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Surf Fishing With A Bucktails: A Complete Guide

Surf Fishing With A Bucktail
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Bucktails might be considered a somewhat old-fashioned lure to some, but for surf fishing, it’s still a versatile staple in any tackle box. Bucktails are a good lure for a wide variety of different game fish and fishing environments.

Bucktails are a time-honored lure that can be used to catch saltwater striped bass, flounder, sea trout, and other medium-sized coastal fish. Bucktails can be either purchased or built like trout fishing flies and are usually jigged (pulled through the water) with an erratic, vertical motion to resemble a wounded baitfish.

Bucktails are a simple lure, but they’ve been around for decades because they’re incredibly effective. Continue reading to find out more about these fuzzy sirens and how you can use them to catch just about anything.

What Is A Bucktails?

Bucktails are a type of jig fishing lureOpens in a new tab. with a hard, rounded head (usually constructed of metal to weigh it down) with a fuzzy tail trailing behind it.

Bucktails are built to emulate an array of different kinds of freshwater and saltwater prey species.

When used in surf fishing, bucktails are often used in the form of fishing called “finesse fishing,” which involves using the lighter tackle to target fast-moving schooling fish that hunt primarily in the surf zone and the trough (the deeper drop-off directly behind the breakers).

Bucktails can either be used alone or used in conjunction with bait. These lures are very dependent on the angler’s rod action for realistic movement, and as such, they are not the best option when using a sand spike unless you are also adding bait.

History of Bucktail Lures

The Indigenous Peoples of North America used bucktail lures for hundreds of years before western anglers adopted this tradition.

Indigenous craftsmen from many nations would borrow tufts of hair from a buck’s tail during slaughter to make effective fishing flies.

Some of these Indigenous anglers eventually taught this process to Bill and Maury Upperman of the Long Island Beach Fishing Club, who went on to design the famous Upperman bucktail style jigOpens in a new tab.; this was the first commercial bucktail ever produced.

Advantages of Bucktail Lures

Bucktail lures offer surf anglers many advantages in different fishing locales. Depending on what size and shape of bucktail jigOpens in a new tab. you use, you can target dozens of different kinds of fish who will happily charge these attractive lures.

Here are some of the other advantages of bucktail lures:

Easy to construct: These simple lures are an excellent choice for a jig for those interested in learning how to tie their own flies and make their own fishing lures. It is an age-old art with a lot of room for creative expression.

Versatility: Bucktail lures are suitable for many different kinds of water conditions and fish types. From lake trawling to surf fishing, bucktails can be used in just about any fishing environment.

Accessories: They can be accessorized with trailers or live/cut bait to enhance the lure’s effectiveness in the water. Between tailor-made trailers and the multitude of bait options, the opportunities for customization are nearly limitless.

Works with both light and heavy tackle: Because they come in a variety of sizes and styles, you can build bucktail jigs that target everything from small surfperch to thirty-pound stripers.

Variety of colors and designs: They come in every color and style under the sun and can be made to imitate a large variety of different prey animals from shrimp and crawfish to frogs and minnows.

Can be cast, jigged, or trawled: Bucktails can be used no matter what kind of fishing you plan to do, whether you want to surf fish from a beach, fish off a pier, or jig beneath a boat offshore.

Attractive action: Using the right technique, you can move bucktails in a way this is very attractive to fish. They also retain fluid movement when they are in colder environments, whereas silicone and rubber lures tend to contract and grow stiff, reducing their action in the water.

With all of the advantages bucktails provided, any angler who is interested in surf fishing would be crazy not to include at least a few choice bucktails in their tackle box.

Disadvantages of Bucktails

There are lots of advantages to bucktails, but there are a few disadvantages as well.

Here are a few of the drawbacks of bucktail lures:

Slow-moving: While the bucktail is capable of very fluid, realistic movement, it doesn’t have much inherent movement and must be worked with the rod to achieve its full potential for attracting fish. Bucktail lures are not ideal for a surf spike setup because you need to work them to encourage striking actively.

Not realistic: Compared to some newer designs of fishing lures, bucktails are not the most realistic-looking types of lures available. Thus, you need to keep the lure moving so that the fish don’t get a clear look at it.

Not scented: Most traditional bucktail lures are not scented, which is why scented trailers and live bait are often added to bucktails, which increases their appeal.

Fish Attracted to Bucktail Lures

One of the best things about using bucktail lures for surf fishing is that they can be used to attract many different kinds of fish.

Here are some of the different surf-dwelling species of fish that can be caught using bucktail lures:

  • Surfperch
  • Whiting
  • Striped bass (freshwater and saltwater)
  • Flounder and sole
  • Blackfish
  • Sea trout
  • Halibut

Bucktail lures are designed to imitate many different kinds of natural prey, and you can accentuate them with trailers as well as live or cut bait.

