Better Bucktails For Muskies
By Steve Heiting, Managing Editor
Bucktails have long been the fastest presentation for the casting angler who is looking to contact and catch lots of muskies. Their effectiveness ” especially for big fish ” took a quantum leap in 2006 with the introduction of the Double Cowgirl. Today, anyone who can cast and retrieve a twin-ten bucktail can catch a musky of a lifetime.
Yet, there remain anglers who dismiss twin-tens as nothing more than a fad, and there are many who have filled their tackle boxes with twin-tens but have yet to experience their magic. Some even consider bucktails boring.
This article details an aggressive method of fishing bucktails during warm water periods. In many cases everyone in my boat will be casting a bucktail and we’ll be moving quickly over cover or structure. And, most importantly, we’ll be catching muskies. My friends say I fish faster than anyone they know, and there’s good reason for this.
The Right Tools
As effective as twin-ten bucktails can be, even they are nothing more than tools to get a job done. Retrieve them fast and shallow when the muskies want the bait a little deeper and in their face, and even the vaunted Cowgirl will fail. Generally, the wider the spinner’s blade the more resistance it will create coming through the water, and the shallower it will run. If muskies only follow your shallow-running efforts, slow down your twin-ten and run it just above the cover or structure, or go to a spinner that will run deeper at the same speed. When muskies are deeply following my twin-tens, I’ve reversed the day’s fortunes many times by switching to a Mepps Giant Killer Sassy Shad, whose willow-leaf blade creates less drag while the heavy rubber tail helps the bait run more deeply.
Look closely at your bucktails’ design and consider how they may work better in different situations. For example, on the surface a Mepps H210 is very similar to a Double Cowgirl, but because of its jointed construction and heavy body weight, will cast better in wind and often more accurately than a DCG. However, since the weight of the Cowgirl is more evenly balanced throughout its length, it will move through the water in a more horizontal fashion than an H210, which tends to run with its tail slightly down. This can make a difference when retrieving over extremely-shallow weeds or rocks. Choose your bucktail for the situation.
To be most effective with bucktails, you must be rigged right. Rods measuring at least eight feet in length are imperative for longer, more accurate casts, and bigger, more effective figure-8’s. I use only 8 1/2- to 9-foot rods for bucktails.
Abu Garcia’s Revo Toro Winch (4.6:1 retrieve ratio) makes reeling in twin-tens almost easy, but if the fish want a rapid retrieve the Winch may not provide a sufficent burst. Here, you may want to use Shimano’s Tranx PG, whose retrieve ratio is identical to the Winch’s, but gains speed through a larger spool so each turn of the reel handle picks up more line. Reels that can provide a relatively easy retrieve and a quick burst are St Croix’s Avid AC-300A or Shimano’s Calcutta D.
Master Your Retrieve
To many, bucktails are merely a cast-them-out, reel-them-in type of bait. However, there are lots of things you can do to make your retrieves more appealing.
Constantly compare your retrieve speed to that of your partner(s). If one of you is getting most of the action the reason often is retrieve speed. If nobody is getting action, experiment with different retrieve speeds and see what happens. If your buddy is getting all the action, match his retrieve speed.
Synchronize your cast so your bucktail blades are spinning the instant the lure hits the water. Many bucktail hits will occur within the first five or six feet of a retrieve ” you cast to the structure or cover in the belief that a musky is holding there, so why not make your lure more presentable? Not only will this trigger more muskies, but it will keep your lure from sinking and snagging weeds or rocks.
When a musky begins following my bucktail I like to sweep the rod to the side and gun the reel for two or three cranks, in an attempt to flair the bait’s tail and make the fish think the bait is trying to get away. This will often cause the musky to charge or eat the bait. I incorporate a speed and/or direction change in every retrieve, regardless if I see a musky.
Finally, every cast must end in a figure-8 ” no exceptions, and an L-turn isn’t good enough. Doing so on every retrieve will get you in the habit of smooth transitions to the figure-8, so your effort isn’t sudden when a fish appears at the boat. And, sometimes, you never know a musky is following until it eats at your feet.
Changing your bucktail slightly can be very effective. To tweak a bucktail, I often use a Mr. Twister tail to add color, flash and vibration. I prefer to use a Mr. Twister color that matches the blade but contrasts with the bait’s tail. Sometimes during the day, adding a luminescent (glow) twister tail can make a difference.
If muskies are nipping your lure it’s often a sign that you need to fish it more slowly. However, a good way to catch nippers is to trim the hair off the back of a bucktail to shorten its appearance, and the musky will often grab farther up the hook. Another thing I do to catch nippers is to bend out the hooks of the tail treble.
If a musky follows a bucktail but doesn’t eat it, a good way to trigger this fish is to return later with another bucktail style or color. In these days when many anglers are using twin-tens, upsizing to a bait with No. 12 or 13 blades, or downsizing to No. 8 blades, may cause this particular fish to eat.
