You'll get some hits with a reliable bucktail lureA newcomer entering a tackle shop is often bewildered by all of the lures up on the pegboards. The task of buying something for your boat can be even more difficult when you want just a lure or two for the times when you decide to mix a little fishing with cruising, be it a weekend, a long-distance trip or from your sailboat at anchor.
The answer to your problem might be to buy some bucktails. These are painted lead molded on a hook with some type of feather or tail hair from a deer tied around the shank of the hook — hence the name. They’ve been around for decades, catching all types of fish, and will be around for years to come.
If you see a rainbow of colors for sale, buy basic white in half-ounce size. Go for quality, not cheap stuff. The better ones will last longer. These lures can be tied on the end of the spinning line, the rod often kept below, ready for use some bright, shiny morning at, say, the north side of Napatree Point, R.I., when school bass are chasing bait in the anchorage.
All you might have to do when feeding fish present themselves is retrieve the 7-foot rod with a small spinning reel holding 200 yards of 12-pound mono. Tie on the lure and cast, then begin a slow retrieve and wait for the day’s first bite. If the fish is legal in that state’s waters, you have a fine supper waiting for you. You also might want to add a 3-foot section of heavier leader, say 40-pound test, to the running line, tied on with a small two-way swivel. All components are available in local tackle shops up and down the coast.
You can tie the leader directly to the lure or add a snap swivel that aids in changing them if you desire to add to your fishing arsenal. If you have any doubts, ask for advice. People in tackle shops near transient docks from Maine to Key West often will take time to show you the way, as long as it’s not a Saturday morning in their busy season.
If you keep your fishing tackle on a rod holder in the cockpit for long periods while you’re cruising, hit the moving parts from time to time with some type of lubricant spray. It’ll keep things from corroding when they’re exposed to weather and salt spray. And, by all means, change line at least once a season, perhaps as part of a spring outfitting. It also wouldn’t hurt to take the rod to a shop if you notice that one of the guides is bent or missing.
Now that the rod is prepped and ready, keep it handy if you find blues chasing bait on the top during your trip up to Cape Cod, Mass., and the islands. Some morning right after the fog lifts you might find bass chasing bait on top off the south end of Monomoy Island or on your trip south in the late fall off Seaside Park, N.J.
Try not to run right into the fish on top. Approach from the upwind side, drifting quietly into the school, engine off, casting when you get near. Most times you don’t have to do anything fancy, just a simple retrieve: Turn the handle in a slow, steady motion — easy to understand if you’re a non-angler. In some cases you might hook the fish, then hand the rod off to a youngster and let him or her have the fun of reeling in the prize. A 3-pound bluefish might not be much to you, but to a 6-year-old it’s a big deal.
If you’re cruising offshore during the summer months in the Northeast, you can troll with the bucktail. Let out roughly 150 feet of line, put the rod in the holder and watch as you motor along at 5 to 7 knots or so. You can catch dolphin (the fish, not Flipper), along with oceanic bonito and — who knows — maybe a small tuna. These fish run much faster than inshore species, so make sure you keep an eye on your trolling outfit or they might run all the line off the reel.
If your travels take you off the mouth of the Sakonnet River in Rhode Island some September morning, you might find a school of bonito tearing into bait on the surface, gulls and terns wheeling and squawking overhead, giving the fish away. If you can’t get any hits with the bucktail tied to heavy leader, take off the leader and tie direct. Bonito have very good eyes and, on bright days in clear water, they might shy away from the heavier leader.
We can take the idea of a lead head with hook molded in it a bit further if you have a few more bucks in the tackle budget. Besides painted bucktails with hair dressing, tackle shops sell plain lead heads without any dressing. Some of these have the heads painted; others have just plain lead.
On the back of these half-ounce models, you can put one of the dozens of plastic lures now on the market. The lures come in all sizes and shapes, but with a few of these on board you can replace worn ones with new ones or replace one local “killer” with another. For instance, in the Northeast, putting a 4- to 6-inch white curly-tailed plastic worm on a lead head is great for striped bass. If you’re cruising off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, however, you might find that the local tackle shop recommends something different if you want to try for seasonal false albacore.
You might try adding a 6-inch pennant-shaped strip of squid cut from a whole squid — purchased for a reasonable price at local tackle stores — to a bucktail. Hook this once through the widest end and drop the bucktail to the bottom, slowly hopping it up and down as you drift along. If the tide isn’t running too hard, you just might catch a keeper fluke on this natural-artificial combo anywhere on the East Coast, depending on the time and season.
Years back, Capt. Charley Soares and I came out of the mouth of the Westport (Mass.) River to find solid fog obscuring all of the rock piles we wanted to fish for stripers. Rather than tempt fate, we opted to drift for fluke just off the mouth of the river, the tide coming in. We dropped white bucktails dressed with squid strips to the bottom and worked them slowly up and down. The end result: six fluke in the box, saving the morning, not to mention some great eating.
Painted or not, feathers or plastic on the back, bucktails are great lures that will be catching fish long after I’m gone. Add a few to your boat’s equipment and be ready for lots of fishy opportunities that await you on your travels away from the office. It’s a great feeling to look out the cabin door at a postcard sunset, enjoying a very fresh fish dinner you caught off the back of the boat.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.