This is not my photo and unfortunately I'm not sure who to give photo credit to
If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times. Bucktail jigs are smallmouth bass candy. It doesnt really matter where you are in the country, as long as you have smallmouth bass in your area then you probably do or at least you should have some bucktails in your tackle box.
I've personally been using bucktails for smallies for several years. However as of late I've been trying to perfect this method of fishing. In fact my journey to becoming a better bucktail jig fisherman started with me searching the web and that only yielding limited results. That's what brings me to this post, giving a detailed how to article for fishing bucktails for smallmouth bass.
As with any other type of fishing you're pretty much going to start with matching the hatch when it comes to bucktails. That can't be more true when it comes to smallmouth bass. No matter where they live, be it in creeks, deep rivers or northern shield lakes, smallmouth bass eat the same things. The number one meal on a smallmouths menu is gonna be crayfish followed by bait fish then hellgrammites. If you can mimmic any of those three you're gonna catch smallies with bucktail jigs.
Jig Size: So what size jigs should you be using for smallmouth? That depends on the waters on you're fishing. For example for catching smallmouth in shallow water, creeks and streams you'll want to use 1/8 oz. to 1/4 oz. jigs. In fact most applications are gonna be fished with 1/8 to 1/4 oz. jig. However in deep, swift current rivers like the detroit river, depending on where you're fishing you'll want to up your jig size to 3/8 oz. As a rule though, no matter where your fishing you want to use the lightest jig you can get away with so you can achieve the most natural action possible. I personally only tie 1/8 and 1/4 oz. jigs for smallmouths as when I'm chasing smallies even on big water I'm fishing relatively shallow.
Rod & Reel Setup: Throwing these small jigs doesnt require much in the line of equipment. Fishing bucktail jigs is pretty much a finesse technique like fishing the ned rig or shaky head so the same equipment used for either of these will work for bucktails.
Rod: You wanna use a 6.5 foot to 7 foot medium to medium/light spinning rod with moderate to morderate/fast action tip. The light rod will make casting the lighter jigs much easier. While the moderate action will help load the smaller jigs for longer cast. In addition to getting to longer cast the moderate to fast action will give you enough backbone to get the jig out of mud with no problems unlike slow action rods like Ugly Stiks which will flex with encountering structure and mud.
Reel: You'll want to use a 20 to 30 series spinning reel spooled with 6lb to 8lb test line for fishing bucktails. I personally spool my reels with 30lb braid attached to a 8lb flourocarbon leader as the two have the same diameter. This gives me a little more casting length and more confidence for fighting bigger bass.
Where to fish: In small rivers, creeks and and streams you want to focus on fishing the runs and pools. As well fish any eddies created by large rocks and log jams, simply cast above them and jig your way down past these spots where waiting smallmouth will be. Bridge pilings are also perfect smallmouth attracters so definitely target any bridge pilings you come across in the same way you would any other eddy.
Gravel flats and the base of dams are also amazing places to fish with bucktails. These rocky areas hold crayfish, small baitfish and hellgrammites which make them a buffet for hungry smallmouth. In fact if you see if a shallow flat that has a bunch of holes in it target that area especially as those holes are crayfish dens and the smallies will be cruising those looking for an easy meal.
If you see schools of baitfish being pushed to the surface or in deeper water on your sonar, these are perfect times to break out your bucktails. In the case of bait fish that are pushed to the surface, cast your bucktail in the middle of the fray and start twitching when your jig gets just below the school. Within seconds you should hook up with one of the bass that are pushing the baitfish. As for suspended baitfish, you want to vertically jig the bucktail just below the school as that will be were the predators will be waiting.
Also in cold deep water for suspended bass another tactic you can use is the Float-N-Fly technique. Pretty much for this technique you're suspending your hair jig about 11 to 13 feet below a small bobber on 4lb to 6lb test. When fishing the Float-N-Fly rig you wanna use a 9ft. to 11ft. noodle rod in order to cast with such a long leader. For the Float-N-Fly rig you'll be fishing it along channel edges, deep points, bluggs and steep banks while twitching the bobber lightly to give the jig action. The great thing about the hair jig is that you dont need much to give it action as the bucktail has a very lifelike action on its own.
To Trailer or Not to Trailer: Normally when you're using jigs for bass its not
When: Most people assume that bucktail jigs are only cold water baits. However bucktails are a year around pattern, especially for smallmouth bass. You just have to know the patterns of the smallmouth in your area in order to target them with bucktail jigs effectively. Howevever, the spring and fall will be the best times for fishing with bucktail jigs as smallies are feeding heavily in preparation for winter or the spawn.
When it comes to colors, it's pretty simple. Consider where your fishing and what forage is in that area. For schooling baitfish go with lighter colors and for bottom dwelling forage go with darker patterns. Here is a list of some of the more productive color patterns for smallmouth bass.
White and blue
White and red
white and pink
White and chartreuse
black and blue
black and gold
black and white
brown and white
brown and orange
brown and yellow
black and yellow
olive and black
olive and yellow
olive and orange
Rust and black
rust and yellow
rust and orange