Tag Archives: Pan fishing

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!)




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


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.

Follow FLY FISHING DOJO on FACEBOOK, please send a friend request on Facebook; see our “Video & Media” Page for more information.

You are also invited to read my martial arts protocol, philosophy and ideology weblog for non-martial artists at WWW.SenseiJohn.Wordpress.Com.



1 May

Di, our dog, Chloe & I arrived at the Boulder Recreation Area of Canyon Lake early the morning of Friday, April 29th anticipating a morning of good fishing, enjoying the natural environment and a quiet day away from work. What we found was an phenomenon that I call “Panfish Party Heat”. The catches (and releases) of feisty, bluegill and crappie was so fulfilling they we were compelled to return on Saturday the 30th. Here is our story experiencing the Panfish Party Heat phenomenon at Canyon Lake.

Day One:

We arrived at Canyon Lake, Boulder Recreation Area around 7:30 in the morning. The plan was to target panfish and search for a few bass. With this in mind, I had taken along two of my oldest (and most treasured) fly rods from my youth. Both rods, purchased over thirty-five years ago, were Fenwick Ferrulite fly rods; one six foot, weighing 2 5/8 ounces I planned to use on the native bluegill and crappie population. The other, an eight foot rod I intended to use for largemouth bass when the opportunity presented itself. Di planned to use a variety of spinners and artificial bait. She also wanted to hone her fly casting skills a bit.

On the six foot fly rod I had tied a tandem of nymphs onto a 7X tippet. The combination of choice was a # 16 rainbow warrior tied behind a # 14 BH bloody mary.  On the eight foot rod I tied a # 14 ju-ju bee nymph tied behind a # 12 BH claret wooly bugger on a 5X tippet.

We began to walk the shoreline and cast to promising locations, rocky drop-offs, reed banks, and the like. Our casts were unanswered. As we walked we came upon the area adjacent to the fishing bridge. Along the shallow rocky ledges which sloped to deep water we immediately noticed several large bass on spawning beds. Coexisting with the bass were several panfish secreting themselves amongst the rocks. We stealthily approached and began to fish in earnest. Though the bass, preoccupied by nature’s urge to spawn, were not interested in my flies, the bluegill and crappie were more than happy to munch on my feathery offerings. These nice-sized panfish simply could not resist the flies. Seeing the urgency with which these panfish gobbled feathery hooks, Di thought it best to stop fishing with spinners and “practice” her fly casting. She was soon into the panfish as well.


We fished for about three more hours along the shoreline within thirty feet of the bridge with consistent results. Each cast produced a steady stream of smiles from Di and I and excited barks from Chloe as she “inspected” each catch before its release.

On a previous outing, Chloe inspects a fish

I was even able to hook-up with a big largemouth that took the claret woolly bugger. As Di was getting the video camera, the big ‘ole bucket-mouth pulled my line into a pile of reeds and submerged tree limbs and was gone. All that remained of my rod-bending, heart-thumping experience was a memory, smile and eight seconds of video – damn good if you are a PBR bull-rider, but not good enough for a fisherman.

On the way home, we mentally checked our schedules for the next day and concluded that, “Yes, there would be time to return again tomorrow morning.”

Day Two:

Knowing that the lake in general, and the area surrounding the fishing bridge in particular, would be more crowded on the weekend, we woke early Saturday morning and were on the lake by seven. We immediately went to the area that was so productive the day before, and looked again into the water. With large anticipatory eyes, we saw – nothing. The bass and panfish were no where to be found. Buoyed by the hope that as the sun continued to rise and warm the water, the fish would again come in to the shallows, we committed our flies to the choppy waters. After two hours and two panfish, we decided it was time for a change.


Like dejected wall flowers returning home from a high school prom, I returned yesterdays productive flies to their home and tied a # 14 BH rooks blueberry nymph behind a # 12 BH sparkle chartreuse wooly bugger on the eight foot rod. On the six foot rod, I tied on a # 14 BH red serendipity nymph behind a # 14 BH hare’s ear nymph. We donned our backpacks and decided to look for deep water. On the far shore across from the fishing bridge is an escarpment that cascades down to a rock ledge. From the ledge, the water plummets straight down to dark murky depths. We felt that in the depths of this cove must dwell our desired quarry; if only we could hike down. We walked up to the road and were able to locate a precarious path down to the rock ledge. We carefully picked our way to the ledge, and set down our packs. I cast the eight foot rod out so the brace of flies fell right next to the reeds and counted to ten so as to allow the beadheads to sink the flies down into the dark waters. Using a twitch and pause retrieve, I pulled the flies back. After no more than a half dozens twitches, the rod bent and a fish was on. But what was it? Surely there were bass in those depths and with the eight foot rod bent and the amount of resistance on the line, it could be a bass. After fighting the fish for a few minutes, slowly raising it from the depths so as not to break the 5X tippet, a palm-plus size crappie broke the surface of the water. The next hour and a half produced reliable catches of crappie and bluegill, all in a respectable size range.


We drove home sated from having partied with so many panfish, desires fulfilled, a few heart-stopping moments, pictures and video and somewhat hung-over from a great two day “Panfish Party” experience in a treasure of nature simply called Canyon Lake.

