With the rise in popularity of dropshot fishing in recent years, the humble old bucktail jig seems to have been all but forgotten. It is a lure that I never leave home without, and it has served me so well over the years that I feel that if I were only allowed to fish with one lure, it would be a bucktail jig.
This extremely versatile lure has a long history, and the basic design has remained unchanged for decades. This lure was part of the US Army Air Corp survival kit, along with a roll of fishing line, in case of being shot down over water, thus illustrating the high regard in which bucktail jigs are – and have been – held worldwide.
The lure is extremely simple, and easy enough to make at home. It is basically a jig head with some bucktail tied onto it. Of course, there are all sorts of variations, such as colour, adding flash, shape of jig head, length of tail, etc. There are a number of decent bucktail jigs available in tackle stores as well and, with them being an inexpensive lure, I am surprised that they are not more popular in South Africa.
These lures are extremely productive in estuaries, the surf and out in the deep blue. In this article, I am going to focus on the use of bucktail jigs offshore, where they account for a large variety of both game fish and the more aggressive reef fish species.
What gives the bucktail jig its incredible success is undoubtedly the fact that it has the best weight-to-size ratio of any jigging lure. This small, compact-shaped lure has very little bulk to it, making it very hydrodynamic and enabling it to move through the water fast and efficiently. This means it can streak through the water exceptionally fast on a quick retrieve and, with the right rod action, it can get a very zippy, darting action, which is irresistible to most predatory fish. The rippling movement of the bucktail, the effect of becoming streamlined on the dart and puffing out briefly on the pause, combined with the virtually perpetual motion of the lure, help to make it the deadly weapon that it is.
It is a good idea to have a variety of colours of bucktail jigs in your box for various situations. The most popular colours, and those that seem to catch the most fish, are white, yellow and chartreuse. I like to also have some duller, more natural colours such as brown and olive in my box, along with some really dark ones such as purple or black. The plain white bucktail is probably the most successful of all, so if you were to only buy one, that should be it.
There are a number of different ways of retrieving a bucktail jig, and of course the retrieve style of this lure is what gives it its action. It can be simply allowed to sink to the bottom and then retrieved up with a fast, steady retrieve. More effective is to drop it down, then bring it up with a whipping, jigging action, causing it to dart erratically up and down and side to side. Once this technique is mastered, it is incredibly successful and, providing the angler has the energy to keep it up, I would back this lure to outfish others on the boat using live bait or drift bait.
The beauty of this technique is that you are covering the entire water column from the bottom to the top, making an offering to a greater variety of fish at each strata of depth. When surface action is seen within casting distance of the boat, the bucktail can be cast out and retrieved horizontally with the same whipping action, and more often than not will get hit.
I am not suggesting that you do away with dropshot fishing in order to replace it with bucktail jigs. But it does make sense to keep a selection of both if you are serious about spinning offshore.
The dropshot still gives you the option of changing colours, sizes and shapes of lure quickly and easily. It is, however, much more costly, and less versatile in terms of getting a small compact lure down to the depths, particularly if there is a current running. The two lures complement each other well, and should both have a place in your tackle box.
When choosing bucktail jigs in a store, the most important thing to look at is the hook. The quality of the hook is crucial with these lures, and if the hook is not strong, then don’t buy the lure.
For offshore jigging you will do better with a bullet-shaped jig head, rather than a round or flattened one. This gives a faster sink rate, helping o get the lure down in stronger currents and deep water.
For offshore jigging with both dropshot and bucktail jigs, I find that a short, light rod with a very fast action is ideal. You don’t want the rod to be too flexible, otherwise the movement that you are trying to create with your jigging action is going to get lost in the whipping of the rod, and not reach the lure.
a solid hook set to the leader by use of an Albright knot. This is attached to the jig with a haywire twist, allowing the jig to swing freely on a loop. The reason for the wire is that king mackerel, in particular, absolutely love bucktail jigs and can’t seem to leave them alone. They often hit them on the drop, and if your wire is not long enough they will bite through your leader as it is pulled down alongside the jig while it is sinking.
I can get to the bottom with. If the jig is too light you won’t be able to tell when it has arrived at the bottom, as the current will simply continue peeling line off at a similar rate to the lure’s sink rate.
Go up a bit in weight until you find the one that can cut through the current, reach the bottom and noticeably stop drawing line from the spool. The lighter the jig, the more attractive the action, as it tends to dart and flutter more. It is also less energy-consuming to retrieve, meaning that you will have more productive time on the water and, of course, catch more fish!
A stiffer rod gives a very crisp and direct action to the lure and gives you full control over its movement. I like the Shimano Trevala 6’6” Medium Heavy rod for this job. It is one of the first rods I pack when I am going on a trip. This should be matched with a good quality front drag reel, such as the Shimano Sustain or Stradic 5000.
I like to use braid for this type of fishing;
the thin diameter helps cut through the current, and the non-stretch quality of
braid keeps you in direct contact with the lure and gives you
Depending on where you are fishing, and for what species, you can use 30lb to 50lb braid. My personal line of choice is Power Pro, due to its general toughness and exceptionally long life. I use a leader of around 60lb fluorocarbon, which is joined to the braid using a back-to-back uni knot, with seven turns on the braid side and three on the leader.
I generally use a piece of piano wire of
about twice the length of the lure, which I attach
For me the basic rule of thumb with regards
to the weight of the jig is to use the lightest jig that