This versatility allows you to customize the lure to attract any species you want from the wide gamut of fish that can be found in the surf.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Bucktails

A lot of the versatility of bucktail lures comes from the wide variety of designs they come in.

You can start with the basic design and add your own accessories, or grab something more elaborate right off the shelf.

Here are some of the factors you should consider when choosing which kind of bucktail to rig:

Color contrast: One of the most popular types of bucktail lures are white bucktails, and these lures are taken aggressively by everything from bass to trout to perch. But bucktail lures also come in a variety of other colors, including chartreuse, orange, red, and silver. Many bucktails come in multiple colors to provide maximum contrast.

Movement: These artificial lures are dependent on visual attraction over the scent. Because bucktails don’t have a lot of inherent motion outside of being worked with the rod—especially in still backwaters or slow-moving currents—many anglers enhance their movement by adding trailers or other tail streamers.

Size: Size is an essential consideration when you are choosing a bucktail lure; the optimal size for your lure is determined both by fish type and weather. Small bucktails are suitable for calm, shallow water. Micro bucktails (1/8th ounce jig heads) are good for backwaters and inlets. Larger bucktails are suitable for strong currents and deep waters.

Scent: Bucktail jigs rarely have any natural scent that attracts fish, which puts these baits at a disadvantage when targeting scent-driven game fish. However, this can be mitigated by adding scented trailers, live bait, or cut bait to the jig.

Great White Bucktails

White bucktail lures are probably the most popular type of bucktail lure, and this is because white lures are good at mimicking the flashing underbelly of baitfish.

Since most game fish will strike baitfish from below, their bellies are the part of their prey that they aim for.

Your best bet is to make sure you have at least a handful of bucktail lures with different colors, that way you can test a few of them and see which ones you get the best results with for the species of fish you’re trying to catch.

Different Bucktail Weights

Bucktail jigs come in several different weights that are suitable for different kinds of fish and conditions.

Lightweight varieties are more appropriate as topwater baits and can be used to cast into an area of visible feeding activity or baitfish movement.

Heavy bucktail lures are a better choice for bottom fishing. They also work well in higher winds and stronger currents.

Heavier lures are often the right choice for surf fishing since strong currents can displace a lure or dislodge bait if they are not weighed down.

When the water is calm, a 1/2 ounce bucktail is a good size to go with, while 1-2 ounce bucktails are better for rough surf and high winds.

It’s best to have several different sizes and weights available in your tackle box so you can adjust your strategy as the conditions demand.

How to Use a Bucktail Lures?

There are many different methods you can use to reel a bucktail jig successfully. Here are a few of them:

Straight reel

This is what it sounds like—you cast a lure out and then reel it directly back in with one smooth retrieval action.

You should use this retrieval method when you’re scouting out an area, and you want to be able to cast several times quickly to gauge the quality of fishing in different spots.


With this method, you cast out a lure or piece of bait and allow it to sink, then hop across the bottom.

You should use this retrieval when going after bottom-feeding fish in the surf zone as it mimics the movement of prey like sand fleas and small crabs.


Twitching the lure involves reeling it in sporadic, jumpy movements. This retrieval is good at attracting the attention of larger fish that are aggressive towards wounded prey.

Cast the lure, then allow it to sink. Pull your rod straight upbringing the bucktail back up from the bottom, and then let it sink again. Add in a few small twitches throughout to really draw those strikes.

It’s vital to pause movement of the jig periodically to give the fish a chance to strike without having the lure jerked away from them.

Jig heads can have two different points of attachment, on the top of the head or on the front, some have both. This allows you to create different motion in the water.

Attaching it on the top of the headworks well for up-and-down action in the water; use this method when fishing off a boat or pier.

Attaching the lure using the loop on the front is fantastic for bringing it back to you in a straight line. This method works great with long casts from the beach, pier, or dock.

If you have found a method that works well, you can stick to it, but experimentation and mixing styles can be used to explore what attracts the fish in your area.

10 Tips for Using Bucktail Lures

Bucktails have been around for a decade. As a result, anglers have gathered a bunch of tips on how to effectively use these lures on several different kinds of fish.

For surf fishing, adhere to the following tips for best results:

1. Keep it close to the bottom

Many surf-dwelling fish species, such as whiting and surfperch, tend to do the majority of their hunting on the ocean floor, where they forage for sand fleasOpens in a new tab. and mollusks.

To get their attention, try and keep your lure near the bottom.

2. Use a larger head

Bucktail jigs with large, heavy heads tend to sink faster, which is better at drawing a strike from a nearby fish than a bucktail jig that sinks slowly.

Bucktails with large heads also cut through the water more neatly when reeled, maintaining a higher speed.

