BUCKTAILS AND FALL MUSKIE By Ken Poor
In the northern woodlots, when the first touch of fall color starts to show, for the muskie fishermen, this signals the start of the trophy muskie season. On most northern lakes, shortly after Labor Day boat, traffic on the lakes dwindles, water temperatures begin to drop and muskies move from deep water into the shallows. At this time of year their feeding activity is at its highest level as they fatten up for the coming winter. From September until ice-up muskies will cruise the shallows in a feeding frenzy attacking anything that looks like an easy meal.
Bucktails are the lure of choice for early fall muskies and especially when water temperatures are above the 50-degree mark. Later in the season when water temperatures are colder large noisy surface baits such as the Burmek B-1, TallyWackers and prop-baits like the Woodchopper or Amazon Ripper get the nod.
Most fishermen select their bucktails based strictly on color or blade type and while they are important considerations there are several other elements that should influence your choice. Style, size, weight, hair type and hook placement should also be considered. Paying attention to the details when selecting your bucktails can be the determining factor for a successful muskie fishing trip.
Bucktail blades come in a variety of shapes, thicknesses and sizes. Each style is designed to perform a specific function. Small blades run deeper than larger ones, and thick blades run deeper and spin slower than thin ones. There are four basic styles of bucktail blades: willow (deep running), French or Indiana (medium running) and Colorado (shallow running). Each blade is designed to run at a different depth, give off different vibrations and flash or provide a unique profile or shape.
Willow blades are long slender in shape, spin close to the shaft and provide minimum lift allowing them to run deeper than any other blades. French blades also spin close to the shaft, run deep, but give off a rounder flash than the willow blades. Indiana blades have more slightly more lift than French blades (run shallower) and also give off a large, round flash. The fluted Indiana blade is probably the most popular and versatile of the bucktail blades. It can be retrieved fast or slow and still spins at the proper rate. The design of the Indiana blade makes it a natural for slowly working the tops of shallow weed flats.
Colorado blades provide the most water resistance or lift and are the shallowest running blades. Bucktails made with Colorado blades are a good choice for fishing over shallow weedbeds or anytime you need to keep your bucktail high in the water column (close to the surface). They also perform well on a fast retrieve and are a great choice for covering a lot of water quickly. Colorado blades also produce a heavy vibration, making them an excellent choice for night fishing.
Each properly designed bucktails is a compromise between balance, blade style and weight that allows it to run properly within a specific depth range. Understanding the basics of bucktail balance and weight will help you avoid some common mistakes and allow you to fish bucktails more effectively. A buck-tail that is weighted nose heavy will flip over and foul its rear hook on the leader during the cast. Too much weight in the tail will make it hard to start the blade spinning. A lightly weighted bucktail may be very easy to bulge over shallow weeds, but the lack of weight can make it tough to cast on a windy day.
Most fishermen assume that a heavily weighted bucktail will run deeper than a lightweight bucktail. However, bucktails must be balanced in order to run correctly at a specific depth. Normally adding weight to a properly designed bucktail will make it sink faster not make it run deeper. What it will do is increase the rate of retrieve needed to make the blade spin. The faster retrieve will simply pull the bucktail up to its original depth. A better choice is to buy a variety of bucktails designed to run at different depths.
Bucktails get their name from the hair from a deer’s tail that they were originally made from. Deer hair is hollow and will float, but not all deer hair is the same. Thin, soft deer hair is dense, and is not very buoyant. Stiff, thick deer hair is not dense and is very buoyant. Bucktails you want to run deep should have thin, sparse hair and shallow running bucktails should have stiff thick deer hair. Other types of dressings include bear hair, feathers, skunk, fox and plastic skirts. Each type of hair or skirt has unique characteristics including buoyancy, color and profile.
Color is another important consideration when choosing a bucktail. Start with the basic colors white, black and chartreuse, one of each color with a silver blade and gold blade. As your budget allows you’ll be able to add an assortment of other colors. Use light colors and silver blades on bright days in clear water and dark colors and gold blades on cloudy days or in stained water.
Bucktails for muskies vary in weight from ¾-ounces to 1¾-ounces. A 7 or 71/2-foot, medium to medium-heavy action graphite rod matches up well with most bucktails. The length is important for steering lures around obstructions in the water and for drawing your figure eight at the end of the retrieve.
The Abu Garcia 6500 reel is the most popular reel with muskie hunters. They are tough, have a quality drag system and are reasonably priced. Spool your reel with 80-pound test braided line, tie on a high quality100-pound test cross lock leader, snap on your bucktail and you’re ready to do battle.
Muskies are a powerful and unpredictable fish that seem to have the knack for exploding on your lure when you are least expecting it. They seem to have that uncanny ability to sense when you are bone tired at the end of a hard day of fishing, have that momentary lapse of attention when resetting for the next cast or something momentarily distracts you. When Mother Nature combined their power, big razor sharp teeth and an ugly disposition she created a feeding machine that will not only test the best fishing tackle on the market, but your patience, physical stamina and skills as a fisherman.