Bucktails by James Smith
Take a look in your tackle box and check out your selection of bucktails. Nearly 50% of muskies caught are caught on a bucktail. The term “bucktail” today is generic as applied to this lure type, but it was the early day deer dressing used almost exclusively in the post chicken feather era. An in-line bucktail is one in which the blade, skirt and hook(s) are on the same piece of straight wire (shaft) all in a line. The skirt gives the illusion of a fish “puffing” up as it swims. Blades are the main ingredient in the selection of which bucktail to use. Different shaped blades will cause variations in the vibrations that are sent through the water to attract the fish.
The Colorado blade creates “lift” and is the blade of choice when the angler wishes to keep his bucktail close to the surface. It is especially effective for use of the technique called “bulging,” which means keeping it just under the surface without breaking and creating a rise or “bulge” in the water behind the lure.
Willow leaf blades are used more for obtaining depth during the retrieve, blade thickness will add to or subtract from depth. In addition, willow leaf blades will run better through weeds. The blade rotates closer to the shaft, thus remaining more weed-free.
Fluted “Indiana” blades run a medium depth, as do French blades (made popular by Mepps). These have created their own niche in the musky world. Naturally, the quality of the material used to make the blade and its thickness are a consideration. Speaking of Mepps, they will soon be announcing a new product line of bucktails. These bucktails will still have the jointed body, however the skirts will be marabou feathers. The combination of the jointed body and marabou feathers will create a great “plumming” effect in the water that really drives muskies crazy.
The most productive bucktail blade in history has been the “fluted” Indiana blade. It has produced more muskies over 50 pounds than all of the rest combined! Statistically the bucktail accounts for nearly fifty percent (50%) of all muskies caught. There may be some subtle reason for this. Bucktails are much easier to throw than large and heavy jerk baits. A bucktail rod is less stiff, thus easier to cast. In a recent survey of 300 muskie fishermen/women the average fisherman owned 65 bucktails. Just remember my philosophy, “You can never have too many, because “too many” is never enough”.
Bucktails haven’t changed much from the original chicken feather bucktails of the turn of the century. Blades are now being painted, primarily to compensate for watercolor and clarity. Skirts are being made from new products. Now there is rubber, vinyl, foil, plus the addition of grubs and trailers. The “old timers” still like their bucktails with hair. In those cases they’re talking about deer hair, the more the better. Tandem bucktails have a second hook with an additional cluster of hair or feathers (skirt) tied on, making this lure longer.
Spinner baits are more of a safety pin looking bait. The blades are set on one arm of the bait and the hook w/skirt is on the other arm of the bait. The blades give the illusion of smaller baitfish, shad for example, following an object.
Silver or nickel are good blade colors for bright sunny days. Copper or gold are good blade colors for stained water and also overcast days. Dark and muddy water require brighter colors, slower moving larger blades that vibrate more and/or rattles to attract fish to your bait.
In clear water natural skirts and/or lures referred to here should represent the natural forage fish available in the particular lake you’re fishing. Generally this means perch colors (yellow/orange/brown) as perch predominate most muskie waters as baitfish. In some areas shad are more prevalent. In those cases a white, silver and blue color combination will be preferred.
Black skirts and lures are a good color on overcast days, in the evenings and in some stained or dark waters as the fish can distinguish the black bait against an overcast or darkening sky. Understand the best type of a day to fish muskies is an overcast, sometimes drizzly day. Black is the most popular color for catching muskies, probably because they prefer low light conditions and tends to see black better. The color red darkens to black in dark and stained water and in low light conditions.
For night fishing consider phosphorescent blades on your bucktails. Also, white bucktails are better for you to see the lure in the water. Black bucktails offer the best silhouette for the fish to see. If your water is dirty with a light gray color, light brown or clay color, then my choice would be a solid black to offer a better silhouette against the sky. Rattles in this type of water will help the fish locate your lure. Finally, in clear water you can retrieve your lure faster. In darker water, slow down so the muskie can find your lure. This, of course, holds true for water temperatures too.
Bucktails can be retrieved in a normal steady retrieve. Remember to retrieve faster in warm water 65° and above and retrieve slower in colder waters. They can be cast out and counted down. Bucktails will generally sink one foot (12”) per second. So, if you want a bucktail to run at ten feet deep, wait for a count of ten seconds before beginning your retrieve.
Bulging is an effective retrieve to trigger strikes. In this case you’ll be using a Colorado blade as it creates lift to keep your bucktail closer to the surface. Here you want to begin your retrieve as soon as the bucktail has hit the water. This will prevent it from sinking below the surface. Then control the speed of your retrieve to keep the bucktail just below the surface creating a small wake. Use a willow leaf blade in weedy areas. Willow leaf blades will retrieve faster than other blades. Sometimes “burning” a retrieve (cranking, reeling as fast as you can) is a productive way to trigger a muskie. With the marabou feathers you’ll want a reel, pause, type of retrieve. This pause will pump up or plume the feathers triggering strikes.
Two things to consider is the length of your leader when casting bucktails and the way you “present” your cast on the water. The leader should, of course, be a 7-stran, flexible steel leader. The length should be short 6”-8” maximum. The reason for this is so that the leader does not catch the hooks of the bucktail during the cast. This is the reason for proper presentation. By this I mean, that as your bucktail reaches the end of your cast you should stop the spool from spinning by some slight thumb pressure. This will turn the bucktail over, arriving in the water first, straightening the line and leader out behind it.
There are many advantages to bucktail fishing. In addition to easier casting and the high percentage of muskies caught, it is a bait that is good through out the season. You may choose to use smaller bucktails in the spring, larger in the fall. They are good for trolling as well as casting. They are less expensive than traditional lures. If you are like me and have various rods ready, be sure that at least one or two rods are set-up with your favorite bucktail. There is nothing better to have than a high confidence bait ready to throw back after a lazy follow.
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