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TACTICS Bucktails for Stripers Bringing up Baby



When chasing spring species from a kayak, nothing beats the excitement of dancing bucktails with four- to five-inch trailer baits off the bottom on light tackle. A bucktail, with a long natural trailer that undulates off the bottom or through the water column to the surface, is irresistible. In late summer and fall, after the weakfish have moved out and stripers are gorging themselves for their long fall migration, this becomes more exclusively a striper tactic. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

WORK THE TIDES Let the incoming and outgoing tides work for you. Stripers, in particular, are lazy fish and prefer to sit and wait for moving water to push bait into their feeding zone. Strip- ers would rather lie below a surface blitz and pick scraps off the bottom than compete at the top. Weakfish and cocktails can be a bit more aggressive.

FISH STRUCTURE Sandbars, ledges and pilings will hold more fish. Drift your kayak over these hotspots and bounce that bucktail down the sandbar, up a rock pile or off the outside of an eddy.

PRESENTATION Stay in water no deeper than 25 to 30 feet, where you can control your bucktail better and effect more flutter from your trailer. Perfect the jigging action and your trailer will dance.

TACKLE I like a medium-weight rod, not more than 7 1/2 feet long that combines a whippy tip with some backbone. You can easily hook up with a 25-pounder or bigger, but you need to feel the fish and set the hook fast. I prefer baitcasting reels for balance, cranking power, and main- taining a low center of gravity. Use your spin- ning tackle as a backup. I tie 25- or 30-pound braid to a snap swivel. If bluefish are around, use a double swivel and leader.

JOEL LUCKS is a field editor for The Fisherman magazine, saltwater writer for Bass Pro Shops’ Online Library, and has contributed to Cabela’s Outfitter Journal (

26 … KAYAK ANGLER spring 2009


Few fish are as moody and frustrating a target as a baby tarpon. Then again, few fish offer the same piss-and-vinegar fight and jaw-dropping acrobatics as these feisty toddlers. Their choice of crib is usu- ally a secluded body of water located far up a tiny creek where boats and predators can’t reach—the kind of place only acces- sible by kayak. Once you’ve located some rolling fish (fish coming to the surface to gulp air), these tips should not only help you get a hookup, but also keep you stuck to one of these ballistic bundles of joy.




Bucktail designs vary from tapered heads to banana heads, big-mouth heads and other shapes. Try them all. A 1/2-ounce to 1-ounce white bucktail with white hair is a good producer. Natural trailers, such as fluke strips or porgy strips, are best. Good alternatives are Uncle Josh’s pork rinds or Striper Sea Strips in white or red. Also experiment with Bass Assassins or Berkley Gulp! plastic baits.

HIT THE FISH When a small tarpon rolls, it is usually either facing into some current (and will then drift backwards to its starting point) or headed straight for the bottom. Either way, leading the fish is not a good idea. Instead, try to hit the rolling fish with your lure or fly. Since this is nearly impossible, usually your lure or fly will land right in the face of the fish as it drifts back to its place in the current. Or, if the tarpon is headed to the bottom, it’s likely another fish has followed it to the surface and your lure will land in its face.



MAKE IT WIGGLE Tarpon love to eat things that don’t travel very fast, yet wiggle, shake, or twitch. While adult tarpon are fond of crabs, juveniles love to cut their teeth on frogs, lizards, snakes and anything else that falls into the water in these tiny, hidden ponds. A good trick is to imagine that instead of fishing, you are teasing a cat with a piece of yarn.

The Zoom Horny Toad is my favorite baby tarpon lure. I usually reel it very slowly across the surface. To rig, I use a Gamakatsu Superline 5/0 or 6/0 and, instead of putting the hook through the frog’s body like a Texas rig, I put it between the frog’s legs while pulling down on the body. The heavier hook placed farther back and the swayback of the frog gives it an action tarpon can’t resist.

LET THE TARPON SET THE HOOK These little monsters have mouths like a cinderblock, so if you pull back with your rod when you get a strike, you will only be flexing the skinny top of your rod against those concrete lips. So, drop anchor, tighten your drag, and keep your rod tip down

and pointed at your hook. When a tarpon strikes, there will be no give between the hook and your reel and the sheer momentum of the striking fish will drive the hook home. Once you feel the tarpon on, lift your rod and enjoy the mayhem!

CAPT. GREG BOWDISH ( is a fishing guide, outdoor writer and FFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor from Sarasota, Florida. He is on the pro staffs of Ocean Kayak and Rajeff Sports.



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