Fishing The Bucktail by John Skinner - Read Online
Fishing The Bucktail
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Bucktail jigs are often called the world's most versatile lures because they'll catch almost any species of fish and work under a wide variety of conditions. In what is unquestionably the most comprehensive book on bucktailing ever written, expert angler and fishing writer John Skinner brings the reader along on an in-depth look at bucktail techniques and strategies in a variety of settings from surf, boat, and kayak. Ocean beaches, deep rips, shallow inshore waters, and rocky shorelines are among the environments explored in pursuit of striped bass, bluefish, and fluke. Chapters on bucktail jig composition and construction will enable readers to choose, build, and customize jigs for their specific applications. This book is a must read for all anglers who want to take their fishing to the next level

Published: Zeno Hromin on
ISBN: 9781465974501
List price: $9.99
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Fishing The Bucktail - John Skinner

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  An angler who has mastered the bucktail jig is well positioned for fishing success in many different settings. Just about any fish that will strike an artificial will take a bucktail. Equally as important, bucktails catch under a wide variety of conditions. From the pounding surf, to the placid back bays, to the ripping currents of ocean inlets, bucktail jigs can be presented in an effective manner.

  At one level, bucktail fishing is simple. You need only to accomplish the following objective – swim the bucktail near the bottom on a slow to moderate retrieve. Do that in the presence of fish that are willing to feed, and you’ll catch some. It’s conceptually easy, but can be very challenging under many of the conditions we’re faced with in the marine environment. Take an ocean inlet as an example. The bucktail’s weight, bulk, retrieve speed, and cast placement are a subset of the variables involved when trying to achieve the objective. In reality, there’s a very narrow window of doing it right that lies somewhere between having the jig drag ineffectively through the sand, and having it blow by too high in the water column.

  On rocky shorelines you’ll often observe accomplished bucktailers catching fish after fish while less experienced anglers lose their jigs in the rocks. Even on the more forgiving sand beaches it’s not uncommon to see a handful of fishermen hooked up constantly while many others watch in bewilderment or frustration. From my observations, that gap between the catches of the skilled bucktailer and the novice is significantly greater than what is seen when other types of lures are involved. Also, when considering the fish catching ability of bucktails, they’re underutilized by a large number of anglers. Why? I can think of a couple of reasons. They don’t cast far and, when the wrong weight is used, they’re prone to snagging bottom.

  There’s a perception among many surf anglers that good casting distance is vital to success. Bucktails don’t cast very far in comparison to other lures. When an angler who lacks confidence in bucktails switches from something like a tin or an aerodynamic plug to a bucktail, casting distance is probably cut in half. If that jig isn’t grabbed in the first few casts, it often ends up right back in the surf bag, or worse, it’s exchanged for a heavier bucktail that casts further. Over a rocky bottom the result is often a snag followed by a lost jig. The bad experience only adds to the angler’s reluctance to give the bucktail a fair chance.

  I said if you accomplished the objective stated previously in the presence of fish willing to eat, you’d catch some fish. I didn’t say that you will have maximized your fish catching potential, but let’s start with the simple objective and proceed from there. We’ll go on an imaginary trip to several different settings and work through the basics. Then we’ll take it to the next level and look at all of the details, techniques, and strategies that separate those bucktailers who seem to always be hooked up from those who are just scratching the surface of the jig’s productivity. We all probably learn best from experience, so I’ll also draw you into some of my past trips and share strategies that worked for me in various situations. In addition, we’ll move beyond the surf line and look at applying bucktails in different boat and kayak settings. While that may not sound interesting to a surfcaster, I know that some of what has made me a good inlet jetty fisherman came from dragging bucktails through deep water rips on a boat. The transfer of knowledge between boat and surf bucktailing has worked both ways for me in that I’m productive casting bucktails from my kayak because I had first mastered using bucktails from the beach.

  Let’s consider a hypothetical day on an ocean sand beach with average surf conditions and get as many of the basics out of the way that we can. Before we even get to the beach, we have to gather some gear together. Let’s start with the jigs. If you walk into a well-stocked tackle shop and look at the bucktail section, you might be faced with a dizzying array of different brands, head styles, colors, and weights. No problem. We’ll cut right through that. If you have nothing else but white bucktails, you’ll be fine. Now for size. Remember, we’re heading to a typical ocean beach. First think about how deep the water is that you’ll be casting into. It’s unlikely to be more than 12 feet deep. You’ll probably be hitting something between 5 and 12 feet. Under reasonable conditions, anything more than 1 ½ ounces is going to be on the bottom with a slow to moderate retrieve. It’s hard to cast anything less than ¾ of an ounce. So there’s your weight range: ¾ to 1 ½ ounces. We’ve just eliminated the biggest mistake I see anglers make with respect to bucktailing – they choose the wrong size and usually err on the side of going too heavy. Head style? The most common all around head is the Smiling Bill, which is a rounded head jig with an open mouth. That’s a fine choice. Brand? If you see Blue Frog fixed hook jigs, those are the ones I’d buy. They have rounded heads similar to those on the Smiling Bill’s, minus the open mouth. Andrus Ripsplitters are good too. Depending on the shop, they might have their own store tied jigs. The people who run these shops are locals who know their stuff, so I’d bet that they make good jigs. In reality, any reasonably tied jig with a strong hook will do.

