Tag Archives: Miyamoto Musashi

BLUEGILL TO BASS – A Martial Arts Based Fishing Strategy

21 Sep

I thoroughly enjoy fishing for a variety of species of fish. In my opinion, the freshwater king of the hot, hazy, humid, dry and long summer is the largemouth bass. I whole heartedly enjoy pursuing this prize fighter of fresh water lakes, rivers and streams. For a brief time I was also a competitive bass fisherman. I often fished in the now defunct Bassin’ America Tournament Circuit on the east coast.

Here in Arizona summer is a brutal, challenging season. Fishing provides a respite from the dry heat of the arid desert known as “The Valley Of The Sun.”  It is a great pleasure to fish in the early hours as the sun rises over your favorite water and the temperatures are “only” in the ninety degree range. While being on-the-water, in nature provides a welcome diversion from the heat, it does not provide a guarantee of success on the water. Bass can be especially finicky at such times. To add to the frustration of casting spurned flies to these finicky bass is the fact that you can often see them cruising in the shallows. After observing the behavior of these fish, especially their aggressive and territorial nature, I devised a strategy for fly fishing for them. “Bluegill To Bass” is a fly fishing strategy that I employ on days when you can usually see bass but catching them is slow. This strategy will apply to fish of any species that are categorized by a symbiotic relationship of predator and prey. Further, while my “Bluegill To Bass” strategy is discussed in terms of fly fishing from the shoreline, with a little imagination, it can be applied to casting artificial lures from either the shoreline or a bass boat. It can even be extended to saltwater fishing and any other fishing that involves an aggressive or territorial predator fish in search of prey.

The “Bluegill to Bass” strategy finds its roots in the ideology of the martial arts. In a famous work entitled Go Rin No Sho (A Book Of Five Rings) the legendary sword master, Miyamoto Musashi defines and analyzes the strategy of the sword.

Miyamoto Mushashi, "Ken-Sei", "Sword-Saint"

His strategic analysis is a defining work of martial arts strategy and ideology. The strategies of Musashi have been extended into ventures that transcend the martial arts, including sports and business. Now, it can be used to apply to specific instances of fishing. In fact, one such strategy described by Musashi is the cornerstone of the Bluegill To Bass strategy for fly fishing for bass.

Musashi described a strategy he termed “To Move The Shade.” “To move the shade”, in the martial arts genre, is used when you cannot see the enemy’s spirit. In single combat this means that when the enemy takes up a position so that you cannot see his intent, you make a feint attack, and the enemy will show his spirit thinking he has seen yours. (See Endnote # 1).

I extended the strategy of “To move the shade” to fly fishing for bass. This strategy is used when you can see fish that the bass prey on or otherwise exhibit aggressive behavior towards, namely panfish and specifically, bluegill. You may or may not necessarily see bass when you begin to fish; however, employing this strategy is meant to flush out bass by targeting and tempting their predatory, territorial and aggressive instincts. The targeting of the prey species represents the feint attack described by Musashi. This feint is meant to draw out the hiding predator (the “hidden spirit” in Musashi’s description). Since I use this strategy to target the prey species, the bluegill, with the hope of drawing out the predator species of bass, I call this application of Musashi’s “To Move The Shade”, the “Bluegill To Bass” strategy.

Before employing this strategy on your favorite water, you will need a little advance preparation. I prepare two fly rods that I will use during my bass fishing. The first fly rod is used to target the prey species, in this case panfish. To this end, I prefer an ultra-light fly rod in the six to seven foot range, a four weight floating line and usually a nine foot leader ending in a 6X tippet. Unless there is an indication of dry fly action on the water, I start by fishing with two subsurface flies, tied in-line, one about 5 inches behind the other. For the head fly, I favor a small streamer or larger nymph, usually about size 10 or 12. For the tail fly, I favor a small nymph or wet fly in the size range of size 14 to 18. This light weight outfit makes catching the panfish fun and enjoyable. It is the actual hooking and catching of the prey species that acts as a catalyst to catching the predator species of largemouth bass.

