing more than that.”
So it was that on a picturesque Saturday under the shadow of the Pyramid, that Dance helped bestow love for his greatest love to another generation of kids. And he did it in a most unlikely spot—a (usually) fish-free swimming pool in downtown Memphis.
About The Author
Joe Sills is an outdoor writer based in Memphis. He’s the Digital Editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer and a contributor to Bassmaster.com and Bass Quest Magazine. You can find him chasing the ghost of Hemingway on Instagram and the ghosts of Memphis at Earnestine & Hazel’s.
More thoughts from Holly:
The Mud Island River Park’s Riverwalk is a to-scale model of the lower half of the Mississippi River (it’s #8 on the list of reasons to love Memphis, and featured one of the first posts ever on this blog). The park is free if you walk across the pedestrian bridge; it’s $4 if you take the monorail. It’s open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the operating season (usually April through October).
Upcoming events at Mud Island River Park: include the Duncan Williams Dragon Boat Races, a Widespread Panic concert on June 18, and the Alabama Shakes concert on July 15. More details here.
Mud Island River Park
125 N. Front Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38103