Using bucktail jigs in an estuary is very different.
When fishing bucktails in the slower-moving water of the estuary-type environment, it is useful to vary the pace and the amount of rod movement used to work the lure.
Another common scenario for fishing bucktail jigs is casting them in the surf for kob.
When fishing bucktails over a rocky bottom, you don’t want them to touch the rocks, as this could result in them snagging and you losing your lure.
Store-bought bucktails are often overdressed; very often, after a few fish have bitten the lure and it has started to lose some hair, it becomes better and better.
Of course, there are various different situations where jigs are used very differently for each situation.
For example, when targeting spotted pompano off Zululand beaches, you want to cast a small, compact bucktail over the shorebreak and bring it into that white, turbulent water in the trough just behind the waves. The violent water movement in this scenario means that the jig needs to be worked with fast flicks and a quick retrieve in order to maintain contact with the lure. The jig will be darting swiftly through the foamy water and will be hit viciously by the pompano, which has very little time to inspect the lure or decide whether to eat it or not. In this situation, my first choice to tie on would be a jig of around 3/8oz with a short tail of brown or yellow.
Using bucktail jigs in an estuary is very different. In the relatively calm waters, we can fish these lures far slower and with much more finesse. They can be cast out, allowed to sink to the bottom and then twitched back with little tweaks, with pauses inbetween to allow the jig time to sink back to the bottom. This simple technique is probably one of the most productive ways to catch fish in an estuary, even when the water is cold and the fish are not feeding freely. Fishing this way can produce species such as kob, skipjack, garrick, kingfish, perch, grunter, gurnards etc. Bucktails with a flat bottom can also be wiggled around in one spot by wiggling the rod tip; this can cause them to throw up a puff of mud, then a quick twitch causes them to dart off suddenly – this too can trigger a strike from even the shyest of fish. When fishing bucktails in the slower-moving water of the estuary-type environment, it is useful to vary the pace and the amount of rod movement used to work the lure. Very often in this scenario, very subtle changes can mean the difference between catching and not catching fish. For estuary fishing, the most commonly used size jigs would be between 1<GLYPH>¼oz and <GLYPH>½oz; you should seldom need a heavier bucktail for estuary work.
It is well worthwhile to practise working bucktail jigs in a clear water environment like a swimming pool at home. There, you can see what the sink rate of the lure is like and how it reacts to each twitch of the rod tip. Don’t worry, your neighbours may think that you are nuts fishing in your pool. But when you are out on the water, you will have more confidence and you can picture exactly what your lure is doing under the surface.
Another common scenario for fishing bucktail jigs is casting them in the surf for kob. To do this from a sandy beach, you need to use a bucktail that is heavy enough to cast to the working water out on the bank; the weight also helps it to sink down through the turbulent water. Ideally in this situation, you want your bucktail to sink right down and to make contact with the bottom, kicking up a little puff of sand between each twitch. When fishing like this you should generally also use a longer rod to get more distance – around 9ft is the norm. This also enables you to give the rod longer sweeps as you work the jig, which is often successful in the surf. For surf casting, you should use jigs that weigh anywhere from <GLYPH>¾oz to 2oz.
When fishing bucktails over a rocky bottom, you don’t want them to touch the rocks, as this could result in them snagging and you losing your lure. In this case, it is preferable to swim the lure rather than jig it, with a steady retrieve and the odd jigging motion thrown in. In this case, it is a good idea to dress the jig with a little something to give it a bit of extra enticing action. Strips of porkrind trailers, plastic grubtails or even a worm, paddletail or fluke pushed onto the hook will do the job. These cause the bucktail to flare out more, and they have a wiggling or enticing action of their own that will draw strikes from fish. This technique can be a successful option when targeting kob over patches of reef and sand, or river snapper over oyster beds in an estuary.
In most situations, I prefer to fish my bucktails without additional dressing, because the dressing adds bulk and results in a much shorter cast. Also, due to its excessive movement, it also tends to get fouled by the hook point when working the lure with a proper jigging action. For this reason, I limit the use of additional dressing on my bucktails to cases such as above, where it is mainly being used as a swim jig.
The shape of the lead head of a bucktail jig also makes a difference to the lure’s action in the water. A streamlined, flat-sided jig will sink faster and therefore have a more up-and-down jigging movement, usually a good choice for jigging in deeper water. A flat-bottomed jig will glide more and is generally good for use in shallower water. A flat bottom on a jig also means that it should lie on the bottom with the hook-point facing upwards. It will then have less chance of snagging up when fishing it in shallow water and making contact with the bottom.
It is very easy to start tying up your own bucktail jigs. All you need is a fly-tying vice, a fly-tying bobbin holder, some strong tying thread, a few different-coloured bucktails, a pair of sharp scissors, some epoxy and some jig heads. You can make your own jig heads, as moulds are freely available on the internet, or just buy pre-made jig heads from your tackle store. When making your own jigs you get to try out all sorts of combinations of colour, flash, sizes etc and can make yourself a range of bucktails that you would never find in a store. What I like about making up my own bucktails is that I get to choose how much dressing to put onto the jig. Store-bought bucktails are often overdressed; very often, after a few fish have bitten the lure and it has started to lose some hair, it becomes better and better. When making my own, I like to make some with very sparse dressing, and like to use them when the water is very clean or sometimes when the bite is slow. Hook quality is of the utmost importance and I like to use very good quality, sharp hooks for my bucktails. This means that you can put plenty of pressure on a hooked fish if necessary and not have to worry about your hook straightening.
When it comes to colour, white is probably the most popular colour all round. If I was only allowed to have one colour bucktail in my box ,it would be a plain white one. I do like natural colours though, and so a blend of white and olive or brown is also very nice. It is also worth having some dark-coloured bucktails in your box, such as black or purple. The usual rule of thumb is the brighter the day and the cleaner the water, the brighter the lure. So the dark ones are mostly used at night, in low light conditions or in very murky water.
The humble bucktail jig is an important weapon in any lure fisherman’s arsenal and should be one of the first lures to be packed into his tackle box. I know that it is in mine.
The fact that it is one of those lures that requires a lot of input from the angler to get the best out of it also makes it a challenge to use. Many hours can be spent perfecting the art of getting the most out of this simple lure. Once you have it mastered, it will be one of the deadliest lures that you own.