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Tying and Using Bucktail Jigs

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On: Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 9:22AM | By: Lee Clymer

Loading your tackle box up with jigs is a smart move, but loading up on bucktail jigs is a great move. There’s hardly a game fish out there that isn’t attracted by some nature of bucktail.

Bucktails have been around so long they were made well before plastic skirts. Since plastic skirts weren’t available, bucktails were made from, guess what…hair from the tail of a buck. Now you know. If there was a sad moment where deer hair wasn’t available, bear hair, or even fox hair was used. In a pinch, rabbit hair would be used. A pork rind (not the baked kind) would be added and fishing magic would begin.

Making bucktails is actually fun and can easily be learned. The great thing about them is you can add your own personality to them, experiment with them to see what works in your area, and just have a generally good time learning how. It gives you a really great reason to go fishing. Some people do them as a full time hobby.

Obviously the first thing you need is the jig itself. The primary jigs come in different weights and shapes ranging from 1/8 ounce and ¼ ounce, suited for a 2/0 hook, all the way up to 3 ounce suited for 6/0 hook. There are numerous other sizes and increments but the standard ones fit in that slot. You can order molds to make your own jigs as well, even up to twelve ounces or more.

The jigs come in various colors and unpainted, and with or without eyes. There are also various head shapes from bullet heads, round heads, tapered heads, to banana heads. For the sake of this article we will presume they are painted, preformed jigheads with eyes. As you get better with the assembly you can experiment with different colors.

Choosing the jighead is one of the most important parts of making a jig. Different head shapes give different action, just like topwater lures or spinners. The head transmits the action to the tail, and that is what attracts the fish. The jighead is just the tool to control the skirt.

Some people really like jigs just because of the ability to control the lure. They may just be a piece of metal, molded to present an attractive looking meal to the fish, but part of the fun is learning to control the lure by way of the head. It’s not the jighead that brings the fish into the chase but it is the jighead that connects the jig to the fisherman and hopefully brings the fish in.

You also have to consider what you intend to use for the particular for the skirt. Although they are called bucktails, you can use plastic, silicone, or real bucktail. All of them will accommodate a trailer such as a pork rind. There are jig collars for each type of material.

Plastics, or soft plastics as they are often called, slide right over the lead collar. A large barb or double barb is part of the collar and holds the plastic skirt in place. I personally just don’t like the barb. They ream out the soft plastic and that requires tighter tying and can cause a flare in the skirt, but then again, I don’t care much for soft plastics anyway. If you do decide to go that route, just find an elongated shaft, and use good superglue to help hold it in place.

There are those that will argue this and love their soft plastics, but this is all about personalizing your jig and catching fish.

For silicone skirts just make sure you match the sleeve nicely. That requires the collar to be just big enough to really keep the skirt tight on the jig without stretching it too much. It has to be very snug though.

I like as much surface area in the sleeve as possible this ALWAYS has to be factored into the balance issue. The more surface the easier it is to tie and the easier to learn. As you get better you can use a shorter collar but I have seen few people start out tying well from the get – go. Make it easy on yourself to get your style down.

Here’s the cool thing though. You can use the sleeve on bucktails to control the diameter of the skirt you make. If you want a flare, buy the sleeve that has the right shape. In other words if you want a flare, get one with a barb, if you want a tight wrap get one with a round shape, etc.

When you start thinking of what jighead to pick up, starting thinking more of the fishing grounds you intend to fish. Is there current, are there snags, and what is the bottom like? What is the depth? This will give you a better idea of the weight you need. Just like the reason you use pyramid weights to hold a bait in place in current, the weight gives you control, rate of descent and needed retrieval rate, and with the jig, your ability to transmit action while presenting the best retrieval angle for presentation.

The weight of the jighead also will counterbalance the skirt. You must also think of the species you’re trying to fish. The size of the fish’s mouth has to be considered.

Pompano have small mouths, while snook and bass are quite opposite. Use the largest hook you can but still small enough for the set. You don’t want a hook so small you get a deep set and possibly kill the fish, but still large enough to match the tail/skirt and assist in keeping presentation accurate.

All of this will take some practice, but look around when in the tackle store and see what is being used by the manufacturers. The great thing, and conversely the worst thing, is the enormous amount of choices. This is for you, though, so have fun with it.

Once the pieces parts are chosen, now comes the assembly. Here’s where you need a small vice. Clamp the jig in the vice firmly. You don’t want the jig moving around as you attempt to tie it off. Begin by tying off a section of thread.

If you are using real bucktail take a razorblade and clip off a section of hair. Remember the amount of hair and length will determine the presentation, help balance the retrieval, and camouflage the hook. Lay the hair in and wrap, continuing the process until the hair is completely tied in place. Lock into place with clear nail polish as you go, using the polish sparingly. Eventually you will learn the process, but start out with a minimum amount. You can always add if needed. Use only what you have to in order to make the hair stay in place as you wrap.

The actual tying is not that hard but does take patience. You have to work back slowly making sure all the ends are covered. If however, some ends do protrude, trim them carefully with a razorblade and continue to wrap until covered. Don’t be too proud to start over if needed. Keep trying until you make a nice tight wrap that is not too obtrusive.

You can use different colored threads if you like. The creation is yours to make your own.

Once your jig is finished it’s time to give it a try. You’ve picked your waters, and your intended target, so figure how you want to fish it. Where I live there is often a fair amount of current so I like the current to do the work for me. I will cast far down current and let the current flow over the jig as I reel it back. I will use some rod tip if it seems it’s drawing attention, but I usually just try to imitate a swimming baitfish stopping occasionally to check out the scenery and possible food sources, letting it sink a little and then moving on. In calmer water I will do a direct retrieval and speeding up a bit if it gets tagged, but I always let the fish get a good grab before setting.

After fishing them for a while, if you haven’t already, you will learn to keep them off the bottom and just high enough to imitate a baitfish ready to dodge into the closest, safe hole. It takes a little practice but you will get the feel. If it doesn’t feel right keep experimenting with different jigheads until you’re happy.

Of course, there’s the namesake jigging. Just let it sink and give it the occasional flutter by bumping it back up and then letting a little slack in the line as it sinks again. If the bottom is fruitful expect action when you least expect it…on the sin k with slight slack in the line.

There are so many nice ways to fish a jig. These have to be one of the most versatile artificials you can have in your tackle box. The important thing is to know your intended target, and know what they like. Learn how to present the jig so it truly imitates the fish’s favorite munchy. Do your homework and enjoy the creativity.

Land a lunker!


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