12 Tips For How To Fish a Bucktail in the Surf

Before you read the following tips on how to fish a bucktail in the surf, let’s review what a bucktail actually is. It’s a leadheaded jig dressed with hair from a deer. Doesn’t have to be from a buck deer, but bucktail sounds better than doetail or deertail, doesn’t it?

Before the advent of plastics and synthetics, buoyant deer hair was the best available material to put on the shank of a jig hook (hair from squirrel tails was/is big on freshwater spinners, too). Now there are all kinds of soft-plastic bodies to put on jigs, either with or without bucktail hair. But a bucktail jig remains one of the best and most versatile lures for saltwater fishing in general, and especially for use in for surf fishing, perhaps because it can imitate the food of most gamefish.

Here are twelve tips for how to fish a bucktail in the surf:

  1. Carry a selection of bucktails in a variety of colors and sizes (weights).
  2. Focus mainly on jigs with a round or bullet head shape; these cast well and sink fast.
  3. Use a thin diameter line when fishing a bucktail in the surf to maintain control and feel in what is often a turbulent environment. This also aids casting distance.
  4. Match lure size to the size of local bait that are prominent at the time you’re fishing.
  5. While many colors of bucktails are available, there’s a good reason why a red head and white body is an all-time favorite, especially when bucktailing striped bass in daylight hours.
  6. Other top color considerations include chartreuse bucktails and bucktails with sparkled streaks, such as mylar or crystal flash, in the body dressing. The latter are especially good for blues and Spanish mackerel.
  7. Vary your retrieve depending on the available species. When fishing a bucktail in the surf, a fast retrieve just below the surface is good for bluefish and Spanish mackerel. A slow retrieve along the bottom is generally best for flounder, speckled trout, and striped bass.
  8. When local bait is small, a plain bucktail without any addition may be best.
  9. Soft-bodied trailers can make an appealing addition to a bucktail. Try a curl-tail version for stripers and flounder, and a shad-tail version for drum, speckled trout, and redfish.
  10. Natural bait is also a good addition to a bucktail; squid and fish belly are common, the former especially for flounder. Tough and durable are important attributes.
  11. Pork rind, now hard to find, has long been a popular and durable jig trailer, and is especially useful where bluefish are prevalent. In place of pork rind, try strong synthetic (and scented) strip baits.
  12. Retrieve a jig all the way back to your position, and through the surf line if you’re standing on the beach. Fish often follow a lure and strike when they think the prey is about to escape, so don’t stop your retrieve too short.

There’s no better way to learn how to fish a bucktail in the surf than to get out there and do it as often as possible. Make sure to have your fishing license each time you go.


Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.