3. Speed up your reel

One of the only disadvantages of bucktails is that they are not one of the most realistic-looking lures out there, which means that to get a fish to strike, you have to keep it moving quickly.

When using bucktails, focus on steady, swift retrieval to get the most attention.

4. Consider jig head shape

Rounded jig heads sink faster, while boxing glove-shaped jig heads are useful in areas that are thick with a cover like seaweedOpens in a new tab., as they are less likely to get snagged.

5. Experiment

It helps to have a variety of bucktail jigs available in different weights and colors since different species of fish can differ wildly in what tempts them to strike.

Some prefer faster-falling lures, while others prefer ones that fall slower. Some prefer white lures, while others prefer bright colors.

Try different things and note what works.

6. Use braided line

If you use braided line while surf fishingOpens in a new tab., you are less likely to lose fish from the hook being accidentally pulled out of their mouth.

Braided line does not stretch, which means the hook is more likely to set when using a long line.

7. Add bait

Adding bait (either live bait or cut bait) can significantly increase the attractiveness of your bucktail lure by adding a scent component along with a struggling movement.

Your target species of fish will determine which type of fresh bait you should use.

8. Consider using a Leader (Mono or Fluoro)

Using a leader gives the end of your line greater abrasion resistance to rocks and fish bites.

They also stretch more than the braided line, which will give you some shock absorption when the fish start biting.

The braided line is super thin and strong, which allows you to get long casts. However, trying to grab that line when pulling in a fish can lead to serious cuts in your hand.

The leader will give you something to grab when bringing the fish onto the beach.

Using a 3 to 4 feet leaderOpens in a new tab. will make sure your swivel isn’t hitting the guide—if you are using bait, you will want to use a shorter leader, or it will be very hard to cast your line. Y

ou can use a leader wallet to store them for easy access. Pair it with a 75-pound tactical angler clip for a great setup in the surf.

9. Use Tactical Angler Clips

These handy little clips attach to the end of your leader lineOpens in a new tab. and allow you to quickly and easily swap out lures by sliding them on and off the clips.

They work great in low light conditions as they make changing out your lures so easy, you can do it with your eyes closed. A 75-pound clip should suffice for surf fishing.

10. Add Trailers

These additions to bucktails make the lure appear larger and will add extra action in the water, which draws the fish’s attention.

They can also decrease the rate at which the lure sinks, which is useful when surf fishing.

Depending on which kind of trailer you choose, they can also add color and scent to your lure.

While optional, many surf fishers opt to add this bit of kit to their tackle box as they are especially good when you want to attract bigger game fish.

Different Types of Trailers You Can Use for Bucktails

You can add several different types of trailers to your line to catch the fish’s attention. We will cover the four main types below:

Uncle Josh Pork Rind

This trailer is made from pork fatback, which is cured and dyed. They were in production for 93 years, but as of December 2015, they are no longer being produced.

The natural material gives unparalleled water action but will dry out quickly if not stored immediately after being used.

If you still have some of these or can find some for purchase, make sure you take care of them as supply is severely limited.

Fat cow jig strips

are a new synthetic option that mimics the shape and movement of pork rind trailers using a flexible and durable material. If you can’t find the pork rind trailer, try the fat cow jig strip.

Otter Tails

These are another great synthetic option. They are extremely strong, don’t dry out, and are scented to increase their strike drawing power.

Otter tails offer a similar fluttering action to the old pork rind trailers. They now come in 9 sizes and 11 different colors.

Berkley Gulp! Swimbait

These soft baits are heavily scented and also infused with a fish attractant, which gives them a great fluttering action along with scent cues that attract strikes.


Hackle feathers can be a great addition when trying a bucktail. The feathers extended farther than the bucktail hair and undulated when dropped in the water.

They do not slow the lure’s sink rate, which makes them great for fishing in deep, fast-moving water.

Check out the great clip below from On The Water MediaOpens in a new tab. to see these trailers in a side-by-side comparison with the 70-S pork rind trailer.

Credit: On The Water Media

Tips for Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is very different than many other types of fishing, so to use bucktails effectively on your next outing, you have to understand some of the basic concepts of what makes for a successful surf fishing trip.

Here are some of the things you can do while surf fishing to increase your catch rate (regardless of what species you’re going after):

Fish in the 1-2 Hours Preceding a High Tide And The Hour Afterward.

These are the most productive hours for anglers because fish are most active during the moving tide when the water comes in, and are least active at low tide.

To know whether the tide will be in or out at your favorite spot, use a tidal pattern app like Tide AlertOpens in a new tab., so you always know when to hit the surf.

Look for the cut.

Most of the fish you’ll be targeting while surf fishing is found in the drop-off directly behind the waves breaking on the shore, caused by eroding sand.

