In this series of articles we will start with one of the most versatile, effective, and deadly lures in the world, the bucktail. The bucktail is probably the most widely used lure in the world. There are many variations on the theme but it all comes down to deer hair tied to a hook with or without a lead head of all different shapes, colours and sizes. There are some fancy elaborate colourful ones, raggedy ugly ones and even slick flashy ones and they all work just as good as the other! They lend themselves nicely to the Jones Beach surf just as well as any other place you would fish them on earth and when fished proper, a .99 cents hand tied bucktail will out fish the most craft-fully made elaborate plugs. Toss them in the currents of the inlet, white wash of the surf, or deep holes of the coves, there will always be a bucktail for the job, so keep a nice variety in your bag. This article is focused on fishing them from the Jones Beach surf. Keep in mind there are many other ways to present them from boats and such as well.
The hardest part of bucktailing is choosing the right one to toss. I have a wide range I have used from popeye's, smilling bill's, beanhead's, spro's, bannahead's, flathead's, roadrunner's (gotta love the names of them) and many more but the main thing and number one secret to fishing bucktails from the surf is to make sure you have just enough weight to tap bottom, however the bucktail should not stay on the bottom. It is a touch and feel you will have to develop with practice. There are several dynamics you should consider when choosing the proper bucktail and it will all come down to two, weight and color. Weight I mentioned first, as it is thee most single important aspect of choosing the right bucktail. You are far better using an off colour and using proper weighted bucktail for your particular fishing condition because you want it to look natural and be in position. The second most important factor is colour. This solely will bring a little more interest to your offering only after your bucktail looks natural and is wallowing in the water just right because you picked the proper weight. Do you see why weight should be considered the prime importance at this point? The final aspect should be the shape of your bucktail, but keep in mind the shape is related to weight. In other words the shape will alter how your bucktail acts and drops in a set of conditions but it is ultimately related to shape so you can get the same effect using different lead-head shapes of different weights. Don't worry too much about the size of your hook. You can be any where from 2/0 and 8/0, I like the 5/0-7/0 range just make sure it is matched and balanced with your head. So if you are on a limited budget buy a good range of weights of the same style rather then different styles and colours to experiment with. That being said the number one aspect when choosing your bucktail will be the weight of your bucktaill, second comes colour, and third will be shape. The way your bucktail plays in the surf will be its shape, but the proper weight will make it look natural, give it action and keep it where you want it and it is the colour that seals the deal.
You may ask your self where is the best place, time or conditions to fish a bucktail? And honestly I would have to say all! You can use them night or day, windy or calm days, ripping currents or calm coves, big or small surf, jetty or pier and everything in between. You really can use then any time place or day. Now I will try to drill why weight is so important in the effectiveness of your bucktail and the key thing is to feel just that little sweet tap on the bottom in a particular set of conditions. First well start with the an easy back bay or cove spot with little or no current, almost lake like conditions. In that situation your probably gonna wanna toss something a little lite sided because you should get a straight dropping effect and you wanna slow that down. In fact if its so calm when you hit bottom your bucktails gonna stay there. Something lite will give you a nice slow drop you need. You can give little twitches or just twitches of the wrist to keep you off the bottom and that tap should be really lite to the point you almost have to concentrate to feel it. Think of that tap as the surf talking to you, its saying "hey your a'ok" every time you feel it, as it is a soft subtle feeling. If all your feeling is bottom when you reeling and working your bucktail in think of it as the surfs yelling at you to "get your dang bucktail off me" because its a loud strong sensation. Keep in mind the fish may be suspended and some where in the middle of the water column. Generally you will find the fluke fishing on the bottom (but they will swim up), blues all in between and bass start fishing from the bottom to top of the water column. So do not pass up fishing your bucktail up off the bottom. When I fish the middle column of water I try to imagine where my lure is in the middle where i want it and try to keep it as if i was tapping it on bottom. However I would say about 90% of the time I am fishing the bottom area of the water column. The big thing you want to remember when fishing calm covey areas is to fish less weight in shallow water and more weight in deeper water but use just a good amount of weight so you wait on the drop. Second condition you will find yourself throwing bucktails is going to be in heavier currents of inlets. Much the same theory as fishing in covers about feeling the bottom when you start fishing and keeping your bucktail tap'y and near the bottom. However the big difference is going to be the current. You really wanna sweep your bucktail in a big range of water by casting to about the 10:00 O’clock position and let the current sweep it to the 2:00 O’clock position. If you can get a wider more effective range that is terrific! But start with the 10 to 2 on the bottom doing the tap thing then if nothing is happening you can try higher up in the water column. Again I fish the whole water column but probably do 90% of my fishing on the bottom as it hold the most structure I assume fish hang around. Again make sure you use just enough weight to feel that tap and a rise on retrieve. If you don't feel bottom go heavier, if all you feel is bottom go lighter, that is the key, you will get the most action from your bucktail from top to bottom as long as you initially just feel that sweet tap, remember how the surf talks to you? The third and final scenario is the open beach surf and you guessed it make sure you just get that tap nothing more nothing less and listing to the oceans bottom talk to you through your lure. The tap on the sand may not be as pronounced as it will be on a rocky bottom but make sure you are not dragging your bucktail through the sand even though you may hit fish fishing like this it is not the most effective method. You want to fish your bucktail slow through the inside of the bar, outer bar - if you can get to it, twitching through the trough and slowly up through the lip. Let the raging surf add to its action rather then take. Reading and fishing effective zones on the surf is a chapter in itself we will get through that material in a separate article soon. I like to fish what I call a two three action with twitches in between. I take two fast cranks pause and twitch then three fast cranks pause twitch and back. Try all different variations on the theme as i do. Some days you will find it will trigger strikes in certain crank-twitch combos exclusively. Again the most important aspect of your bucktail will be its weight as it will impart its action on your retrieve.