An Andrus Rip Splitter Smiling Bill and a Blue Frog Fixed Hook with a strip of #50 Uncle Josh pork rind.

  Bucktails are usually fished with something hanging off the back, often referred to as a trailer. A jar of #50 white Uncle Josh pork rind is a good start. If you leave the store with that and 6 jigs, 2 each of ¾, 1, and 1 ½ ounces, you’ll have enough to get started.

  Few lures come out of the package with razor sharp hooks, and bucktails are no exception. Unless you’ve bought one of the few brands of bucktails with chemically sharpened hooks (SPROs are one example), you should use a hook file to sharpen the hooks on your new jigs. I prefer the small hook files made by Luhr Jensen. With the exception of the jigs that I use in ocean inlets, I crush the hook barbs with a pair of pliers. As long as you maintain a bend in the rod, you will never lose a fish because your barb is crushed. You will, however, hook many more fish, and a higher percentage of large fish, because the hook with the crushed barb will penetrate much easier.

  Let’s choose which rod to bring. Do you want to throw lures averaging 1 ounce with an 11-foot surf rod? I don’t, but it’s somewhat of a personal choice. I’ll be using my medium action 9-foot graphite. This is an open sand beach with plenty of room for a big fish to run should we get lucky and tie into a serious cow. Whichever outfit you choose, be sure that it’s spooled with braided line or FireLine, and I’ll elaborate on that later. Thirty-pound-test braid is a good choice for ocean sand beaches. I terminate the line with a roughly 36-inch leader of 50-pound-test fluorocarbon with a quality barrel swivel on one end and a Tactical Anglers clip on the other. These clips are important upgrades of the more traditional Duolock clips that had the vulnerability of opening up with fish on.

  OK, we’re finally on the beach, and there are moderate 3-foot swells coming in on a slight angle from the left, but not much wind to speak of. You see that white water breaking on that bar a little ways down the beach? Let’s head in that direction, but we’ll make some casts along the way. The 1-ounce jig tipped with a strip of pork rind is a good starting point. Cast out as far as you can, aiming slightly to your left in the direction from which the waves are coming. You’re casting slightly to the side to compensate for the little bit of a sweep caused by the swells. By doing this, your jig won’t be way down the beach to your right when it gets near the shore. Start a slow to moderate retrieve as soon as the jig hits the water. A steady retrieve will work, but an occasional lift or twitch is a fine addition. Recall the objective of swimming the bucktail. Note that I wrote swim and not bounce. There are two sets of experiences that reinforce my belief that that the jig should be swimming or gliding along. You can read about some of this in Chapter 10, where I write about drifting bucktails through deep rips from a boat. It’s a method used by many pinhookers (commercial rod and reel fishermen) to load their boats with bass. My other impression has come from scuba diving. I get to observe all sorts of marine life and fish that bass feed on – small bergals, seabass, blackfish, flounder – they all swim or glide along. I’ve yet to see anything bouncing on the bottom, so the mostly steady swimming of the jig is a more natural presentation. The additional twitch or short lift could simulate a baitfish trying to flee, which may trigger a gamefish to strike while it can.

  A nice feature of sandy bottoms is that you don’t have to worry about snagging your jig. If you occasionally swim deep and your jig collides with the little sand waves on the bottom, no problem. It may even be a good thing as sometimes fish might respond to the puffs of sand made by the collision of the jig with the bottom. When I scuba dive, I frequently see small fish move off the bottom in a puff of sand, so this too is quite natural.

  When you’ve swam your jig to just behind the first wave nearest to the shore, pay extra close attention and do your best to keep the jig swimming through the turbulence. Increase your retrieve speed a bit when the bucktail is pushed by a wave, and slow it down when it’s being pulled into the undertow of a receding wave. There’s a narrow trough that runs along the beach behind that first wave and stripers love to swim along it. It’s often referred to as the lip. Maybe you’ve encountered it if you swim at the ocean. That lip is so productive that it’s often worth making diagonal casts along it. If you’re making straight casts and getting bumped in close, then making diagonal casts is even more important. This is when it pays to move to places with fewer anglers where you have the casting room to do this.

  We’re at the bar now, and we can just about reach it. Watch the waves for a bit. Observe their timing. A few seconds before you expect a wave to break, make your cast so that your jig swims below the fleeting white water blanket that is produced by a breaking wave. The blanket will probably last less than 10 seconds, but it’s common for stripers to charge in under those blankets to feed and then retreat quickly to slightly deeper water when the blanket dissipates.

  That’s it. You now have all of the basics you need to effectively bucktail an ocean beach under reasonable conditions. Your white bucktail and pork rind is a properly sized deadly fish producer, and it needs little more from you than to be pulled past the