This deeper trench of water that runs along the coastline is known as a trough, cut, or gut. It is the area where baitfish run, and where game fish chase them.

Use lighter tackle.

Most of the fish that are found close to shore are smaller fish, and it will be harder to set a hook with a one- or two-pound fish on heavy tackle.

Using tackle that is too heavy on smaller fish also removes a lot of the fight, which some anglers would argue takes a lot of the fun out of surf fishing.

Don’t overcast.

It is tempting to cast out as far as you can from shore with a surf rodOpens in a new tab., but it’s not the best choice.

You’re going to be casting over the heads of many of the fish you’d like to target since most of them will be found closer to shore where they are feeding.

Keep casting in the same area if you get a catch.

Most fish in the surf zone are schooling fish that gather in close to each other for feeding activity, so chances are if you catch one surfperch or whiting in a spot on the trough, you’re likely to find more in the same place.

How to Manage Your Tackle for Surf Fishing

Every person who fishes has a different method of organizing and storing their tackle when they’re not actively fishing.

Because bucktail lures are dependent on their fluffy tails and trailers for presentation, you’ll want to keep all of your lures stored away in a place where they won’t get lost or damaged.

Here are some tips for organizing and managing your tackle so that you can always find your bucktails when you need them:

Organize tackle by species. You’re likely to know which fish you like to go after most often, and surfperch will require a slightly different setup than striped bassOpens in a new tab., for instance. Keep all of your jigs for one species in one section of your tackle box so you can access them easily when going after that type of fish.

Keep soft plastic baits of different colors separated. These baits tend to bleed dye, especially once wet, and if you keep different colors together, they can become stained and unsightly.

Use labels and clear plastic lids on smaller containers. This system will make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for in a hurry without having to dig through your entire tackle box whenever you want a sinker weight.

Keep your gear dry. Make sure that your tackle is dried thoroughly after use before putting it back in the tackle box to prevent rusting.

Use a fly box. Fly boxes are an excellent choice for storing bucktail lures, especially as they provide an aesthetically pleasing way to shelve your tackle when not in use while also keeping it from getting misplaced or tangled up.

What Bait Can You Use With Bucktail?

One of the best ways to enhance a bucktail lure for increased attractiveness to fish is to add bait, either live bait or cut bait.

Live bait is used for scent and movement since the wriggling of the bait on the hook draws in fish like a magnet, while cut bait is used purely for scent.

These are the kinds of baits commonly used while surf fishingOpens in a new tab. with a bucktail:

Sand fleas: These small sand-dwelling animals (also known as sand crabs or mole crabs) are commonly found in the wet sand along the seashore and can grow up to over an inch in length.

Sand fleas are one primary form of prey sought by many surf-dwelling fish such as surfperch and whiting.

Clams: Mollusks such as coquina clams and pipis are popular food sources for surf-dwelling fish, but because these clams are too small to use on a hook effectively, larger varieties such as razor clams or cherrystone clams are preferred for use as live bait.

Baitfish: For live bait, pilchard or bunker are popular baitfish for surf fishing larger targets, such as striped bass. Once set on a hook, live fish will thrash and dart through the water.

Since predatory fish are drawn to vulnerable or injured prey, using live bait is like ringing a dinner bell when hunting larger game fish.

Squid: Squid is a common cut bait because it has a strong scent that draws fish effectively.

It is attractive to many different species and can be cut to size for both small and large tackle when targeting different sizes of fish.

Another advantage of squid is that it can be stored frozen for convenience.

Shrimp: Shrimp is a popular form of bait when used live, cut up, or even cooked ahead of time.

The strong smell of shrimp and its appealing taste make it an irresistible bait for several varieties of fish.

One advantage of shrimp is that you can hook them through the tail, which prolongs their lifespan on the hook and allows them to move naturally in the water.

Using live bait can be a great way to catch fish that are otherwise acting finicky, but as anglers, it is important to respect our bait and prevent as much distress to the bait animals as possible.

Bait should be stored in an aerated bucket until used—you can use a battery-powered air pump to oxygenate the water in the bucket.

You will also want to avoid sticking your hands down into the live well, as the oils from your hands or sunscreen can kill some baitfish like a bunker.

Keep a net specifically for the live well and remove bait this way instead, to avoid losing bait more quickly than necessary.

Bucktail Lures Are Great for Surf Fishing

Bucktails have been around for a long time, and their longevity can be attributed to their versatility and overall success in driving both freshwater and saltwater fish to strike consistently.

Whether you’re going after Stripers or HalibutOpens in a new tab., whiting, or pompano, chances are if you have a few good bucktails and understand how to place them properly, you’ll be catching a creel full of fish in no time flat.

I hope you find this article helpful to you. Good luck, have fun and let’s go catch some fish.


Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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