Big bucktail jigs are one of the unsung, almost forgotten, heroes of the saltwater reef fishing scene.
There’s nothing new about the basic bucktail jig, and there’s not really anything new to add to their configuration. Furthermore, there’s nothing special about the techniques that you need to fish them: Just tie one on, lob it over the side and catch fish on them like anglers have been doing since they first put to sea in dugout canoes.
And for this reason, big bucktail jigs (BBJ) would have to be one of the most overlooked lures in the world for catching either a feed or sportfishing.
However, these humble workhorses have a lot going for them. For starters they are pretty cheap in their basic knockabout configuration. Often made by backyarders, the moulding process is pretty much the same as that of a sinker, plus a slap or spray or dip of white paint on the head, bind on some white nylon for a skirt – and pretty much there’s your lure.
There are some more expensive models around, and you will get what you pay for. At the higher end you’ll get a tougher hook, a durable epoxy paint finish on the head and a secure skirt fixing – all offering a lure that will last you longer. If you can stop a fish from stealing it from you that is!
BBJ and sounders go together like hand and glove. Use your sounder to find offshore bottom structure, and hopefully a few shows of fish, on the sounder and then position the boat up current and drift across the area.
The stock standard technique is to cast out or drop the jig to the bottom and then use your rod to stroke the jig up off the bottom and then drop the rod tip to let the lure fall back to earth. The upward strokes of the rod that bounce the jigs on or just above the bottom can be anything between a sharp jerk and a slow lift.
Similarly the rod tip can be dropped quickly or slowly. The slower drop controls the lure and is often the ace card to play. Preferences are likely to be species dependant and there mood on the day.
A major variation requiring increased angler focus occurs when fish are holding at mid depth and you use the rod to stroke and pause the lure through the school of predators. If the fish are of the speed demon variety, such as tuna, mackerel and trevally, then a straight high-speed retrieve can also do the trick when they are switched on.
If these fish are showing on your sounder but not eating then count the number of turns of the handle on your reel as you speed the lure through the school and stop winding when you are just above the school. Each turn of the handle on a big high speed reel will lift the lure about a metre (you’ll have to crunch the numbers yourself to be more accurate for your own reel). For some reason it’ll often take the fish a while to hone in on your lure and they may rattle it once or twice. But then they’ll clobber the stationary lure when you’ve just about given up and are about to start retrieving again.
Spraying the lure with Spike It oil scent in either crawfish or aniseed helps out when the fish are finicky or just bumping your lure.
This high-speed caper isn’t always necessary. Quite often you’ll get your jig eaten on the drop, and quite often the culprit will be a mackerel of some description. In such circumstances bite-offs can be a hazard. Hence a short piece of very light wire might be required. However, be aware, the use of wire is likely to reduce your strike rate.
Another option, one that is particularly attractive to bottom dwellers that aren’t keen on venturing too far away from their secure homes, is to hold the lure just off the bottom and shake the rod tip.
In white knuckle country, where it is a case of lock up the drag and hang on, the ideal outfit is one of the new wave short fighting-action offshore deep jig spin sticks. I’ve used up to 80lb braided line over these rods for pulling cod and similar away from underwater caverns on feathered jigs.
At the other end of the scale, used with lines up to 20lb braid, is what Queenslanders would call a Moreton Bay spin stick type rod. A rod around 7-8’ in length with a softish tip, which allows a bit of finesse to be injected into the equation. As your jig gets heavier then look for a rod with a slightly stiffer tip, something similar to the Egrell Bear Metal.
As far as reels go, at the heavy end in the deep jig tackle genre either overhead or spin reels get the gig; although more or more anglers these days are heading down the path of the versatile spin outfit. As far as gear ratios go, there isn’t too much call for high speed (although it can come in handy sometimes) and low gear ratios are much better for fighting big fish, accordingly the power gears get the nod. I use a Penn Slammer and it delivers the goods trip after trip.
For the lighter line outfit with the 2-2.5m spin rod, the outfit is more versatile for other lures if it incorporates a high gear ratio reel in the 5:1 or up towards 6:1, so this is the most common setup. Once again, a low speed gear ratio is seldom a handicap.
‘Any colour, as long as it is white’ and that’s all that needs to be said. 99% of all bucktail aficionados prefer the blonde versions and variations, particularly pearl.
Some lures will have a splash of red or yellow to accompany the white and occasionally all yellow/chartreuse will get a run. But for simplicity, white heads, white skirts/tails and white binding to hold the skirt on seems to be all that is needed.
In fact, I recommend carrying a range of weights for different depth waters rather than a range of colours in your tackle box. Stick with white (maybe with a splash of other colour if you desire)…you’ll seldom go too far wrong.
The versions with the shiny silver chrome metal heads are pretty good as well, but you just don’t see them too often from the cottage lure industry. A similar effect can be gained by leaving your lead heads unpainted and giving them a polish up to expose ‘silver’ lead just before you use them.
Tails can also be made from feathers, nylon, fly-tier’s bucktail or plastic squid skirts. If you use the plastic skirt option, then pink and pink‘n’white are firm favourites.
Bouncing bucktails on the bottom is felt by many to be the true origin of jigging as a lure fishing technique. The practice was very popular on Florida’s offshore reefs and soon spread across North America, Europe and Australia.
Writing stalwart, John Mondora wrote of bucktail jigs in his chapter on Cairns in John Turnbull’s The Sportsfisherman’s Bible first published in 1974. John wrote that jigging with bucktails was still in its infancy with the lures coming in from the USA. Importantly he identified that white was a very popular colour, and that ideal sizes ranged from 1-4oz (30-120g).
I remember as a kid watching and almost wearing out Mal Florence’s video called Great Reef Explorations which had some great bucktail jigging action in it.
My own exposure to bucktail jigging in Australia reinforces them as one of the most productive lures known to mankind. I’ve fished them from Weipa to WA and they have often outfished bait.Reads: 4150