For your enjoyment, there is a brief companion video called: “Fly Fishing Dojo – Panfish Party At Canyon Lake on you tube. Here is a convenient link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0Fi5JcuJVs

A few words of caution when thinking about hiking down the rocky escarpments of Canyon Lake are appropriate. First and foremost, make sure you are physically fit for the challenge and bear in mind that what looks easy hiking down is a lot harder to hike up. Second, be aware of “inglorious indigent interlopers” that can ruin a fishing trip, to wit: rattle snakes, scorpions, spiders, bees and fire ants to name a few. Lastly, remember the elements. The rock ledge we fished from was totally exposed to the sun (temperatures were “only” about 85, with a uv index of about 10). Make sure you have water,snack items, sun-block (we even wore uv protection clothing) and more water. Also, please clean-up after your visit; hike it in, hike it out.

Until the next cast, I remain,

Sensei John

You can find FLY FISHING DOJO on FACEBOOK, and send a friend request; see the “Video & Media” page for more information.

Please feel free to “window shop” our unique logo products by clicking on the “SHOP” page tab above. You may also find discounted items on E-Bay by searching “Fly Fishing Dojo.

You are also invited to read my martial arts protocol, philosophy and ideology weblog for non-martial artists at WWW.SenseiJohn.Wordpress.Com.

A Small Brook, Connecticut – 1971

28 Jul

1971 was an interesting year for me. It would be the year, that at age 10, I would start two activities that would remain with me until this very day. The first was fly-fishing. The second was Karate-Do.

The fateful day that marked the beginning of my fly-fishing journey started less than promising. My family and I were scheduled to drive three and a half hours from our home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey to visit some distant relative, a cousin of my Mother’s, at their farm in Connecticut. Like I said, not a promising day. Naturally, at the age of ten, I was irritated at the prospect of wasting a summer day traveling to see relatives that I would never see again.

I endured the entire road trip in silence. After an eternity passed, we finally pulled into the dirt driveway that led to the relatives farm. I met my distant relatives and underwent the obligatory tour of the farm. After the farm tour, my mother desired to catch-up with her relatives. My father asked my brother and I if we wanted to go fishing at a nearby brook. My brother and I had been fishing with my father many times before. We jumped at the chance of once again fishing; even though it meant we would not hear the harrowing tale of my mother’s second cousin (once removed) and the goiter on her neck.

In a few minutes we were at the brook. My brother and I hooked up our poles and began to dig for worms to use as bait. We found enough to keep us fishing for a while, baited our hooks and began to fish. As I fished, I noticed my father had waded into the brook and was doing something I never saw him do before. He was not casting a worm like my brother and I were doing. I could not see a worm on the end of his hook. In fact, I could barely see anything at all attacked to his line. He would not cast with one swing of his arm. Rather, he would swing his rod back and forth a few times and let his line settle on the water so that it drifted a bit and repeat the process. I was mesmerized. I thought, “What the Hell was my old man doing?” Then it happened. I saw him lift his rod up. The rod bent against the strain of something attached to the end of the line. My father did not reel in the fish. Instead he “played” the fish with his left hand using the slack line that fell from his reel. Just then a fish, a beautifully rainbow colored sleek fish had jumped from the water. Upon seeing that fish, momentarily suspended and shining in the sunlight, the words “Holy crap!” escaped my mouth.

After a few more minutes passed, my father gathered the fish into his net and showed my brother and I his prize. It was the first time I saw a rainbow trout and it was glorious. I asked my father what he was doing and he said “Fly-fishing”. Since I was “old enough” he asked me if I wanted to try. I took hold of the fly rod. It seemed as tall as a tree. I swung it furiously back and forth like my father did. While my father’s casting was graceful, my first attempt was spasmodic at best. With practice, I was able to cast a long distance of about eight feet. But, it was enough. I hooked my own prize, my trophy. I had captured my quarry. It was a magnificent five inch bluegill. A wondrous moment. That little fish had answered the twitching, jerking, spasmodic call of my casting a delicate fly. It had invaded my mind. I myself was hooked on fly-fishing.

Needless to say, the ride home was more joyous than the ride to the farm. In two weeks, my father took me to the local Two Guys (a now defunct department store) and for the extravagant price of $ 9.99 I secured my own South Bend Junior Fly Rod and Reel Combo (line, leader and three of the “Guaranteed” World’s Best fishing flies included). Two months later, after a weekend of fly fishing, my father took me to the door of Sensei Thomas DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo in Palisades Park, New Jersey. The year 1971 was to be a remarkable year in my life.

This Blogsite will continue to explore the symbiotic relationship between martial arts physical techniques, protocols and states of mind and the enjoyment of fly-fishing and the natural environment.

Young (one day Sensei) John’s Equipment Inventory:

Rod, Reel, Line: Unknown – borrowed from my father

Flies used: something with a hook and fur in a fly pattern called “Just cast the damn thing already”

Sensei John

Please feel free to view my other blog dedicated to exploring martial arts ideology and concepts as they can be applied to daily life. You may visit the blog at WWW.SenseiJohn.Wordpress.Com.

%d bloggers like this: