In cold water early in the season, jigs are a top-choice for all species of fish. When pike are the primary target, the characteristics of baits dressed with natural hair, in particular deer hair, make them a deadly choice.
Most fishermen are familiar with soft-plastic styles of jig dressings. They’ve become really popular the last 20 years. But in cold water especially, the action and profile of a bucktail jig can sometimes be the only thing pike will commit to. Unlike plastics, deer hair forms a sleek, sharp, darting package in the water. Getting a bulkier, more buoyant plastic bait to react as sharply and naturally is more difficult. Pike are very susceptible to reaction-type strikes, and one of the best ways you can appeal to this is with lures that can be snapped and ripped quickly. Even in cold water, a pike will recognize this as a last chance to seize the prey item, and strike. At rest, or during pauses, bucktails also have a subtle pulsing or breathing quality. Coupled with their quick reaction time with certain rod movements, you’ve got a bait that can entice even the slowest of fish.
The banana-style jighead is most common to the bucktail jig, and it has a few important features. The forward positioning of the line tie puts the bait in a more direct line of force with the rod tip, allowing for a sharper rip or snap. Standard ball-head jigs with a 90 degree eye are more suited to vertical fishing, and don’t produce the same quick, forward burst. Though cover is often sparse in early season conditions, the banana’s shape and line eye placement also make it run a little cleaner through grass and bottom debris, like last fall’s leaves.
Hooks style id also a key issue. Sharp, stout-wire models penetrate well, and won’t bend off a heavy fish. Light wire hooks like you’d use for walleye can be a better choice if the fish are running small or you’re fishing around wood or rock and don’t want to break off many baits. Most quality banana bucktail heads are cast around heavy, 1/0 to 2/0 hooks.
These baits are tough, too. Pike can tear up most soft plastics in a hurry. I have bucktails more than 10 years old, and they’ve taken hundreds of pike. If the thread wrappings become damaged, a few coats of fly tying head cement or clear lacquer will bring them back.
Colour and size of jig is a case-specific decision. I generally keep all baits on the small side for pike in spring. A 1/4oz jig with an overall length of 3 to 4 inches is often the best. Later into summer and fall, pike still love these lures, and models from ¾ to 2ounces and 6″ long can be excellent. Top colour choices are solid white, red and white, solid black, or combinations of black/chartreuse, black/orange. I really believe that colour’s secondary to the action these baits have underwater, though.
Medium to heavy power spinning tackle is what I do the bulk of my bucktail fishing with. A rod in the 6 ½’ to 7 ½’ range with a non-stretch line make the jig really jump. And I always fish with a fine, uncoated wire leader. Similar weight casting gear is also an option.
Soft plastics certainly have a great role in pike fishing in all seasons, but there’s something to be said for these baits from days past. On days when soft plastic jigs or other lures aren’t producing early in the season, try snapping a bucktail jig. And don’t be afraid to keep one handy year round. Their profile and darting action gets the attention of pike no matter where or when you’re fishing.
by…. JP Bushey. www.facebook.com/TheBusheyAngle