In my opinion the bucktail jig is the most underrated and under utilized bait in the fishing world. It's an unfortunate fact that many of us see see a bucktail jig and categorize it as a bait that is strictly for cold water situations or a bait that's strictly for striped bass and fluke.
Well, we couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to bucktail jigs. They are probably the most versatile ever to be utilized by all fisherman. The bucktail has been responsible for catching more fish in salt and freshwater than any other bait outside of live bait. This is due to the fact that in the water this simple bait does an amazing job of imitating any bait fish you can think of. And as we all know all predatory fish eat just about any fish smaller than them.
With more and more people using bucktail jigs on youtube they're making a huge come back in the fishing world, going from a few fishermen secret weapon to being a weapon of choice for many anglers.
In this blog post I wont go into tips and tactics for using bucktail jigs because I'll be doing 3 more post to cover the tips and tactics that'll catch you fish with a bucktail. However this post is just a match the hatch post which will list some of the bait fish that bucktail jigs mimic.
Matching the Hatch: Below is a list of the forage species that Bucktail Jigs imitate.
If you have freshwater then you have minnows and shiners. In most cases, with the exception of Golden and rainbow shiners, shiners a silver sided snack for predators. So pretty much any color patter will work as long as its a light color. So when tying up hair jigs to imitate shiners your main objective is to match the general size of he shiners you're seeing. As well as have your colors tied up based on water clarity moreso than anything.
My choice of colors for shiners are white, white and blue, white and chartreuse and white and pink. But no matter what color I'm using with any silver sided bait fish i'm tying in flashabou to cause the jig to reflect and refract light like the scales of a bait fish.
Keep in mind that shiners a schooling fish so find the schools and work your bucktail jig in the same area of he water column just below the school. Why just below? Because most predatory fish will work the schools of shiners from below. So if your jig is just at the bottom of the school then it's considered a straggler and an easy target for any predators lurking below.
Shad, like shiners, are silver sided meals on wheels for most predator fish. Shad range in size from 1 inch all the way up to 20 inches depending on species and age. As a result you want to tie up bucktails ranging from 2 inches to 8 inches in length to match shad lengths. In order to tie the larger sizes you'll have to use jig heads that have a longer profile like ultra minnow heads and banana head jigs. As well you'll want to tie not just plain bucktail jigs to match larger shad but you'll want to tie preacher style bucktails and bunny bucktail jigs.
As far as colors go you're pretty much using the same color patterns as you would for shiners. As well the general schooling behaviors of shad are similar to shiners so you can fish your bucktails in the same way except for one notable exception. When the water temperatures drop to 45 degrees some of the shad population have a die off. So you want to mimic the die off once the water temps get below 45 degrees. You do this with sharp hops off of the bottom to mimic struggling and dying shad.
Sculpin, madtoms and gobies:
When I'm fishing waters that have any of these three species of bait fish I go with bucktails that are either brown, olive, black, olive with a black top and yellow with a brown top. As all, sculpin, madtoms and gobies are all bottom dwelling bait fish I keep the hair jigs bouncing close to the bttom or swimming just above the bottom. So no high hops as the these species will retreat to rock crevices when in danger so this is what you want to imitate.
On average each of sculpins, gobies and madtoms range in length from 2 to 5 inches as a result you want to match that size. It's not hard to match these sizes with just bucktail jigs. However for longer lengths and a change of action using bunny bucktails or preacher style bucktails will give you a better chance of matching.
Often times areas that have sculpins, gobies and madtoms will also have rockbass. In the case of imitating juvenile rock bass the same patterns will work. The only difference is you'll use a red eye instead of a dark colored eye.
Bunker also known as menhaden are striper and bluefish candy. Where ever you find a school of bunker there is a very high likelihood you'll find striped bass and bluefish nearby. This is especially true with peanut bunker, juvenile bunker, because of the large schools they roam in. It's not uncommon on the Long Island sound to come across a school of striper and bluefish blowing up on peanut bunker. For this reason when you're fishing for striper or bluefish you want to have bucktails somewhere in your tackle box.
On average bunker grow to between 12 and 15 inches in length. However when you're matching this forage species you're matching the juvenile bunkers size. So 3 to 6 inches is the size you wnna go with
Sand eels are another major forage source for striper, bluefish and fluke. Pretty much the same patterns you'd use for matching bunker will work for matching sand eels. However with sand eels you can add chartreuse, pink and black and purple to your bucktail stash as these colors work great when mimicking a sand eel hatch.
These small fish are bottom dwellers that like sandy and small smooth gravel sea beds so keep this in mind when fishing with your bucktails. So swim them along the bottom or jig it with small hops rather than high jigging motions to imitate these bait fish.
Cephalopods like squid are very common feed for large saltwater predators. The sky is the limit when it comes to the colors of bucktails you wanna use to imitate squid. This is due to the fact that most cephalopods like squid are capable of changing colors in order to camouflage themselves or given their moods.
In most cases squid will school just like bait fish which attracts the attention of predators. However this is with one major difference, their major habits and schooling takes place at night. So be looking out for a night time bite. As well due to the size of squid most squid patterned bucktails are heavy thus are used in vertical jigging techniques.
When tying squid patterned bucktails you wanna use a hair stacker so the buck tail can be uniform and add a couple strands of long grizzly hackle to imitate the two longer grasping tentacles of squid.
Like squids, octopus are cephalopods that have the ability to change their color to adapt to their surroundings or show moods. So when matching octopus patterns if you'll want ot match to the given species you have in your area. However due to the ability to alter their pigments you can pretty much go with whatever colors that will give you the best suit your water quality.
One major thing you want to think about though when matching octopus is their behavior. Octopus don't school and hunt like squid do. They are bottom dwellers so keep that jig skimming the bottom when imitating an octopus. Don't get me wrong octopus are great swimmers but their normal behavior is to sit near the bottom where they are safest and can find an easy meal.
My hope is that you got a bit more understanding about fishing with bucktail jigs by understanding the forage that the jigs imitate. Stay tuned for multiple follow ups to this post, going into more depth about the different species you can target with bucktail jigs.
Thanks for reading and tight lines