Power Fishing Muskie Bucktails
May 06, 2014
Bucktails are the quintessential power fishing lure. Their relative simplicity of design adds to their appeal and effectiveness. A stainless steel shaft forms the axis upon which one or two blades of various sizes revolve. A metal body lends weight to the lure and some form of natural or synthetic material provides bulk and breathes life into these oversized spinners.
In recent years, large double-bladed muskie bucktails have reigned supreme. While several companies make bucktails with blades beyond the #13 size, anglers have settled into a comfort zone of primarily throwing bucktails with blades in the #7 to #12 range. Companies offer multiple versions of their baits to allow anglers to better match specialized materials to their fishing environment and style. Fishing efficiently has surpassed the drive to merely fish bigger and faster.
Luke Fehr guides for muskies on the imposing waters of Lake of the Woods. "Based upon this lake's size and amount of structure, power fishing becomes a necessity here," he says. "Fishing hard with a fast and furious mentality wears you out physically and mentally. But by power fishing with a strategy, your odds of contacting fish rise. Moreover, this approach is esential when you haven't established feeding and locational patterns.
"I study my Humminbird electronics prior to leaving the dock. I chart the highest percentage spots on my 1198c SI unit and hit as many of them as possible in a day. Bucktails are the weapon of choice and nothing beats the Dadson Blade Bait Tail and Musky Bullet on big water. These bucktails are weighty for making long casts into the wind and, more importantly, keeping the lure deeper when retrieved fast in turbulent water. You can't out-reel a muskie in hot pursuit, so retrieving too fast shouldn't be a concern but depth control must always be a consideration. Dadson's Musky Bullet weighs 4 ounces and has incredible slow-rolling power; it draws out deep lurking muskies."
No matter what lure you select, you need to identify its triggers — actions you impart to get muskies fired up. "Some of the most popular triggers are flaring the blades by giving them a slight pop while reeling," Fehr says, "and changing lure direction by moving the rod tip left or right. Also, during a figure-eight, flaring and popping the blades is effective. I like the 'Top Corner Pause' move, where you stop the blades for a split second as the bait accelerates out of the first inward curve of the 'eight.' This makes the Musky Bullet stop and sink slightly, often forcing a following muskie to make a split-second decision to gobble the lure before it passes."
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In Tennessee, on the southernmost muskie fringe, guide Cory Allen begrudgingly power-fishes with double-bladed bucktails but calls it "one of the single most yawn-inducing techniques." Yet he acknowledges that few lures offer better speed-control than a big double-bladed bucktail. So he uses spinners and spinnerbaits that function best in the rivers and
reservoirs of eastern Tennessee. "I've tried many different bucktails but never found one that was truly distinctive. I needed an extra-durable lure that breathed like a bass spinnerbait and could negotiate flooded timber. Last year I discovered the new Llungen Lures bait tied with
64-strand silicone skirts. It's a 'bucktail' made from clean, durable material, with nearly infinite vibrant colors that pulses unlike any other material, without the headaches associated with tinsely materials that latch onto themselves and everything else in warm conditions."
One key aspect of speed-fishing is being ready for that next bite — having your net, pliers, and hook-cutters handy to land and release a trophy fish, then get back to fishing during prime feeding windows. "Here's an example of how the durability of Llungen Lures caught me an extra trophy fish," he says. "Last summer, we had two 50-inch fish on consecutive casts with a white double-10 Llungen Lure. After being mauled by the first giant fish, the bait never skipped a beat. Abuse that would've left hair, Flashabou, or other materials looking like a coyote with mange, barely pulled the silicone strands on the Llungen. Within seconds of releasing the first fish, the same bait was back in the water fooling another 50-incher."
The speed of unhooking fish in the net was a concern of Matt Gunkel and Chris Piha, the owners of Llungen Lures. To this end, they did not add a side treble hook to their baits. They'd observed that this extra hook rarely was the primary hook that caught muskies. Instead, this forward swinging hook was more likely to cause damage to the fish's eye and gill plate, or get stuck in the net or an angler's hand at boatside. As an added benefit, eliminating this hook allows the bait to be fished quickly through timber or slow-rolled just off the bottom on deep breaks without snagging, even when knocking around stumps and brush.
For an even more snag-resistant option, try the Llungen Nutbuster. This safety-pin spinnerbait has a long arm design that works like a snag-guard riding above the off-set single hook. "With single and tandem designs, I can switch models to match my desired fishing speed and depth," Allen says. "These baits are one of the most effective options to quickly cover deep wood cover without spending half the day working with a lure retriever." While this style of bait has always been popular with trophy pike anglers, it's only gained interest among muskie anglers in recent years. Other magnum spinnerbait options include the Esox Assault spinnerbaits that range from 1 to 2.5 ounces, with various willowleaf and Colorado blade combinations. Oversized Colorado blades move a lot of water and are ideal for slow-rolling deep structure during difficult conditions and when night fishing. Willowleaf versions work great for navigating the bait through the base of vegetation to root out post-frontal fish.
If Cory Allen is sold on the attributes that silicone in spinner and spinnerbait options, Joseph Alfe of Anglerz Connection lends an educated opinion regarding the special action that materials like Mag Flash and Flashabou add. "Esox Assault has developed their Mag Flash material to be a complete game changer," Alfe says. "There's something about its translucent, reflective qualities that drive muskies wild. Mag Flash fibers are thin and flat, so they billow and pulse in the vortex created behind the spinning double blades. That draws reactions that other materials don't."
"I prefer a pearl-color skirt," he adds, "as its shimmering qualities mimic the shad found on my home waters. Pearl Mag Flash gathers ambient light and seems to glow in the water, especially on dark days. And because we lacquer out blades, the color and reflectivity of the base metal comes through the translucent finish nicely. In speed-fishing, bucktails are fished so quickly past fish that you need to distinguish your lures with superior components and unique color combinations. Silicone, marabou, tinsel, and bucktail all have their places, but to really imitate the color shifting, reflective nature of baitfish such as shad, Mag Flash is unparalleled."
Guide Bret Alexander lives a full-throttle muskie lifestyle on Green Bay, Wisconsin. Customers hop aboard his Ranger 621, powered by a 300-hp Mercury and loaded with all the latest gear and get a tutorial on what it means to power-fish for muskies. Being on the water most every day, Alexander has high-percentage spots mapped out and he structures his day around the solunar cycle. If prime spots slow down or patterns deteriorate, he searches for large cabbage weedbeds and works from deep to shallow. He focuses on turns and distinctive open lanes in the midst of thick weed patches.
Bucktails are his go-to lure and he favors locally made Spanky bucktails. "I've had such good results with Spanky baits that I fish few other bucktails. Each element of their baits is thought out and tested before it goes to market. Their blades spin immediately upon hitting the water; their hooks are razor-sharp right out of the package; and their color patterns are the best I've found. In addition, their heavier blades push more water and cast farther than most bucktails. This makes a huge difference over the course of a long day of casting. The more water you cover, the more likely you are to encounter muskies."
While speed-fishing is all about covering water, it's not always about burning bucktails. "Retrieve speed is as critical as any element," Alexander says. "My tendency is to burn double-10 bucktails but I force myself to alter retrieve speed periodically. And as a guide, I have to be observant and adjust my speed accordingly. Last season I had a customer who was less physically fit than his buddies. He couldn't cast as far and was awkward in his retrieve. Yet he put three fish in the boat while his buddies who could cast better and burn their bucktails were blanked for the morning. By the third fish, I realized his success wasn't due to lure size or color, it had to do with his slower retrieve. After telling his buddies to slow down, they all started getting action.
"The Spanky Baits crew showed me how to snap your wrist on the retrieve when the bait gets to within 15 to 20 feet of the boat. This trick has boosted catches some days. They also enlightened me on how subtle color combinations can make a difference over the course of a day as sun strength and angle changes. If guys get tired of casting midway thru an 8- or 10-hour trip, I rest them by firing up my kicker motor and setting two down rods in the prop wash with double-10 Spankys. First I go back through our casting territory, then expand out and explore from there. Some of our biggest fish come from these prop-wash rods."
Steve Boulden shares the waters of Green Bay with Bret Alexander on a part-time basis and also pursues muskie on smaller waters across northern Wisconsin. "With limited time on the water, information that I can gather from Bret Alexander and other contacts on the Bay is invaluable.," he says. "Locational information is great but speed, followed by color and lure size, is what I'm looking for. Once I'm on the water, I keep an open mind as you never know where your next insights are may come from.
