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Buck-tailing for striper -  Montauk style


                                     by Jay Dawgy


     So by no means would I consider myself an expert when fishing a bucktail/ hair raiser, or whatever you want to call it.  Honesty, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on any of the variety of artificial’s I throw.  If you’ve heard the phrase “the art of fishing the bucktail”, I am nowhere close to knowing what that actually is – at least for now.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of fooling fish on bucktails but the species were always limited to bluefish, flatties and sea robin’s.  I have always read about how the bucktail is the most versatile go to lure for many a sharpie, but whenever I had it on my line targeting that elusive linesider, I just never had the “mojo”.  It was not until my first pilgrimage to “Mecca” did I truly get first hand knowledge on precisely how to work the notorious, versatile, inexpensive and timeless bass buster from none other than Montauk sharpie, Bill Wetzel.


First things first - The Cast 


        Yea, I know what you’re thinking – what the “F “is so big about the cast! Well Sally, the way you cast a bucktail in heavily fortified structure is crucial to your success and can make all the difference in bailing bass non - stop or wasting time and time again losing line and bucktails on constant snags.

        While casting may not be as critical when fishing on an open sandy beach, take a look at the structure below.  Now what are you thinking?  Did your balls just go crawling up inside your belly?  Read on fool.

        I fish a VS150 bailless but you can also do this technique on a bailed reel.  As you set up for your cast, when taking the line onto your index finger, do you take the line and set up by “butting” it up against the reel to the reel seat?  Well don’t.  Rather, let the line hang freely on the tip of your index finger, kind of like a trigger.  Your finger tip with line should flow free and loose. You don’t need added pressure, friction and an added angle that takes you further away from having your line coming right off the reel with a 90 degree angle all the way through the rod.

          Personally, the conditions out front I usually fish warrant only the use of 1 ounce or up to a 1 ½ ounce.  I do carry up to 2 ounces but these are best suited for big surf or with a lot of moving water.  Some sharpies may also say to always fish and tip a bucktail with Uncle Josh rind or similar, but I have had success without it, especially in extremely calm conditions when white water is minimal or non-existent. So this is where I stop talking about “the cast”.  I just wanted to stress the initial setup.  If you cast like a prissy, just keep practicing.


Feathering your line (I think that’s what you call it)


          I would say this next phase of the cast is most critical.  It allows you to feel your line through the cast and is very good practice for when you fish under the cover of darkness and your primary senses are on the feel of your finger tip and sound.  This is also very important when fishing in a very strong side wind when the second you cast, your line is bent hard in that serious boomerang shape.  If you fish a bailless reel, you are going to be praying you take that line up onto your roller ASAP before way too much slack on your line occurs further delaying the ever so importance of gaining contact with your lure (bucktail or not).  You will see how difficult this is and will understand how important this becomes especially when surfcasting shoulder to shoulder with fellow anglers while the chew is on.


         So what exactly do I mean by feathering?  Well, it’s like this.  So the second you make your cast, remember the casting set up I mentioned with the “Yes” photo above?  Your index finger should remain in that position from when you released the line, but just slightly straightened out a bit.  Towards the end of the cast and just prior to the lure striking the water, you should have your index finger starting to make it’s way back to the starting position getting the feel of the line brushing up against your finger tip – or feathering.  Just before the impact of the lure to the water, your itchy trigger finger should close- line the line and your other hand on crank should be ready to engage immediately taking up that line until solid contact with the lure is made.


Working It


         Now if you are also a freshwater bass angler and work jigs intermittently off of the bottom, if you ever apply this technique in the ocean, what is your experience?  Well for me, when fishing this way my success would always be limited to taking flatties as I coerce them off of the bottom of the ocean floor.   This jigging technique I am sure will take stripers when fishing in deep water, especially off of a boat, but that’s out of scope here as I am talking about bucktailing in the Montauk lumps.   The prime structure around the lighthouse will be loaded with boulders, drop offs while the south end will greet you with really shallow rocky sections with various drop offs.  The key is keeping that bucktail slightly sub surface and briskly reeling with some slight intermittent lifts of the rod tip.  Experimenting and working different levels of the water column is key and so with rate of retrieve.  Fishing Montauk with bucktails will be very challenging.  Your likelihood of getting hung up in a rock or the thick bed of weeds will be real high but it can be avoided by simply ensuring you have constant contact with the bucktail.  The moment you think you are hung up, jerk your rod tip up quickly as if setting your hook.  If you hesitate, your chances of getting hung up are high.  When I first fished the shallow south side of Montauk, it was pretty deceiving whether I was getting hit’s or if I was simply getting hung up.  This sensation was often the case especially if coming off of a layoff or getting the “skunk” after several outings.  You should adjust quickly though and realize when you have a fish on versus getting hung up.


Bucktail Choice


          As generic as they may seem, I like the Andrus bucktail – especially the jetty casters.  They are undoubtedly one of the most productive, versatile and cost friendly bass buster.  First off, the hair is super thick so the rate they fall is much slower than other bucktails.  This is a plus in those Montauk shallows.  Second, the hooks are solid single hook shanks not like other bucktails with those weak wire hooks.  Trust me, those will bend after a hookup or two.  Case in point, on my fall pilgrimage to Mecca in 2012 I armed myself with a few more ½ ounce bucktails I picked up at local Jersey tackle shop.  I specifically asked for Andrus but the shop owner did not have any and pointed me to a local lure makers offerings.  He said they were just as good if not better than the over priced Andrus bucktail.  (Picture me scratching my head with a smirk on my face after he tells me this).  Either way, I decided to pick up a few as I did like the color combinations they had (purple/white, red/white, chartreuse/white, blue/white).

On the first day we arrived on the south side of Montauk, immediately we spotted stripers wallowing in up tight in the shallow waters.  As I did not have any ½ ounce Andrus, I only had the ones I picked up from the Jersey shop.  I specifically wanted ½ ounce as the water was very calm with barely any white water so definitely wanted a super slow sink.  First cast of the purple/white combo and a white strip of Uncle Josh rind, I immediately hooked up to close to a legal size bass.  I set her free and immediately hooked up with another nice fish.  On the next cast, I immediately got whacked but continuously missed fish upon that retrieve.  Upon expecting the bucktail, the wire shank was completely bent backwards!  What a piece of $hit I thought – but the color combo did prove productive.  I wanted to take this back to the tackle shop and show him precisely why I was looking for Andrus.  I continued to bang fish with these sub-par bucktails, but only managed to use them after a 2 bass max.  When the chew is on, using a bucktail is very efficient as you can catch and release at record pace compared to detaching another lure such as a plug, equipped with several trebles.  I also like to bend the barb down as it aids in the quick release process.

Andrus Bucktail
Andrus Rip Splitter

Closing Thoughts


           So there you have it, my two cents on fishing bucktails.  As I said, I never really had much confidence with them when targeting stripers off the surf but a few of these tips I learned has changed all of that.  Some may think that it is a such a “boring” and generic lure but $hit, there is nothing boring about bailing bass after bass in numbers when the bite is on and this timeless classic is proven.  Be sure to always carry a few in your bag on every outing.  Next, I look to improve my skills working bucktails in inlets with fast moving water.  Understanding current, dialing into the structure and the proper weight of the bucktail is essential.  I haven’t quite figured it out with consistency yet in this setting and will be happy to share once I figure it out.  Tight Lines!


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