One lure that excels three different spring species.
The resume of the simple bucktail is an impressive one. It is proven to work in all areas of the water column. The lures works effectively with others like teasers and jig strips or independently. And they are proficient in catching multiple inshore species. Save for those first few weeks of spring, when most of my casts will be made with a soft plastic paddletail, just about every cast I throw will be with a bucktail.
The sweet spot over past seasons for my favorite in the spring is a white half-ounce jig. On a light spinning rod and 20-pound braid, its erratic dance with a few twitches of the rod tip is magical. Once those bunker move in, I’m snagging more of them and catching fewer of the bass I’m targeting. The bass didn’t leave or head out to the ocean, they’re underneath the bunker, and a bucktail is the best way to get down to them.
Rarely would I be using more than 1-1/2 ounces in productive back bay spots during the spring. A 1-1/2 bucktail down to 3/4 with a curly or split tail jig strip has been effective for me. The profile mimics peanuts, worms, spearing, and other smaller baits that bass won’t ignore. And it often catches the eye and lateral line of another species waking up for a spring swim.
Just as I’ve been fooled many a time by a snagged bunker, I was sure it was too early of a showing for blues when feeling headshakes on a hookup in late April. It was in fact, the gorgeous purple and gold colors of a weakfish. It’s not surprising to me; I caught the first few weakfish with live peanut bunker by the Verrazano Bridge before calling the East End of Long Island home a few years back. As I mentioned earlier, a bucktail is a perfect profile match for peanut bunker. While not as thick as they are in the fall, peanuts are present in the early season. Using a curly tail jig strip mimicking worms that worked just off the bottom will also earn bites from the weakies. The only difference between bass and weakfish I’ve found is that you can get a striper on a fast retrieve of a bucktail close to the top. Still, I’ve only caught weakfish in the lower portion of the water column using a slower retrieve. I found that tipping my bucktail with a soft plastic like a Bass Assassin or curly tail can also help entice them.
Creeping into the month of May, I find myself on the bow of my buddy’s 23 Everglades in back bay shallows working flats and banks. Work and my 11-year-old son’s baseball schedule dictate fishing time, not tides, in what always seems like not enough hours of daylight for spring fishing. When we end up fishing the end or very start of a tide with very little drift, I often switch back to a soft plastic on a jighead from a bucktail for more presentation movement from the bottom to subsurface to entice a bass or weakfish. Then the third species strikes with the clean slice of my plastic lure, indicating it’s time to switch back to the trusty and more durable bucktail.
Few inshore thrills rival an 8- to 12-plus-pound gator crushing a surface plug. I love getting my fix when they’re in thick, like the spectacular bite last year. Yet it’s not just what’s going on up top that’s really going on. Arriving blue fish in the bays creates and triggers a competitive feed instinct with bigger, stronger, and hungrier migrating bass on their journey east and stopping in our bays for the abundance of bait. Taking a beat-up pencil popper off the clip and putting on a bucktail feels like leaving fish to find fish sometimes, but I know I can work those deeper rips and get those finicky blues to strike with a bucktail.
As the days get longer, the incoming ocean water isn’t as cold, and the outgoing bay water is chock full of bait and warmer with each tide. The fish that have staged in the bay begin to expand their feeding area, and more fish make their way into the neighborhood through the inlets and stage in those waterways. It will almost always be a bucktail for me in this scenario. By boat, even going into or coming out of slack tide will make it tricky working a pencil popper with drift speed. Using a bucktail offers a big advantage by working the bottom more effectively than other choices. I don’t mind just dealing with one fixed hook when landing a fish either!
Sometimes the simplest is the best. The versatility and simplicity of throwing bucktails in the spring could very well make the hard choice of deciding which lure to choose for which species a much easier decision.