Pretty Bucktails All in a Row

Trolling single bucktails, or more effectively in tandem, is a time-tested technique to entice summer-time striped bass.

It’s been almost 20 years since I first set foot in the Dixie ski boat that Jerry Hill of Denton had converted into a striper-fishing machine. Twice in the space of about two weeks, we sped across the calm surface of Badin Lake as dawn broke, searching for stripers. We found a big school at Buffalo Creek the first morning, if I remember correctly, and caught a dozen or so fish.

The next time, we worked two or three different places before approaching the mouth of Glady’s Fork. There we saw one fish suck down a surface shad about 50 yards in front of the boat. Two hours later, we had boated 56 fish, most of them between 4 and 8 pounds — typical Badin Lake stripers for the late 1980s.

The other day I was reminded of Hill, who guides intermittently at Badin when he finds time between managing rental properties.

This time after I climbed into Troy Roberson’s slick Key West bay boat — rigged to the nines for stripers and hybrids at Jordan Lake — I noticed something similar about the rigs hanging from some of the rods in his rod-holders.

The bucktails looked familiar — boxing-glove style. Roberson also had triple swivels, plastic-worm trailers, down-riggers at the back corners of the boat, and reels spooled with lead-core line.

About the only thing missing were the Deep Six planers that Hill used to get his baits down 10 or 12 feet where Badin Lake’s stripers lived.

Roberson essentially used the same rigs as Hill when I fished at Badin Lake two decades ago.

I asked the obvious question, and the answer was simple. Roberson had grown up fishing Badin, and somewhere along the way, Hill’s simple-but-effective bucktail trolling rig for stripers had been handed down — albeit through a third party.

“The guy who ties these bucktails learned from Jerry,” Roberson said, pointing at a chartreuse bucktail and bright chartreuse grub trailer hooked to one rod’s line guide.

If something has worked consistently for 20 years or more, it bears examining. The glorious second morning I fished with Hill, one of the reasons we were able to catch so many fish — besides sitting above the mother lode of striper schools — was, in many cases, we caught fish two at a time.

Hill’s trolling rig consisted of a triple swivel with two bucktails trailing behind on leaders of different lengths. Each bucktail was dressed with a 7-inch lemon/lime Hawg Caller worm, and the rigs were fished behind planers, using down-riggers. Hill started using leadcore line a few years later.

Roberson’s rigs matched Hill’s almost to a “T” with a few exceptions.

“I’ll use two ¾-ounce bucktails, but sometimes, I’ll go to a 1-ounce and a ¾-ounce, and sometimes, I’ll use a ¾- and a 3/8-ounce bucktail together,” said Hill (336-247-1265), who trolls at Badin and High Rock lakes pretty much year round. “I run one of them on a leader about a foot-and-a-half long, and the other on about a 3-foot leader. I run the heavier bucktail with the short leader; it’ll run a little deeper.”

Hill uses double bucktails almost exclusively during the hot, summer months. In other seasons, he’ll occasionally substitute a leadhead jig and some kind of plastic shad body — a Sassy Shad, for instance — for a bucktail, and occasionally, he’ll cut off a bucktail and replace it with a No. 14 or 15 Tony Acetta “Pet” spoon. But double bucktails are his bread and butter.

“It seems like (stripers) hit the little bucktail a little better than the big one, but if you get into ’em right, (doubles) will happen a lot of times,” Hill said. “The other week I had five rods out, and I had double rigs on three of them. I went through a school, and all five rods went off. I wound up with six fish on five rods. They hit everything I had.”

Roberson uses the double-bucktail rig with his down-rigger rods. He fishes two of them at a time when he’s trolling, along with four rods and reels loaded with leadcore line.

“I’ll use a ¾-ounce bucktail with a 3-foot leader, and a 3/8-ounce bucktail with about a 5-foot leader,” said Roberson, who runs Striper Sniper guide service (919-656-1887). “You always put the heavier bucktail on the shorter leader, but when you come back another 2 feet with the smaller one.

“I like to use a leader of 17-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon with 20-pound Berkley Big Game on my reel. I’m real picky about using a fluorocarbon leader. I’m not gonna swear it makes a big difference, but I think it does.”

Using different lengths of leaders and different bucktail weights tends to separate the baits a bit and prevents line twist and tangles.

Roberson said he gets an “occasional” double hookup, but more often, just a single striper with the smaller lure.

“For me, 80 percent of the time, they’ll hit the smaller bucktail on the longer leader,” he said. “I think the second bucktail is there more for looks, action and attraction.”

Hill and Roberson use basic colors — white, chartreuse and green. They’ll run different colors in their spreads.

Roberson typically tries to keep his single-lure combinations of one color, for example, a bucktail with a chartreuse head and chartreuse hair and a 4-inch Gulp grub as a trailer.

“I try to keep all my colors the same on a rod,” he said. “If I start changing to try and see what color they want that day, the only thing I’ll change is the trailer.”

Roberson trolls about 2 miles per hour. He’s got a trolling plate on the lower unit of his 150 Yamaha that will cut by half the speed his engine normally trolls. Hill tries to keep his engine at about 600 rpm or less.

Trolling is typically an excellent summertime tactic, in part because fish are often packed tightly in schools. Finding them is the tough part.

But once an angler runs a few lures through them, catching them is less of an effort. Of course, that’s as long as an angler keeps all his bucktails in a row.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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