Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Coastal Bucktails

"Coastal Bucktail" when its dry.

Recently I posted some pic's and video about a fall chinook I caught the other day and I mentioned that the fish ate one of my "Coastal Bucktails".  This prompted some folks to inquire about the pattern and ask for additional information.

I'm a big believer in fall salmon flies having several traits. First, they have to have eyes.  Second, they need to have movement, the more the better.  And lastly, I think the fly should at least have some similarity to the natural food the salmon has recently fed on.  

Over the years, I've made a habit of doing two things with every fish my clients, friends, family or I catch while we're out.  I like to closely examine the mouth of our fish for prior hook marks or injuries.  Its fascinating to me, how often salmon and steelhead that eat our flies have other evidence of previous hook-ups, especially the further up a river system we're fishing.  Second, on fish that are harvested, I conduct an autopsy of sorts - on their digestive tracts for evidence of what the fish have recently consumed.  Unreal what is revealed by taking the time to check this out.  

So, back to Coastal Bucktails.  This fly evolved over the past 15 years that I've been serious about catching salmon on flies.  The closer I get to the ocean, the more often I find herring, sardines, anchovies and candle fish in the stomachs of the salmon we harvest.  During the summer months, "crab spawn" aka "crab larva" also make up a large part of the food consumed by our Oregon salmon.  I think that's why smaller comet type patterns can be so effective.  

"Coastal Bucktail" when its wet.

Initially, I wanted a fly that simply looked like a baitfish.  Simple enough.  I tied them with bucktail (hence the name) in various colors.  Anytime I've ever held live bait in my hand, I've always been amazed at all the colors that are displayed.  Purples, blues, blacks, greens, olives, whites, silvers and more are very prominent.  The other very prominent feature of these little guys are there eyes.  So when I sat down at the vice to come up with a fly that would have all these features, I came up with the first "Coastal Bucktails".  We fished them, and they worked.  They worked GREAT as a matter of fact.  To date we've used this pattern to catch a wide variety of fish on them.  They've caught all five species of pacific salmon.  They've enticed salmon in fresh and salt water.  Albacore Tuna eat them.  Stripers eat them. Dorado, Roosters and Pompano eat them.  Pretty much every type of fish that eats other, smaller fish eat them.  

I tied them with white bellies, a little flash along the lateral line of the pattern and then created multi-colors of bucktail along the back of the fly in an effort to capture the vast array of colors displayed by the actual fish.  I added eyes and coated them with 5-minute epoxy to finish them off. 

This was my pattern.  I was very proud of "inventing" it, until one day a client looked in my fly box on a striper trip and said, "Oh ya, I love Trey Combs sea-habit fly's too!, its a great pattern".... WHAT!  No, no, no... this is NOT a "sea-habit" this is a "coastal bucktail".  I did a little research and found out that "my" pattern had been catching fish for Trey Combs in saltwater for many years before I came up with it.  So much for "cutting edge" fly design!

One thing I did want to change on my pattern was the lack of movement it had when tied with bucktail.  Most of my steelhead flies during this period of time, began being made with a lot of rabbit strips, ostrich herl, marabou and other materials that had a lot of movement.  Then one day I came across a new material.  New to me at least.  Craft-fur had the right length, colors and most importantly, it "breathed" and came to life when in the water. 

So now my "coastal bucktails" sport craft-fur in a variety of colors.  Sometimes blended to achieve the same "rainbow" effect of colors displayed by the naturals.  Sometimes I tie them in two distinct colors.  For example, the fly that caught the chinook recently in the photos above has two colors, white for the belly and chartreuse for the back.  It also sports a few strands of chartreuse Krystal flash along the lateral line and back, not much, just a little.  I tie them by sculpting the belly with shorter fibers first, and lengthening them with each new small clump of fibers to try and get the right shape to more closely resemble the natural.  If you just slap the material on the hook and then trim the ends to get the shape you want it won't look right.  At least to me.  Once I reach the lateral line and begin creating the top or "back" of the fly I reverse the process by starting out with longer fibers and work with shorter and shorter fibers, again to help sculpt the proper shape.

I use clear mono thread when tying and creating the "head" of the fly.  This allows a continuation of the colors of the body to come through in the head when I finish the fly.  Prismatic eyes in various sizes and colors are attached with a dollop of zap-a-gap or super glue.  Once the glue has dried, I mix up a small batch of 5-minute epoxy and cover the head and eyes.  Years ago, Bill Nelson built me a home-made fly turner out of a barbecue rotisserie motor he bought from the St. Vincent DePaul for a couple of bucks.  Bill makes them and gives them to friends.  They have simple wooden clothes pins attached to a wooden disk that he attaches to the shaft of the motor.  You simply place the hook in the clothes pin, turn on the motor and it slowly rotates, allowing an even distribution of the epoxy around the head of the fly.  Once dry, this makes a very durable head and fly that usually out-lasts the hooks they're tied on. 

As for hooks, I use a number of different sizes and styles.  Gamagatsu and Honer both make great hooks.  I like the silver "octopus" style hooks used by gear anglers in sizes from 4 to 2/0 for alot of these patterns.  I try to avoid tying them on stainless steel hooks.  So often, big chinook that we hook are not landed and I don't like the idea that a stainless steel hook may stay pinned in the salmon's mouth for a longer period of time. 

These patterns are effective in blue/white, green/white, olive/white, purple/white, chartreuse/white and then the original of course that has a blend of multiple colors for the upper half of the fly. 

Last year I made another modification that made the fly even more attractive to the salmon it seemed.  I still need a little more field testing to confirm that.  Once I do, I'll share with readers the "new" version of my "coastal bucktail" fly. 


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