Another consideration regarding bucktail size ” some may tell you that twin-eights are every bit as effective as twin-tens, but are easier to fish. Don’t believe this for a moment. Twin-eights have been around for more than 20 years and have always been a great bait, but I’ve never seen anything like how twin-tens will turn muskies on. Twin-eights might be a better choice during a certain week or for a particular fish, but tens are better in the long run.
There’s no question that larger blades are physically tough to fish. If muskies are holding tight to cover structure, save your strength by positioning your boat closer to where they’re located. Not only will your casts be more precise, but your retrieves will be in or very close to the danger zone the entire time. Positioning your boat farther away from structure will often result in your dragging your bait through deeper, mostly-fishless water, which is a waste of time and effort. If this means overlapping your casts with your partner as you fish down a shoreline, so be it.
Bucktails At Their Best
Typically, I prefer to fish bucktails in water that is at least 60 degrees, but I’ve caught muskies on them throughout the season. Bucktails are tailor-made for fishing in wind or current because their flash and vibration readily transmits through moving water. Your boat control in moving water often will not be as precise as it would be in calmer conditions, so a fast-moving, high-vibration, high-visibility bucktail is my choice.
One of my favorite techniques when the action is slow and I can’t catch muskies by other means is to basically snap on a bucktail and go. In these situations, I’m trying to cover as much water as possible to find that one musky that didn’t get the don’t-eat-today memo.
Bucktails can also be extremely effective when conditions change for the better. If you’ve seen a big fish and you’re going back to try to catch it, why not use a lure that is highly-effective as a triggering tool and will probably hook the fish if it comes out and eats?
Figure-8’s At The Next Level
It’s been said many times in many places that your figure-8’s must be big and wide, but they can be so much better. Try going three-dimensional with your 8, in which you pull the lure deeper close to the boat, but close to the surface in the outside turns. Often it pays to “hang” the bucktail in the turn before quickly pulling it back through the straightaway and into the next turn, before hanging it there again. A quick turn over the fish’s head followed by hanging the bait will often cause a follower to come unglued. “Hanging” the bucktail is accomplished by merely slowing down your figure-8 until the blades are barely spinning and the bait seems to hang in place.
Something else that may trigger a musky that has engaged an 8 is to switch to a big oval, and this seems to be especially effective with bigger fish. Make this transition when a fish has followed an 8 a couple times but won’t commit ” you have nothing to lose.
While it’s always cool to catch a musky yourself, I’m happy with every fish that comes in the boat, regardless of who catches it. In that line of thinking, it can be very helpful if your partner calls out what the musky following your lure is doing. Often, his different position in the boat will give him a better view than yours, and he can keep you cued into what’s happening below.
When a musky goes around and around and still won’t hit, sometimes slowing the bait and twitching it through the 8 can cause the fish to strike. While filming an episode of The Musky Hunter a few years back I netted a musky for host Jim Saric that had followed in the 8 for over two minutes (verified by the video camera) before it struck Jim’s motionless bucktail. Jim thought the musky had left and his bait was hanging below his rod tip, rocking with the waves, when the fish struck. A week later, friend Kevin Schmidt grew frustrated with a following musky, allowed his bucktail to sink to the bottom, then jigged it back to the surface and the musky grabbed it.
When a musky strikes in an 8, if the fish wants to simply thrash on the surface, you need to initiate the fight by burying the rod tip in the water and dragging the fish around the boat. This also drives the hooks in further and allows your partner to get the net ” he should be ready once you’ve completed your lap. If you don’t initiate the fight, a big musky will often lie on the surface and thrash until it spits the bait (this applies to all lure types).
You can do everything right with bucktails but if your boat control is poor or your casting not accurate, you still might not catch muskies on them. Last July during the University of Esox Musky School at Sandy’s Blackhawk Island Camp, I raised a huge musky that was holding on a handful of basketball-sized boulders in a slot in rushes in a tiny bay. The next day, while Saric, Schmidt and I filmed an episode of MHTV, I made the exact same cast into the slot and the musky came out again, only this time right behind the bucktail.
I took the fish into a big figure-8 and hung the bucktail on an outside turn, and the fish responded by eating. When the thrashing was over the musky was hooked outside the mouth on the side of its face. Because of where it was hooked I couldn’t put any pressure on the fish, and merely hung on and kept the line tight until it tired and I was able to lead it to where Jim was waiting with the net.
The footage is incredible yet gut-wrenching as the musky was only a head snap or barrel roll away from freedom, yet none of it would have occurred if I hadn’t made a precise cast and a perfect-figure-8 with a hang move ” primary components of fishing bucktails effectively. Be better with your bucktails in the coming season and watch your musky catches soar.
Steve Heiting is Managing Editor of Musky Hunter magazine. For more about Steve, visit http://www.steveheiting.com. To buy Steve’s new DVD, Better Bucktails For Muskies, visit: http://www.muskyhuntercatalog.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=39&product_id=122
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