Bucktails come in a variety of colours which can make it seem so confusing when purchasing them. If you can only stick to one colour go with the white or white with red stripe. If your gonna stock up try the yellows, chartreuse, reds and black. They are all effective colours but I like to only stick to two colours, the white and the black bucktails. First because if your carrying different sizes in all different colours your bag fills up quick! And second they are the only two colours you need. Go with the white bucktails during daytime and/or clear water conditions or start with the black at nighttime and/or murky water. Actually I have found the black to be highly effective as well in the day as it is in night and at times of the year is my number one go to colour. The darker reds should have the same effect but I like to keep one just to keep my baggage to a minimum.
One of the fun parts of fishing the bucktail is the trailer. There are so many kind you can use from fresh pork to hard plastics and everything in between. It will change the colour profile, add or remove buoyancy, add a little taste and scent, and it may just be that edge you need to entice a fish to strike. Keep in mind the trailer will alter the dropping rate and action of your bucktail so pay attention to this as you work your lure. The most common trailer you will see around the surf at Jones Beach will be the Uncle Josh pork strips. Every other angler is carrying a jar and most likely red. Red is a good colour to add to your bucktail and if I am going to be carrying a jar of the stuff I would pick red too but I am sure the yellow's and white's are just as good. The nice thing about the Uncle Josh is it is tough and lasts trip after trip even between heavy beating's from bluefish. Strippers seem to love it and fluke will grab it eagerly as well. You can try cutting your Uncle Josh strip in half horizontally too, it will stretch them out and I personally believe the thinner strip will give the trailer a more natural action. Another trailer but not so common on the surf is the curly tail grubs. You can try 3" to 6" ones, fat and skinny. They give a nice wiggly appearance with a slow steady retrieve. The nice thing about the curly tail grubs is that they are easy to carry and you can keep a handful in you bag and forget about them with no messy liquids to worry about. The new Gulp baits by Berkley have proven deadly and work great with a bucktail, I recently taken a preference to the 5" jerk shads as a trailer over many other trailers. The Gulp adds scent in the addition of profile and action a combo you can't beat. If I have a filet knife handy I will sometimes add strip baits to my bucktails. You can try sea robin, bluefish, bunker, squid or even clam as a trailer. One thing I like to do when fishing strips is to fish them really slow, so slow feels like you ain't fishing right and I have caught many bigger fish this way. The down side to the strips is that they are messy and time consuming so I generally stay away from strips unless I know for sure the fish really want that extra bait that day. You will be able to gauge if they are taking bait or not because the bait fisherman will be racking up. You can also use any live bait such as killie's, spearing, sandworm's, bloodworm's, and peanut's. The live bait is great for the weakfish, keep a cast net handy fill a pail up and use the liveliest ones and keep them lively and fresh. Some other things you can use as a trailer are tubes, all soft plastic baits like worms, lizards, and rubber shads. It's a good way to use up that old plastic bait assortment you had laying around for years.
The cool thing about the bucktail if you have not noticed already is that you can easily customize them just the way you need them. You can start with trimming the hair down short. That will give you a bucktail that casts like a bullet and sinks like a rock when needed. Keep in mind if you add a big long trailer you may defeat the purpose of trimming a bucktail down because the trailer may act like a kite in the wind and slow its drop. On the flip side you can tie extra hair to a bucktail to slow its drop. A big bushy bucktail with the right material and a floatant commonly used by fly fisherman added to the hair may even make your bucktail float in the surf! You can add some flash, paint the heads all different colours, add eyes and even shave some lead off to lighten them up and alter action. There are a wide range of possibilities and imagination is your only limit when it comes to customizing your bucktail.
Keep in mind there are plenty of other ways to fish a bucktail and here are some other things to ponder. If you see someone is fishing a bucktail while you are and he is catching all the fish and you haven’t had a bite alll day, it is not because of the type of bucktail you are throwing, it is most likely he is fishing the proper weight. You need to go heavy or lighter with your bucktail. If your bucktails are identical but different colours, he's picked the right colour but this is seldom the case. If the fish are weary and you know the fish are there try to go super light, or even go to a fly or try a teaser. Fish will strike a teaser sometimes out of annoyance and technically a teaser is a bucktail, is a streamer, and a fly. If the fish are suspending and off the bottom stick with a lighter bucktail it will keep you higher in the water column and give you more time to work it through the fish. For fast schooling fish feeding frenzy’s like bluefish or aggressive strippers throw a much heavier bucktail and rip it fast with slight pause in between your retrieve when the fish are chasing bait down. If there is one thing you come out with after reading this article please remember, there are so many variations on the theme with different shapes, colours and sizes but in my opinion there are two factors which matter most, the weight and colour of your bucktail. And finally I saved the best for last, try a teaser bucktail combo. It is one of the most effective rigs in the Jones Beach surf which won't disappoint you.