BUCKTAILING ON WESTERN L.I. SOUND
by Captain Sal Tardella with Bonnie Tardella
Bucktail lures have been used for a very long time-possibly invented by local Native American fishermen right here in the Northeast. They’re made with real deer tails, and we all know that Indians didn’t waste anything in nature. Today commercially-manufactured bucktails are attached to metal “jig heads” and they vary in weight and shape and size and color. My personal preference is a white quarter-ounce lima-bean jig hooked up to a chartreuse or white Mr. Twister lure. (I attach the Mr. Twister in the same manner used to secure a live worm to the line, “weaving” it onto the hook and making sure there are no kinks in the Twister’s body so it can glide unencumbered.)
With the bucktail and Mr. Twister, I use 8-10 lb. test monofilament line, tying the lure directly onto a 20-lb test fluorocarbon leader. The leader is almost invisible under water, and it really helps avoid losing a fish that seeks his freedom by retreating to a piling or a rock formation.
Blues, striped bass, weakfish and fluke find the undulations of a bucktail irresistible, and these relatively-inexpensive lures are an excellent choice when fishing around structure, such as pilings, reefs, rock piles, or nearby a rip-environments especially sought by bass and blues. Because they have only a single hook, bucktails are more benign than treble-style lures; they can be extracted more quickly, resulting in less damage during catch and release. But it’s a good thing they don’t cost too much, because we lose a lot of those little suckers over the course of a season. A bucktail may be easy to release from a fish’s mouth, but it’s almost impossible to dislodge when wedged among rocks-and if a bluefish hits, chances are pretty good that he’ll take the whole shebang–leader notwithstanding–because even little blues have very sharp teeth.
Among my favorite Norwalk haunts for bucktailing is the south side of Copp’s Island; it’s loaded with boulders and grass, both of which attract bait that in turn attracts the predators we look for. A bit eastward is another good spot, Goose Island-easily recognized by its proximity to Peck’s Ledge Light. We often work the entire south side of Goose, ending at the western end of the island where there’s a tidal rip that often holds bass and blues of all sizes. (I try to work this area only from half to full tide because there are some rocks there that only expose themselves at very low tide.) Between Goose and Copps there’s a sand bar that produces a swift current during a dropping tide. Another ideal site is the northwest side of Cockenoe Island, east of Goose and Peck’s Ledge-at full tide, dropping. There’s a lot of grass and rocks there-as well as the beginning of the reef, which is 8-9 feet at high tide and drops to 3-4 at low. This spot has several tidal eddies, which “ball up” the bait, making them more attractive. Stripers usually feed in the grassy areas leading to the rocks.
The Norwalk Islands include Sheffield, Shea, Chimmons, Copps, Betts, Grassy, Goose, Cockenoe, and Sprite. Besides the named islands, there are countless boulder groups and sea grass growth throughout the area. Middle Passage runs between Shea and Chimmons and Copps; it’s safely navigable during half tide to high. If you’re going to take a short cut through Middle Passage at low tide, you’d best be very familiar with the exact location of its rocks. It’s those very same rocks that make Middle Passage so productive during fluking season (late May through August.) Fluke are also attracted to the unique conditions found at Peck’s Ledge Light–lots of sandy bottom. When fishing for fluke, if the tide isn’t too strong and winds aren’t too high, we like to use a 3/8″ ounce bucktail with squid and spearing combo. Snappers are great, too, when available. Sea robin bellies-cut in pennant shape-are also a delicacy to the fluke.
Throughout the fishing season we generally find silversides, bunker, sand eels, snapper blues-and occasionally a cinder worm hatch in the Islands-all great attractants for blues and stripers.
Just as a warning: when fishing the Norwalk Islands boaters should be very alert during new-moon and full-moon phases. These lunar stages create extremely low tides, leading to hazardous conditions when rocks normally covered by deep water become exposed and threaten engine and hull.
With bucktailing, success depends almost solely upon presentation. I instruct my passengers to cast as close as possible to a visible structure, to let the lure sink to the bottom and then immediately begin a controlled retrieval, utilizing a slow upward stroke to simulate a wounded baitfish. (Gamefish will generally hit when the lure is in its downward “sinking” phase.) As soon as you feel a strike, set the hook with a sharp upward motion. I instruct those aboard ‘My Bonnie” to never allow any slack in the line nor drop the tip of their rods. And I remind them not to reel against the drag. Reeling in while the fish is peeling out is ineffectual and could result in a curling of the line and a lot of problems with future casts. Instead, let the fish run until he stops for a breather; then reel hard until he begins to run again. My mantra is “Keep his head up!” (for as long as it takes.) If you follow these rules and don’t get too excited, you’ll doubtless win the man-against-fish tug-of-war.
Bucktailing is not the easiest fishing technique to master, so practice a bit until it feels natural and you can properly manipulate the lure down through the water. When used artfully, the simple buckie can be very productive. My super-sized tackle box is filled with just about every fish-attracting gewgaw, but if I were stranded on an island with just one lure at my disposal, I’d want it to be a bucktail.