I’ve often said that if I had to pick one piece of tackle to catch one fish on any given day, that piece of tackle would have to be a bucktail. An important key to successful fishing is trusting your bait. Ever since my first striper on a bucktail I’ve slowly built a trust in it. The bucktail and I go back to my days in California in the early eighties fishing the headwaters of the California Aquaduct. When water was released from the many locks of the Aquaduct the stripers would move to the headwaters. I was strictly a cut-bait fisherman at the time. Cut-baiting has it’s place, but slinging a half cut anchovie into swift current wasn’t a very successful way to target stripers in the Aquaduct. One afternoon while cut bait fishing near a headwater gate, an old man pulled up and as I watched, he began casting a jig into the headwaters of a half opened lock. Within minutes he was bringing in a nice 5 pounder. I walked over and looked at his bait of choice and found that it was about a 2 ounce chipmonk bucktail. Needless to say, within a week I was back out there chunking a bucktail on my spinning gear.
I caught my first bucktail striper in that aquaduct and started using it in more striper lakes. I discovered that the bucktail worked well for casting to a single breaking fish or casting into a school of feeding stripers. I used my bucktail at Lake Mead in Nevada combat sight fishing schools under birds. I even used the bucktail in the upper Klamoth River in Ore for trophy trout. It came along with me to the fertile marshes of Louisiana for redfish and speckled trout. If you look at my boat today, you’ll see a spinning rod with a bucktail tied on just waiting to catch the next breaking or feeding fish.
One of the reasons the bucktail has been a successful bait for me is that I trust it to get the job done. If I’m casting to a single breaking fish with my bucktail, my strategy is to trick the fish into thinking the bucktail is the fleeing bait the fish is after. The easiest way to accomplish this is to cast the jig well past the fish and then quickly retrieve the jig into the zone the fish is in. A lot of times the fish will strike out at the jig thinking it’s the bait he’s after. Timing is key to this strategy. You have to get the bait to the fish when he’s what I call “lit up”, or in the feeding mode. For a group or school of feeding fish the success rate for the bucktail goes up and timing is less critical. In the case of a feeding school, the water around the school is generally chaotic with fleeing bait fish. By burning the bucktail through the feeding area, the bucktail immulates another fleeing bait. It’s just a matter of one of the feeding fish being fooled by the bucktail.
With fall right around the corner, it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing surfacing fish feeding on schools of bait. This is the perfect time to keep a bucktail tied on and ready to go. Just remember to try and emulate the fleeing bait and above all, trust your bucktail.