Bucktail Spinners.....#1 for Muskies!
As winter draws to a close and the weather warms my thoughts turn from chasing winter Steelhead to hunting Tiger Muskies. Musky fishing and throwing big Spinners with dressed up hooks (Bucktails) go hand in hand, and most times during the season is the #1 way to put a big Musky in the net. Bucktail is a generic term for a group of larger spinners with a treble hook that can be tied with Marabou, Flashabou, Bucktail, rubber skirt material or a combination of these materials. Blade sizes can range from a #5 in the smaller Musky Bucktails to as large as a #13 in the huge Bucktails used in the midwest, with either a single or double blade setup. For our Tiger Muskies in Washington we generally run a #5 or #6 single bladed Bucktail. Popular brands locally are the Ducktail lures Musky thing, Bucher Tackle 500 or 700 series, Mepps Musky Killer and the Blue Fox Musky Buck.
Bucktail colors: Bucktails are available in all the colors of the rainbow, in both blade colors and the dressing on the treble. There are a handful of colors that are always reliable out here in the Northwest, with a silver or nickel blade and a black/red combination tail being the #1 producer for me.Other colors I've had good luck with are silver blade/ Chartruese tail and silver blade with a white/red combination tail. During overcast days I will sometimes run a colored blade, with red and Chartruese being my 2 favorites. Gold blades can also be top producers at times.
Techniques: Throwing Bucktails is a straight forward technique, casting towards structure and retrieving the Bucktail back with some variations. I like to make sure the blade is spinning as soon as it hits the water, as most strikes occur either at the beginning of the retrieve or at the end near the boat. I accomplish this by being ready to begin the retrieve as soon as the Bucktail hits the water. As I'm retrieving the Bucktail back I'll occasionally give it a little burst of speed with the reel, which can trigger a strike from a following fish (more about followers later). I start fishing Bucktails the majority of the time once the water temperature reaches 60 degrees in late spring and continue to throw them thru out the summer and into the fall. In addition to their fish catching abilities they also allow me to cover a ton of water and find active fish. Since Tiger Muskies are ambush predators they tend to use pieces of structure to blend in and this is where you want to throw your Bucktail.....wood, docks, weeds, rocks etc. Weeds are a favorite of big fish in the summer and Bucktails can be burned over the top of weedbeds, drawing vicious strikes from fish hiding in pockets in the weeds. I always work the edges of the weedbeds as well as the backside near the shallows, you'd be surprised how many fish will lay in water that barely covers their backs!
Follows and the figure 8: Muskies love to follow baits and Bucktails are no exception. If you can't get a fish to eat with the burst of speed I mentioned earlier and she follows your bait all the way back to the boat then it's time for a boat side maneuver.....the figure 8. The figure 8 is exactly what it sounds like, a big figure 8 with your lure in the water. It's a great trigger to get a Musky to eat at the boat. There are a few keys to performing a successful 8.
#1 The L turn: The first maneuver that starts the figure 8 is called the L turn. As soon as I see the fish behind the Bucktail and nearing the boat I want to begin lowering my rod. I lower my rod to a point where I have a foot or so of the tip under the water. This move will bring the lure downward which sets me up to do my L turn and begin my figure 8, which is done with the rod tip in the water. The downward motion also helps to get the fish excited. When I have my leader 2"-4" from the tip of my rod I perform the L turn, which is a 90 degree turn at the side of the boat, which immediately goes into my first turn of the figure 8. From there I continue my 8 until I either get bit or the fish loses interest and swims off.
#2 Big Turns: Keep your turns as big as you can to allow the Musky room to turn and chase the bait. In most cases the Musky will eat in the first turn of the 8 and nearly always eats in the turns rather than the straight aways. A longer rod is a bonus when making those big turns.
#3 Speed changes: As your doing your figure 8 you want to change speeds. I always go fast in the straight aways and slow slightly in the ovals. Speed changes are a huge bite trigger.
#4 Depth changes: As you perform your 8 you want to vary the depth. At the beginning of the straight aways you will go from shallower to deeper and as you go into your turns you make the move from deep to shallower. It's this combination of change of direction, change of speed and change of depth that can rigger a strike. There's nothing more exciting in Musky fishing than watching a Musky inhale a Bucktail next to the boat after a properly executed figure 8!
#5 The hook set: In most cases the fish will eat on a figure 8 in the turns and not in the straight away. The best hookset is to set back towards the Muskies tail. This hookset puts the treble hook in the corner of the Muskies mouth, nearly assuring it will not come unhooked. Set hard as the Muskies mouth is hard and bony. I would recommend watching a video or two on doing the figure 8, it will give you a great idea on how it works. You Tube can be an excellent resource for Musky videos. Figure 8's take practice but they are worth it, they can turn a fishless day into an epic one!
Musky Tackle, Rods: For Bucktail fishing I like a long rod, in the 8-9 foot range. The longer rod makes it easier to perform big figure 8's and to fight large Tiger's. Medium heavy to heavy power, fast action rods work well. My rod of choice is a St. Croix Legend Elite 9 foot medium heavy fast Musky rod. This rod works well with the size Bucktails I throw for Tigers.
Reels: I like a fast gear ratio reel for Bucktails, 6.5-7.0 to 1. The reel must be able to hold around 100 yards of heavy mono or the comparable amount of braided line. My current Bucktail reel is a Shimano Curado 200DHSV.
Line: Line can be a personal preference, as a lot of anglers fish braid while others prefer mono. I prefer mono in most instances but will switch to braid if the water has some color to it. I run either 25 lbs test Maxima Ultra Green for my mono set up or 65 lbs test Power Pro when I'm using braid.
Leaders: There are 2 options in Musky leaders, steel or Fluorocarbon. Leaders are a must as Muskies can bite thru both mono and braid. I prefer Fluorocarbon leaders in the 60-100 lbs test range for my Bucktail fishing, as well as any other lures I may fish. I like the stealthy nature of Fluorocarbon with the clear lakes we have in the Northwest. Be sure to use a leader with a good ball bearing swivel, line twist can be an issue throwing Bucktails all day. For more information on our local Musky fisheries we have 2 great Muskie Inc. clubs in Washington, Chapter 60 on the east side of the state and Chapter 57 on the west side. Both there websites are very informative. Good luck out there and catch a giant!