Bob Boese, Louisiana

October 27th, 2008

Easy Bucktail Patterns
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

[Easy generic flies are simple-to-tie patterns that a novice tyer can accomplish and which requires less than four dressing components.]

Americans are not likely to be mistaken for Europeans, which is fine with most Americans. Europeans think the export of American popular culture has desecrated their social landscape because we are basically uncivilized, rough, coarse, crude and still living in the wild west. They chastize us for breaking from tradition and for being brash enough to break ties with the past and forge new trails. Okay, so?

American fly tyers are an inventive, almost rebellious group, and have always used the materials at hand to create fish catching flies. In 19th Century America that meant tying patterns with bucktail instead of the hard-to-get European feathers that the tightly wound Victorian anglers considered the only proper dressing for a fly. Americans were condemned for despoiling the fly fishing art and American bucktail flies were considered heinous. Not that Europeans wouldn't use bucktail flies, they just blamed their fall from fishing purist's grace on the spawn of Satanic America.

Legend tells us the bucktail fly (or "hairwing") originated in the late 1880s in Idaho with a rancher named A.S.Trude (as in the "Trude pattern") who was followed by Col. L.S. Thompson (as in Thompson fly tying tools) who adapted bucktail and animal furs to smaller trout flies. On the American east coast, in the 1930s, northeastern saltwater fisherman began using many types of fur including elk, squirrel, bear and deer in their salmon patterns, while southerners used a wide variety of fur and hair from dinner items, i.e. anything they could grow, catch or kill. Then along came Bob Clouser who developed a simple minnow pattern in 1984, which has become the footprint for hundreds of similarly tied flies. Since that time fly tyers with over-sized egos have modified the basic Clouser shape under their own name, but it is basically all the same generic bucktail fly pattern — regardless of size. Saltwater patterns are tied on hooks ranging from a size 4 to3/0 and bass/bream patterns from size 6 to 2. Consequently, a size 4 can (and should) be used for multiple species.

With the advent of synthetics came flashabou, and krystal flash and super hair. These new materials provide an excellent substitute for bucktail under most circumstances, and make purists cringe. For generic flies, super hair is the substitute of choice although it will not spin or float and is more expensive than natural bucktail.

There are good reasons for using bucktail: (1) it is durable for toothy saltwater fish and practically indestructible for bass and bluegill, (2) it takes dye well so lots of colors are available, (3) it is flexible enough to torque down on tying thread or to bend or spin the hair — even 180 degrees without it breaking, (4) it can provide some buoyancy and when tied down it flares to provide body width without extra material, (5) it moves (breathes) in the water, (6) it is readily available, and (7) it is inexpensive. As opposed to many other tying materials, bucktail is easy to work with and provides uniform results without the requirement for great tying expertise.

Because bucktail patterns are generic, the tyer isn't looking for exact replication of the subject. The bucktail fly represents a minnow, so the most important aspect of a bucktail fly pattern is the size and colors used. Two or three layers of hair (one almost always white) are common to achieve the desired result, which is accented by eyes and/or dressing on the hook shank. Actually, the most confusing part of tying bucktail for a novice tyer may be choosing other dressing items to add. Bucktail is attached to the hook near the eye of a long shank hook so there is plenty of shank left to decorate. Here are some of the choices, and none are wrong choices, just different ones.

    1. Lead eyes, bead chain eyes, beadhead or conehead. None are required, but they are recommended and each one will add weight. Bucktail flies normally work better with weight at the head so they undulate like a sine wave on the retrieve.

    2. Body dressing. This might be nothing, or chenille, tinsel, floss, mylar tubing, thread or wire, or a combination of these. The dressing is wrapped around the hook shank and bucktail is tied in front of the dressing above, below or all around the shank.

    3. Flash. Interspersing some flashy materials (e.g. Flashaboo or Krystal Flash) among the bucktail fibers is can provide another attracting feature to the fly. The length of the fly should be appropriate to the baitfish/minnows in the water. Bass feeding on 5" shad will ignore a 1.5" bucktail, and usually visa versa. The dot on the shad pattern can be added with a sharpie marker. A 3" adolescent bluegill pattern (green, yellow and white) is effective on most shad-free ponds. If lead or bead chain eyes are not used, stick-on eyes can be directly applied to bucktail, but using superglue or Zap-a-Gap is required to make them stay. A better option for cheap eyes is to put a drop of dark fingernail polish or model airplane paint.

Fishing technique for a bucktail should be something like strip-strip-strip-pause-repeat or strip-pause-strip-pause. The object is to replicate the actions of a wounded minnow or baitfish and this stripping pattern will produce a sine wave shape as it moves through the water. Strikes are usually hard (frequently with an immediate run) but the fly is normally not taken deeply in the fish's throat. The tyer should remember that a sparsely dressed fly casts easier and generally works better, and if some bucktail is tied to so that it overlaps the hook point it can act as a weed guard. A hair stacker can be invaluable to even out tips of the bucktail, and you want to insure tips are trailing the hook.

Generic Bucktail Fly

    Hook: Mustad 34011 Size 4.

    Thread: flat waxed nylon or 6/0.

    Body: Bucktail.

    Highlights:(optional) flashabou or krystal flash.

    Eyes: Dumbbell, bead chain or paint.

    1. Wrap ¾ of the hook shank with thread to underbody color.

    2. Tie on eyes ¼ inch behind hook eye using figure eight wrap.

    3. Cut and stack a small bundle of white bucktail 2-4" long.

    4. Rotate your vise 180 degrees or (with a fixed vise) insert your hook upside down in the vise.

    5. Tie down clipped ends of white bucktail in front of the eyes. Start with 3-4 not too tight thread wraps and once the bucktail is in place and horizontal to the hook shaft, place 4-5 thread turns in front of the other thread to snug the bucktail down. If excess bucktail extends past the hook eye, clip this at an angle down to and behind the hook eye.

    6. Turn the hook back over.

    7. Cut and stack a small bundle of chartreuse bucktail 2-4" long.

    8. Once again, tie down clipped ends of bucktail in front of the eyes. Place 4-5 thread turns in front of the other thread to snug the bucktail down. If excess bucktail extends past the hook eye, clip this at an angle down to and behind the hook eye. Behind the eyes (the collar), place 3-4 not too tight thread wraps to pull the bucktail horizontal to the hook shaft.

    9. Tie in a few strands of 2-4" flashabou or krystal flash on each side of the fly at the collar.

    10. Using thread create a cone shaped head (around the eyes but not covering the ends).

    11. Whip finish and coat threat with Hard As Nails. ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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