For some reason there is somewhat of a hesitant feeling among anglers when it comes to trolling Bucktail Flies for Trout. This usually is a result of not knowing enough on how to properly fish this presentation or maybe it’s due to the lack of information available on how to fish these very productive lures. Whatever it is, it’s a well-known fact that some of the largest Rainbow Trout in BC and the Pacific Northwest have been caught using Bucktails.
So what exactly is a Bucktail? A Bucktail is a large fly that has been tied using materials such as deer hair (hence the name “Bucktail”) or Polar Bear hair, created to mimic baitfish such as Kokanee. When fishing large freshwater lakes these flies are trolled at higher rates of speed to entice trout to aggressively attack your fly.
The fishing method in which is used for fishing Bucktails is somewhat simple. However, there are some very important items to take into consideration when fishing Bucktails that will make the difference between just washing the fly all day and getting fish to the boat.
Time of Year When to Use a Bucktail
Like any other type of fishing the first thing we want to acknowledge is the time of year in which we are fishing. Typically trolling Bucktails is a method that is most commonly used during spring, late fall and winter, as it’s most effective during these cooler water periods. When the water surface is colder the large Rainbow Trout will emerge out of the depths of the lake and position themselves near the surface to ambush cruising baitfish such as Kokanee. Majority of the time when fishing Bucktails we are fishing right on or just below the surface. As the fly rapidly cruises by or above a Rainbow or Bull Trout they can’t resist but to attack it!
When the surface temperature is between 55F-65F such as in the mid spring or early fall, I find Bucktail fishing is most effective in the mornings or last hour of light. This is because as the sun warms up the water surface and the sunlight starts to shine brightly off the water the fish will tend to drop deeper in the water column.
When trolling a Bucktail we are trolling at much faster speeds than when using a typical trout lure such as a plug or spoon. The thing about this is that it allows us to cover a lot of water to locate the fish, which is vital when fishing larger lakes. One thing I always remind anglers is when trolling flies on the surface don’t forget to watch your electronics. You won’t always find fish on the surface during cooler water periods. If a low-pressure system moves in it may drive the fish deeper. Also, during these colder months the water in large lakes isn’t as stratified like it is during the summer months, which means the trout can comfortably move throughout the water column. So if you are surface fishing but start to consistently mark fish at 60 feet it’s worth dropping a lure off the downrigger to target those fish.
The best piece of advise that I received from a mentor regarding trolling speeds for Bucktails is to use the water temperature as a guide to which speed I should be trolling. During colder temperatures we troll slower and as the water temp increases so do our trolling speeds.
Use this formula as a starting point when trolling Bucktails – Based on surface temperatures:
Less than 40F: 2.4-2.8mph
Average Temp 40F-60F: 3-3.5mph
Greater than 60F: 3-4mph
One of the trickiest parts about Bucktail fishing is to know what the best colour pattern to use as it can vary between water bodies. What might work in one lake may not work in another. This is where local knowledge really comes into play. If at all possible, I do recommend stopping in at the local fly & tackle shop to ask for their recommendations.
The rule of lighter colours on brighter days and darker colours on cloudy days does apply in most situations. On the lighter coloured flies having small strands of tinsel will help reflect the light to get the fish’s attention; while on the darker flies having gold or copper Mylar will do the trick.
During the fall when the Kokanee are spawning be sure to have flies that will mimic these fish such as red top with white bottom, and brown top, orange sides with white bottom. Some system experience large flying ant hatches that blow into bays of the lake that trout will key in on; so again having a variety of patterns to mimic the forage is key.
Long Set Backs and Planer Boards
Large trout are very timid of boat traffic and motor noises that cause them to veer away from the boat as you troll. Eventually in most cases the fish will fall back to where they were originally residing. Due to this behaviour we use two methods involving long line setbacks and planer boards to ensure our fly is being well presented within the fish’s strike zone.
Depending on the size of your boat you need to make sure that you are putting enough line out that reaches the fish. On my old 14 foot Lund the sweet spot was around 175 feet, but now fishing out of our 20ft KingFisher Boat our sweet spot is further behind around 250 feet.
Many anglers who fish Bucktails often resort to using planer boards. The planer board veers out to the side of the vessel allowing you to present your lure off to the side of the boat. When using a planer board you don’t have to put as much line out because when the fish swims away from the boat your lure will be within the same zone as the fish. One great benefit of using a planer board is that they will surge through the water transferring a life like action to your Bucktail. Some days the trout like the surging action and some days they like no action at all. This is why when I’m fishing two rods I will run one off the planer board and one straight out the back. I’ll let the fish tell me what they want and then switch both rods to which presentation is working best.
Tune the Bucktail
The goal to effectively fish a Bucktail is to have it run true through the water. Before letting the fly out be sure to check that it’s working properly. Place the Bucktail in the water next to the boat at the speed in which you will be trolling. The fly should not be swerving, rolling or be leaning to one side. You want the fly to run straight in the water and if it isn’t doing this then you need to tune it. A Bucktail can be tuned in a few ways; you can adjust the knot position on the eye of the lure, comb the hair of the fly to ensure it’s straight or adjust the positions of the beads and/or hook(s).
Any debris such as weeds that gets attached to the fishing line while trolling can throw off the lure and cause it not to fish effectively. Pay close to attention to your lines to make sure this doesn’t happen. One trick you can use when fishing in water with debris is to attach the line to a downrigger and lower it 3 to 5 feet. The debris will get hung up on the downrigger cable rather than your fishing line.
Other Important Notes When Fishing Bucktails
Typically when I’m fishing a Bucktail I’m using 20lbs test Maxima monofilament mainline tied to a bead chain swivel with an 8-10 foot leader of 12-15lbs test fluorocarbon, depending on the lake I’m fishing. The fish aren’t leader shy, however I find that by using a fluorocarbon leader it is much more abrasion resistant. Sometimes your leader can get very beat up when catching toothy mature trout. Also fluorocarbon line is denser than monofilament that helps keeps the fly subsurface. Some anglers prefer to use 25lbs-braided line as their mainline because there is absolutely zero stretch which results in a strong hook set. It’s really up to what rod you are using and even personal preference.
Bucktails don’t always have to be trolled right on or near the surface. They work very well at all depths. You can fish them off a downrigger, using inline weights or even fast sinking fly lines. They can also be fished behind dodgers or flashers in replacement of hoochies or spoons. They are versatile lures that can be experimented with.
Fishing Bucktails is truly it’s own experience like no other lure. Since we are trolling at such fast speeds when a trout smashes the fly it can vigorously peel line off your reel. Make sure your drag is set with the clicker on so you don’t miss a strike and the rod is locked in the rod holder. If the fish strikes the fly but it doesn’t stick, quickly let some slack line out. Occasionally the trout smashed the fly to stun its prey and is turning back around to come for its last lethal strike!
In the end it’s all about getting on the water and putting your time in to build your confidence while fishing these flies. After a bit of time you will become more experienced and successful when fishing Bucktails. I can assure you the payoff will be well worth it…. simply put, Bucktails catch fish!