WORDS & PICS: Craig Thomassen
It is no secret that the bucktail jig is one of my favourite lures. I never go fishing without one in my bag, no matter where I am going and what type of fishing I am going to do.
They are very basic-looking lures, and the first time I ever saw a bucktail jig I wasn’t awfully impressed. My first experience of fishing with one did little to improve my initial opinion of these simple lures, either. However, with some practice I started catching fish on them and they quickly became a firm favourite. Over the years I have caught everything on them from tuna to grunter and have used them in every imaginable situation, always with full confidence that they will produce a fish – and they usually do.
About a year ago, I wrote an article that was published in RSD on fishing bucktails from drifting boats offshore. I am therefore going to focus this article on the use of bucktails in estuaries and fishing them in the surf from the beach and rocks. These are areas where bucktails are very successful and where most anglers can spend hours honing their skills in the use of these humble lures.
To my knowledge, some of the first anglers to use these humble lures with regular success in South African waters were anglers like Dave Alcock, father of the accomplished Alcock twins, and Bruce Truter. These salty old Eastern Cape fishermen had productive rivers on their doorsteps and spent much time fishing them; both felt that bucktail jigs were one of the first lures to get packed for an outing.
The first bucktail that I ever owned was given to me by the legendary Doug Swannell, also from the Eastern Cape. With his range of Predator lures, Doug used to be the man behind every bucktail that you would find in a tackle store in those days, and they are still some of the finest saltwater lures available.
The first thing for us to think about is; why choose to tie on a bucktail jig in the first place? The answer to that is simple: a bucktail jig will be eaten by any fish that will eat an artificial lure and is also extremely versatile. It can be used in almost any conditions, from strong currents to placid water, from shallow banks to deep channels, in the surf zone or in an estuary. In all these areas, it can be presented to fish in a way that will make it look like an easy meal, and it is likely to be eaten. The bucktai jig is one of those lures that is always in motion, even when the angler is not retrieving; it is either dropping through the water or the tail is pulsing in the current.
Bucktail jigs are given their attractive movement by the angler. This is generally done by twitching the rod tip, which causes the lure on the end of the line to move enticingly in the water. With the combination of fast action graphite rods and thin braided line with its non stretch qualities that is available these days, we have the tools to have absolute control over these lures and are able to fish them with far more finesse than we could in the past. This alone is reason enough to dig out the old bucktails and give them a swim.
As technology has moved on and new lures have replaced old ones, bucktail jigs have found themselves at the bottom of the bag. Basically, in our generation these fine old lures have been replaced by soft plastics, the ‘dropshot’ craze eclipsing bucktail fishing to a large degree. Those stalwarts who continued to use bucktails were always rewarded with fish, and for good reason – they are great lures.
Bucktails have some advantages, such as being more cast-friendly; you can throw a bucktail further than the same-sized profile of soft plastic because it is more aerodynamic. This can be a real advantage in the case of, say, trying to reach some nice working water on a bank in the surf.
Other advantages of bucktails are that they are inexpensive, they last a long time if you look after them, they come in every size and colour you can imagine, and they have a movement in the water that cannot be imitated perfectly by any other lure – nothing else in the world moves like bucktail hair in the water. Another huge plus is that they are really easy to make and anybody can tie their own jigs up. This means that you can create custom bucktails for yourself, with your own colours, sizes and shapes according to the bait organisms found at your own fishing spots. There is always that extra bit of satisfaction when you catch a fish on a lure that you made yourself.
The basic aim of fishing a bucktail is to make it swim in the water in such a way as to be attractive to fish – very simple. Apart from the action that you impart to the jig with your rod, there are other factors that affect the lure’s action. Current, depth and structure are three of the most obvious and will have some effect on your jig during the course of each retrieve. A good idea is to identify which part of the water you specifically want to target and to ensure that while your jig is in that area, it is swimming the way that you want it to and at the right depth. It is likely that for at least a portion of the retrieve your lure is not going to be totally under your control, due to a bow in your line caused by current and/or wind. You want this to be happening in water that is not your primary target area. You can use current to your advantage and/or minimise its effect by your angle of cast and your lure placement.
Factors such as water depth, current strength, surf, wind speed and direction and required casting distance all play a part in choosing what weight of bucktail jig to tie onto the end of your line. That is even before the important consideration of the type of fish that you are targeting and their preferred bait size, or matching the size of your lure to the primary food source in the area. My rule of thumb is generally to go with the lightest jig head that I can get away with. If the jig is heavy enough to reach where I need to cast it to and can cut through the current and reach the bottom, then it is heavy enough. I don’t mind waiting a bit longer for it to sink down, as the lighter the jig is, the more enticing its movement will be in the water.
Craig Thomassen is the presenter of Inside Angling which can be seen on SuperSport 8 on Monday nights at 7pm.