My second fly rod is ready and rigged to target the bass. I prefer a larger, longer fly rod; usually an eight or nine foot fly rod with a six weight floating fly line, seven and a half foot leader with a 4X tippet. Again, unless there is an indication of dry fly action, I will have two sub-surface flies tied onto leader. For the head fly, I prefer a big, usually “flashy” streamer or even a salt water fly. This fly should resemble the prey species as much as possible. The tail fly is streamer, wet fly or nymph in a size range of size 10 to size 16. While targeting the predator species of bass, these flies will continue to interest the prey species. Thus, bluegill may still pursue these flies. In the midst of the bluegill’s interest in the pair of flies, the bass may be lured out from its cover to pursue the flies. The head fly is meant to target the bass’ desire to pursue the prey species and the tail fly is what I call a second-chance fly. In the event the bass misses or turns away from the head fly, it may be interested in the tail fly.

The above tackle is what I prefer when I fish for largemouth bass using this strategy. Again, depending upon the species of predator and prey fish you are targeting, you should adjust your specific tackle accordingly.

Once “on-the-water”, the “bluegill to bass” strategy begins like so many other fishing strategies; to wit: working water quickly and efficiently to locate and catch fish. I employ this strategy while walking a shoreline casting flies in areas that I know from experience to be productive or casting flies in the most productive looking water (on water that I have not fished before). The point of departure from other strategies to find fish is that in the bluegill to bass strategy, during this exploratory phase, I am specifically targeting prey species while looking for lurking predators. When hoping to catch and release a few bass, my initial target species are panfish, bluegill, crappie and the like. I use my most productive fly patterns to target these fish as a means of luring and seducing a predatory or territorial bass from its safe and secure hiding place. Naturally, I am excited to catch and release a few of the larger members of the species; however, with each hook-up, I purposefully play the fish so as to infuse its immediate environment with the”tension of being hooked.” I pay particular attention to the water so as to be able to see any quick rush, turn or other sign of a bass that is attracted to the tension of the hooked prey fish.

In the event that a bass makes its presence known, I immediately land and release the prey fish in a manner so as not to disturb the immediate environment. I then pick-up my bass fly rod and cast my bass flies into the tension-filled water in the hopes that the bass will still be excited so as to strike. More often than not, the bass is excited by the tension in the water and can be induced to strike. I find that you can usually cast two to three times during this phase of excitement. Once the tension dissipates, the bass may once again return to its lair. If so, then I once again change fly rods in favor of the lighter rod and again begin to target the bluegills. Once I feel that the potential of a particular section of water has diminished and is exhausted; usually indicated by fewer catches of the prey species (the bluegill), then I move on to another stretch of water.

Here is a “Rogues Gallery” of bucket-mouths caught using my “Bluegill To Bass” strategy.

The PREY (including a Double!)

      

The PREDATOR:

      

If you find yourself fishing for a predatory species during the “dog days of summer” with less than favorable results, then remember the sword master Miyamoto Musashi. Try the strategy of “To move the Shade” and target the prey species. Do not simply locate the prey and hope that a predator is lurking near by. Affirmatively fish for the prey species and hook a few. The tension of a fish trying to escape the taste of a hook in it’s mouth may sufficiently infuse the water with sufficient energy and excitement to spark the interest of  the predator species. If so, land and release the prey and immediately target the aroused predator. You may just be surprised at the results. At the least, you should have a fund day on the water catching and releasing a species that would otherwise be dinner for a larger, more aggressive and hungrier fish.

For your viewing pleasure, there are links to several bass & panfishing videos on the “VIDEO & MEDIA” page tab above.

Until the next article, I remain, “moving the shade”,

Sensei John

ENDNOTES:

1. Musashi, Miyamoto, Go Rin No Sho (A Book Of Five Rings), Translated by Victor Harris, (The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY 1974) p. 76.

Sensei John is available for lectures on the interrelationship of fly fishing and martial arts protocol, ideology and philosophy. Please see the “LECTURES & LESSONS” Page tab above for more information.

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