The basic bucktail streamer is not a Rock River walleye killer for all seasons.
But there are certain times and conditions when this old lure can outfish all other presentations.
Early April is a great time to tie one on when walleyes have just finished spawning and are sliding leisurely back downstream suspended several feet off the bottom in the water column. This is especially true when the Rock is running fast and belly full like it was last April, flowing flush almost all year.
There are more productive ways to tempt marble-eyes when the Rock is free of ice throughout most of the year—until right now. Water temperatures are dropping into the mid-40s, with current flow bordering on obnoxious.
Walleyes are moving up the rivers again, chowing down for the cold water period and slowed metabolism they can sense is just a few weeks away.
When walleyes are fighting a strong current to get to where they want to go—barriers like dams—the path of least resistance and best opportunities for easy food are usually found within two feet of the bottom.
Tying the bucktail on a stiff 6-10 inch dropper line to the top eye of a barrel swivel puts this hairy hook right in the strike zone when a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jig is tied to the bottom eye of that barrel swivel on another dropper at least twice as long as the one with the streamer.
Most of the time, using a half-ounce jig on the Rock River is just too much weight to be effective. When walleyes want to eat bucktail streamers, the heavy jig is not the primary attraction BUT you’ll usually catch more fish on a weight with a built-in hook than the basic hookless sinker!
I’m a huge fan of B-Fish-N tackle’s “precision” jighead, especially in “pyrokeet” pattern on the bottom eye of the barrel swivel. This jighead comes in a number of odd weights like 3/16 ounce and 5/16 ounce, which are more effective when a 3/8-ounce jighead just ain’t cuttin’ it.
Word on the river is that B-Fish-N also has the most effective walleye-catching plastics. Many ’eye chasers prefer the Moxie tail. My fave is the slightly shorter, bulkier Pulse-R plastic. Especially in sassafras or moon glow colors when fishing on the Rock River.
The most effective way to fish this presentation is slip-fishing downstream with the current, with the line at a 70- to 45-degree angle downstream from the boat, instead of the ideal 90-degree angle for a vertical jigging presentation with the line in the water on the upstream side of the boat to minimize snagging up with dire consequences.
Popping the heavy jig back toward the rod tip then allowing it to fall back to contact the bottom makes that bucktail streamer dance in a way that walleyes find irresistible.
The electric trolling motor is a critical tool when slip fishing or vertical jigging in a current. Although eddies and back-currents may be more productive spots, when the bite is on you’ll hook up with plenty of walleyes just slip-fishing right down the middle of the river.
Bucktail streamers for walleyes aren’t easy to find at the average tackle outlet. Tying up your own is easy and more gratifying when a walleye finds the hook.
I like to use a #4 gold long shank Eagle Claw light wire hook. I’m still in the process of determining whether the straight shank or slow-death hook is more effective.
All you need to do is secure the hook in a fly-tying vise, wrap a dozen turns of thread on the hook near the eye , lay a 3-4 inch snip of bucktail on the hook and secure with more thread wraps and a little head cement.
Pre-tying the dropper lines is a good idea. Just tie a loop at the end opposite of the hook which can be passed through the upper eye of the barrel swivel then secure by passing the bucktail through the loop.
Shorter bucktails or longer droppers with the barrel swivel 3-5 feet up the line work better when fish are post spawn in early April. The longer bucktail works better in the fall to better imitate grown-up young-of-year baitfish.
My two most productive colors are the natural white, which hunters see when the deer has outsmarted them, and purple. With fresh scrapes and rubs appearing in the woods in just the past week or so, its prime time to pick up the bow with the bonus potential for natural bucktail.
Purple bucktail is tougher to come by in the woods. Right now the best source for purple bucktail is the local tackle shop.
It’s tough to find purple bucktail in the woods until late bow season when the temperature is really, really, REALLY cold.