Every angler has certain offerings that he or she is partial to; the first ones out of their box, bag or bucket on any given outing. Plain and simple, fishermen catch more fish when they're confident in what's on the business end of their line. Whether it's a live eel, a favorite fly or a plug dripping with mojo, it pays to believe in what you're casting. To build up that confidence, anglers must experiment. After all, you'll never catch fish on something if you don't give it the old college try once in a while.
A popular artificial lure that I have always lacked confidence in is the bucktail. Simple in design, it consists of a lead jig head with a single hook and ample deer hair tied around it. For added action and to lengthen the profile, it's usually tipped with a strip of pork rind or soft plastic. One of the cool things about the bucktail is that it can be used to target a wide array of species in both fresh and saltwater, but I'm most interested in their deception of striped bass. Despite the fact that there have been countless articles and books written about the art of jigging, and that bucktails have most likely accounted for more stripers than any other lure out there, they still haven't played a prominent role in my surf game. Thankfully, I'm slowly starting to change that.
I wish I had a good reason as to why I haven't utilized bucktails more in my local fishing. It's mostly because the surfcasters I learned from on my home waters of Long Island Sound just didn't fish them all that much. Yet as soon as I branched out to places like the Cape Cod Canal, Rhode Island breachways, or the south shore of Long Island, I began to see how standard they were among surf fishermen, and for good reason too. All the aforementioned destinations have at least one thing in common, strong current. Bucktail jigs excel in places with current and any surfcaster worth their weight in salt will tell you that striped bass love moving water; it's like a conveyor belt for their meals.
While I've always carried various sizes and colors of jigs in my plug bag, in the last few seasons I've made a point of actually using them. The spring herring run in Connecticut tidal rivers provides optimal jigging opportunities as bucktails offer a close representation to this slender baitfish and there is no shortage of current to work them in. Sort of like nymphing in a trout stream, an angler must match the speed of the water with a properly weighted jig. In one highwater instance this past spring, a half ounce made all the difference between a skunking and a decent outing. That day I only had jigs in my bag up to two ounces, yet two and half to three ounce jigs were scoring the stripers stacked in a rip like cordwood. Thankfully a friend lent me a bucktail in the magic size that put me on the board. I still owe Paul a cold beer.
There was another time this spring when I was lucky to find a popular jigging spot nearly void of other anglers. The fact that it was a rainy weekday helped thin the crowd. I held down a prime position with another caster and we worked in tandem tossing our bucktails upstream in the whitewater, then letting the current swing them downstream with occasional twitches of our rod tips. The first hit I got was unmistakable, almost ripping the rod right out of my hands as the ripping current made this 16-pound bass feel twice its weight. After a quick photo and release, my very next cast was met with an identical fate, a jarring hit from another teen-sized striper almost as soon as the bucktail hit the water. It's outings like these that quickly build confidence in angler's offerings and presentations. Now I have to take my newly acquired jigging confidence and apply it outside of tidal rivers into the open surf. Baby steps, people.