Day or night, spring or fall, Maryland or Maine—if you don’t have an assortment of bucktail jigs in your surf bag, you are not catching as many fish as you could be. The bucktail jig’s pulsing hair combined with a fluttering trailer looks as alive as any hard-bodied plug or soft-plastic bait. A straight retrieve is all that’s needed to bring the lure to life, but snapping the rod tip or pausing the retrieve will trigger strikes from following fish.
You can control where a bucktail jig swims in the water column by adjusting the speed of your retrieve, keeping it above a weedy bottom, or dropping it behind a submerged boulder or into a trough where big stripers lie in wait. In terms of versatility, the bucktail is the ultimate striper lure. It can be fished near the surface or on the bottom, jigged vertically, or retrieved like a plug. It can be tied sparse to imitate a thin-profiled sand eel or with extra hair and feathers to mimic an adult bunker. From open beaches to backwaters, quiet bays to ripping inlets, there’s always a situation that calls for a bucktail.
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Types of Bucktail Jigs
When choosing a bucktail jig, consider both the environment and the jig type that would be most conducive to fishing that area for your target species.
- Smiling Bill: This classic jighead is designed in a way that the “mouth” of the jig pushes water aside, allowing it dive with ease and swim level in ripping currents for the most natural presentation. The Smiling Bill excels in inlets, back bays and along sand and pebble beaches.
- Bullet Head: Another long-standing jig style, the aerodynamic shape to the bullet head (generally) makes them conducive to long-distance casting and finding bottom quickly. Because of their quick-diving ability, they are ideal for fishing inlets, back bay channels and, when tied with extra hair, boulder fields.
- Ball Head: Due to it’s bulbous shape, a ball-head jig like the Sea Striker Popeye bucktail jig will perform best when crept over structure on sand beaches and in muddy back bays. The round shape rolls over sediment with ease on a super-slow retrieve, while if fished slowly in a rocky area, it can roll on its side and wedge into a snag.
- Minnow Head: The minnow head was popularized by SPRO with their Prime Bucktails, which are ideal for vertical jigging. Now, SPRO and many other brands make minnow-head bucktails that feature a forward-oriented line tie for a more natural swimming presentation when casting and retrieving in the surf. The minnow head style dives well and excels in vertical jigging applications, but can also be fished effectively in boulder fields with a forward-oriented line tie and some extra hair or a trailer.
- Arrow Head: Perhaps the most niche of the five common jig styles, arrow head jigs are for jetty and inlet fishermen who need a bucktail that cuts through headwinds and dives with ease in deep, ripping currents. The late Bruce Froh of Blue Frog Bucktails on Long Island popularized this style of jig for anglers fishing the powerful currents of the island’s south shore inlets.
There are dozens of jighead styles that can be customized for specific applications, but generally, anglers will find these five jig styles pegged on tackle shop walls.
Andrus Jetty Caster
This classic bullet-head jig is tied with extra-dense bucktail hair to slow its sink rate and keep it above the rocks in shallow water. It first gained popularity at Montauk Point, but is productive on open beaches, around boulder fields, and in back bays. Available in sizes from ½ to 3 ounces.
Andrus Rip Splitter
Tied with a thinner profile than the Jetty Caster, the Rip Splitter is designed to get a little deeper in waters with strong currents. It is deadly in inlets and along shorelines with deep, fast-moving water. Available in sizes from ½ to 4 ounces.
SPRO gave their classic Prime Bucktail a surfcasting-specific makeover to create the SPRO Power Bucktail. This jig features a heavy-duty hook that will hold its shape against big bass and bluefish in the surf. The jig also has extra bucktail hair and a forward-positioned line-tie to improve its swimming action and easily glide over rocky bottoms where big stripers lie in wait. Available in four sizes (1, 1½, 2, and 3 ounces) and two colors (white and chartreuse).
These beautifully made bucktails became available for sale in February 2015. Jeck used a decade of experience fishing the Cape Cod Canal to craft a jig that could stand up to the rocks, currents, and large bass found in the Big Ditch. They are tied on Mustad hooks with tails built up in thin layers to improve durability. In the water, they give the impression of large baitfish, making them perfect for tempting big bass throughout the Northeast surf. Large eyes, unique colors, and a combination of premium bucktail hair and hackle feathers give the Jeck’s Bucktails a lifelike appearance. Available in sizes from ½ to 5 ounces.
S&S Rockhopper Pro
Available in a large variety of colors including favorites like chicken scratch, sand eel, and blurple, Rockhopper Pro bucktails give fishermen plenty of options for jigs that “match the hatch” or stand out in the surf. Tied with extra hair to slow the sink rate, the Rockhopper Pro also has a hackle trailer that adds a tantalizing fluttering action to the jig.
Trailers for Bucktail Jigs
While strictly optional, many fishermen wouldn’t think of fishing a bucktail without a trailer. Trailers add action, color, and sometimes scent to a bucktail presentation. Options vary, depending on the target species, the location, and the baitfish present. For fluke, fishermen use trailers to add scent from synthetic baits like Berkley Gulp, cut baits such as strips of squid or fish, or whole baits like sand eels, spearing or live minnows. Striper fishermen use trailers to add action, color, and extra length to their presentations. Options include hackle feathers tied into the jig, soft-plastic baits, synthetic trailers, and natural pork rind trailers.
A little more than seven years ago, Uncle Josh Bait Company announced that they would no longer be offering fishing lures made from pork products. This ended a 93-year run of producing pork rind lures that began with Allen P. Jones and Urban Schreiner carving “frogs” out of fatback during a summer when the actual amphibians were tough to come by. The official reason was that pigs today are being brought to slaughter at a younger age, and the fatback and skin that Uncle Josh required was too thin to make durable fishing lures. But, there is a silver lining. Today, Uncle Josh products are back on shelves with a redesigned synthetic formula for their jig trailers.
Fat Cow Jig Strips are a new generation of fishing baits made from a durable synthetic material that will never dry out.
Berkley Gulp baits are available in a variety of styles. These heavily-scented soft baits are a great addition to any bucktail jig.
Otter Tails are scented synthetic trailers available in 9 sizes and 11 colors. Otter Tail trailers share many of the features of pork rind trailers, such as durability and fluttering action, but they don’t dry out or rot if left on the hook. Otter Tails are available in three sizes and six colors.
Uncle Josh formerly made jig trailers from pork rinds, which are extremely durable. They went out of business years ago, but surfcasters can rejoice, as they have been re-engineered and are available once again.
Some bucktails are tied with hackle feathers that function like trailers, extending beyond the bucktail’s hair and undulating in the water. The hackle doesn’t significantly slow the sink rate of the jig, making it a good choice for fishing deep, fast-moving water.
Comparing Bucktail Jig Trailers
Making the choice for your trailer can be challenging, and knowing what they look like underwater can be a big help.