"For example, most of last season the bite was hot on double-10s. In mid-summer it slowed somewhat and I figured the fish had pushed out of the shallow weeds into deeper, cooler water. But then I watched local anglers hook five fish one morning on pike-size spinners. I switched over to one of my favorite inland bucktails, a Bucher TinBuck in black and orange. This lure has a single #8 fluted blade and deer hair dressing with just a couple reflective strands of tinsel to. TinBucks retrieve so easily that you regret going back to the big stuff." To get a slightly larger presence from the same size bait, try a Toothy's Tickler that replicates the size and color of the TinBuck. But the Tickler's synthetic material bellows out more due to the curly-tail trailers on its three single hooks. Another option of similar size is Bucher's new Tinsel Buck with an all-tinsel skirt that offers more light and color reflection.
"Skirt material can be can be more important then size," Boulden adds. "At times it takes a bait with a combination of natural and synthetic materials like Hirsch's Ghosttails to get fish to snap. Tied with both deer hair and mylar, Hirsch's are among the prettiest custom-tied bucktails for speed-fishing. I also experiment with blade shape and thickness. I pack lots of bucktails so I've designed tackle cases I call Bould Design Tackle Tamer boxes. These clear 100-percent polycarbonate cases store bucktails vertically, which allows them to dry properly."
Boulden believes there's a bucktail for every situation. "When I want to push as much water as possible, Tackle Industry's Double 13 Dominatrix delivers with its massive heavy-gauge blades that plow through the water like an Abrams tank. If I need a bait with more lift, lures with thinner blades like the Muskie Fisherman Specialists Magnum Big Tees run above the vegetation even at slightly slower speeds. When less lift and thump is the trick, I reach for large double-willowleaf bladed bucktails that deliver plenty of flash but with less resistance and vibration. Since I fish so many different baits, I tend to fish prime areas longer and more thoroughly than most power anglers. I concentrate on each figure-8 and keep coming back to where fish I've seen fish. I fish different baits until something gets them to commit."
Today's double-bladed bucktails bear slight resemblance to muskie spinners of old. But they accomplish the same purpose by allowing power-fishing anglers to cover water quickly with a lure that produces lots of flash and vibration. You find a wide range of blade and lure sizes, as well as blade styles and skirt materials. Today's fine bucktails allow anglers to become more sophisticated in how and when they use these dynamic lures to fool muskies in nearly any situation.
Rod & Reel Trends
Reel manufacturers have heeded the needs of power-fishing anglers. One great new entry is Daiwa's Lexa 400. This high-capacity, low-profile reel appears to be Daiwa's answer to Shimano's Tranx. It comes in several right- and left-handed versions with retrieve ratios of 5.1:1, 6.3:1, or 7.1:1. For comfort, several models offer a counter-balanced oversized power handle for winding mega-sized spinners.
The Shimano Tranx still rules the double-bladed bucktail market for it sheer burning power. It's a beast of a reel that won't back down from any size bait. For fishing slightly smaller spinners and alternative baits like Shimano's Waxwing, the new Shimano Calcutta D offers high-performance features in a narrow, round package. This smaller and reel means less fatigue in a long day on the water.
If you crave speed, Abu Garcia answers the call with the Revo Rocket, the fastest line of baitcasters on the market. The Rocket offers an incredible 9:1 retrieve ratio, winding 37 inches of line per turn. With high-performance Carbon Matrix drag, the Rocket has 20 pounds of maximum drag, while weighing just 6.75 ounces.
New rod offerings are dominated by models exceeding 8 feet. Tackle Industries expanded its lineup to include 8.5-foot rods that are telescopic and offer alloy guides to eliminate the issue of ceramic inserts cracking and falling out. Tackle Industries has also developed a muskie rod with children in mind, a 6-foot version of their popular muskie rod series appropriate for junior anglers.
Shimano has increased the length of their Compre series across the board and has gone to split handles on all muskie rods, including several 9.5-footers. Added length brings greater casting distance, while the split handle reduces the rod's weight and provides a convenient gripping point when going into a figure-eight. Daiwa offers three models in its DXM Muskie Series that are ideal for casting bucktails of any size. The 8.5- and 9-foot versions of the DXM rods are telescopic for easier storage. For a durable, lightweight option, check Abu Garcia's Volatile rods, which incorporate Nano Technology to produce rods that are 2.5 times more impact-resistant than standard graphite rods, yet lighter and more sensitive.