Bucktail Jigs Riverbug Tips

Ron Horvath showing off a Walleye; Guided by Jeff Knapp from Keystone Connection Fishing Guide Service out of Pennsylvania
Steve Gierl showing off a Smallmouth Bass; Guided by Jeff Knapp from Keystone Connection Fishing Guide Service out of Pennsylvania

By Jeff Knapp, Keystone Connection Fishing Guide Service
Full Time Guide and Writer

As a full- time fishing guide whose primary water is the free-flowing Allegheny River in northwestern Pennsylvania, I rely on a wide variety of presentations to help my clients dupe smallmouth bass and walleyes throughout the year. One of them is the bucktail jig, more specifically Jimmy D's Riverbug.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on using bucktail jigs:

Though bucktail jigs will take smallies and walleyes throughout the year, I rely on them most heavily during the spring and fall, when water temperatures are below 50 degrees. There's something special, seemingly magical at times, about how productive hair jigs are in cold water.

In areas likely to gather up numbers of bronzebacks and/or 'eyes — like the mouth of a feeder stream — the same thing can be accomplished from an anchored position with the boat hanging just inside the current seam.

When it comes to fishing a hair jig, I'm a braid guy. I like 15-pound test Gamma Torque, finished off with a three-foot section of 10-pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line as a leader. The connection is made with an Albright knot. St. Croix's Mojo Bass spinning rod — medium power, extra fast action — teamed with a quality 2000/2500 sized spinning reel, makes an ideal combination for fishing hair jigs in the cold water of spring and fall.

Bucktail jigs that feature a modest amount of hair, the Riverbug being a prime example, provides the freedom for the dressing to breathe in the water, which undoubtedly has much to do with its triggering qualities. You need not move a hair jig much to make it look alive. If fact, most days the less action imparted by the angler, the better, keeping in mind we're talking about cold water.

In the river situations where I most often fish hair jigs, it's a short game. Not a situation where you're looking to bomb a long cast. Short, accurate casts that drop the jig into quiet, shoreline pockets, allowing the angler to maintain peak control, succeed. It's common for a smallie to hit the jig on the initial drop. Barring such a hit, I like to work the jig back to the boat by way of short hops, a foot or so, where the jig slowly glides back to the bottom on a semi-tight line, that is if the descent is not interrupted by a bite.

Both smallmouth bass and walleyes are creatures that associate with current, even when the water is cold. One of my favorite tactics is to hold the boat along a current seam, slowing its drift with the bow mount trolling motor. A properly presented hair jig can then "hang" right along this seam. It's uncanny, once you get in the groove, how you can allow a hair jig to glide a few inches off the bottom as the boat drifts along, and then feel the sharp tap of a bite from a smallie or 'eye.

The proper weight of the hair jig has much to do with its ability to provide just the right amount of hang time. For the situations I fish, where the depths are typically four to 10 feet deep, a 3/16-ounce jig is right. 1/8 ounce often feels too light; ¼ ounce, too heavy. A 3/16-ounce jighead is outside the parameters of most mainstream jig makers. Another reason why custom ties like the Riverbug excel.