The focus for the blog today takes a slightly different turn from my normal ramblings about rivers, hatches and Steelhead and back out onto the salt water for a look at the technique of “Bucktailing” for Coho salmon off the western shores of Vancouver Island.
Bucktailing, the process of dragging large tandem hooked flies at high speed behind your motor boat, has been a method of fishing for many varieties of fish including Coho salmon since the early 1930’s. The origin of the term “Bucktailing” takes its name from the common practice of using buck tail deer hair as the prime recipe ingredient in the preparation of the flies, which are often dyed in a multitude of colors meant to provide a good imitation of bait fish.
The actual process of bucktailing is fairly simple in theory, but tricky in practice. The idea is that the Coho salmon, who are drawn to the surface wake of the boat, will chase down the fly as it skims across the surface of the water, with the fly often creating a “V” shaped wake is it moves over the surface. Unlike normal salmon trolling with traditional gear, flashers, bait and spoons, the speed at which the fly is trailed behind the boat is considerably faster, to the point where it feels almost excessive.
About 13 years ago, after the purchase of my first ocean fishing boat, I got into a discussion with a colleague of mine about fishing and more specifically my desire to try fly fishing for salmon in the ocean. As it happens, my friend had spent many years fly fishing around the province prior to having a young family and had developed relationships with some fine fly fisherman. One of these people was an older gentleman from Port Alberni who introduced him to the art of tying bucktail flies, primarily out of polar bear fur. The two struck up a friendship and the old master took on the young (at the time) student and gave him some lessons on how to tie the perfect bucktail, taking into account colors, head size, and most important how it would sit or “swim” in the water at speed. The result of this tutelage was the creation of a fine box of bucktail flies, a combination of efforts from both master and student. And lucky for me, this box of flies was graciously donated to me by my colleague who wanted to pass them along to someone who would have time to use them.
Over the following years, I would pull out the box of bucktails from time to time, wondering how much fun it would be to catch a Coho on one. Numerous attempts were made to figure out the right speed, position of the rod tip relative to the water, type of line to use, how far back to let the fly sit behind the boat, and where to try. Sadly many attempts were made unsuccessfully to catch a Coho on one, but after each attempt I would reassess, go research some more, and try again.
As luck would have it, it wasn’t until just 2 years ago that I finally got it right. And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. In fact, it was probably the most fun I have ever had salmon fishing on the ocean. Period. I spent about 3 hours perfecting the right combination of speed and presentation, until I was pretty much catching fish consistently.
The following weekend, on a heavily overcast and rainy day, I convinced my buddy Steve Ford to give it a shot with me, and over the course of a few hours we caught a LOT of Coho. The action was non stop, no sooner had we let out the two trailing fly lines, we had hits, sometimes simultaneously! But the neatest part of all, besides the absolutely screaming sounds of the reels as the wild and fresh Coho took off with the fly, was being able to see the fish charging the fly at high speed.
Since that amazing day with Steve I haven’t had the opportunity to try again, but I will be setting aside time this fall when the Coho are thick and gathering in the tide lines to give it another go. I strongly suggest you try it yourself, and be patient with fine tuning the setup. Once you have it set up just right, the rewards and the action is well worth it.
The setup I used was the following; 7 weight rod, full floating fly line with about 15 feet of 12 pound mono leader, and a basic click pawl fly reel. You could go with a heavier rod of course, but since most of the fish we were catching were in the 8-10 pound range, you really didn’t need it. You will need to troll between 7 – 10 mph, and trail your fly line roughly 70 – 80 feet behind the boat directly in the wake. It’s best to put the rod in a holder, with the tip up, so that the fly drags at the surface of the water and just skips occasionally. Once set up, sit back and wait for the action to begin. Find a school of fish and you won’t be spending much time in your seat!
Good luck, and tight lines!