The sleeper bite: How to bucktail for salmon

A couple weeks back, I was fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca for silver salmon, using both fly rods and gear. the writeup below is somewhat humorous, but mostly accurate.

Salmon Slam 2013

Hey steelheaders…

Let’s face it — keeping up the hipster, fly fishing super-predator persona can be exhausting. Plus, all that spey casting for days on end without a fish – you need a break.

Allow me to recommend bucktailing for salmon to refresh your perspective.

You can do it all over the Oregon Coast. But we typically travel to a tiny outpost on the Strait of Juan de Fuca was built up in the 1950s as a fishing resort, and then mostly abandoned in the 1990s when the salmon numbers fell through the floor. The lodging options and rental boats remain frozen in time. Drive with a friend to Sekiu, and rent a room and a boat.

Salmon Slam 2013

To get a sense of your fishing vessel, imagine a 55-gallon drum, cut in half vertically, with a small unreliable outboard clamped to the back. Or a cardboard box shellacked with polyurethane. The boats have a wide, flat bottom with hardly a keel, low sides and no real V-shape in front. It won’t slice through waves, as much as try to push through them. It will veer out of control randomly – a sensation like riding a bike on an iced pond.

Fill the entire front of the boat with a giant cooler. Fill that with ice and Rainier. Styrofoam coozies are optional. Mine is yellow, pirate-themed, and reads “Surrender the Booty”. Start working through Rainiers immediately. Proceed to roughly the middle of the Strait, and begin trolling 50-feet of fly line and a Clouser Minnow behind the boat at the speed of your choosing.

The old timers call this method bucktailing. The trick is to drink all your beer, pull your Buff up over your face, and pass out from the engine exhaust. We call this technique the “Flying Dutchman”.


Proceed to troll blind until you hit a breaching whale, shore, or another vessel. Adjust course, repeat applications of Rainier to desired effect.

The bite will be a surprisingly soft take. It’s like the salmon will play with the fly with that beaky nose and wind up getting hooked and dragged for a bit before it wakes up.

Sit up, drop a half-lit cigarette down the front of your Gore-Tex jacket, and start reeling.

At some point the salmon will realize what’s happening, and will tailwalk all over the roiling ocean. A fat silver or Coho salmon, the size and shape of a grown man’s leg, will burn out your reel and break your knuckles with the spinning handle.

Salmon Slam 2013

Five minutes later, you’ll bring the fish in bleeding like a tuna. Check for an adipose fin. If it’s a hatchery fish, rip out its gills in the net. Flop it on the ice with the Rainier.

Start back at the top, and proceed until either the beer runs out or you hook a seagull. These are your signs to return to port.

Grill and eat all hatchery fish with salt, pepper and butter. Pair it with a pint of rye whiskey.

Repeat for several days, until you have fully recovered from steelheader exhaustion.

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4 Responses to The sleeper bite: How to bucktail for salmon

  1. Dave says:

    This sounds TERRIFIC! I have a grandmother in Port Angeles and I’m already thinking about making a “two for one trip” – where do you stay?

    Thanks for the great post. This really does sound like my kind of trip. Especially the marinating in rye whiskey and Rainier beer part.

  2. Sam says:

    Experience proves that in most cases it takes at least 2 guys to release a foul hooked seagull.

  3. MrMachinist says:

    I started feeling ill about half way through the article…..

  4. Jim Barfield says:

    Jeezus, Jay, I think we may have been separated at birth! Do you ever wake up speaking in an Alabama accent, as My Daddy, The Sailor did get around a bit… Your Mom wasn’t near the Norfolk Naval Base, by chance?

    Have a house, with ramp and dock rented 4 miles up the Alsea for mid-October, a new 16′ Smoker Craft, looking forward to crabs, clams and Bulleitt-bucktailin’ a bit.

    Thanks for all the great reports and tying demos, may see you on the water sometime…

    “I got a van, it’s loaded with weapons, packed up and ready to go….”
    Talking Heads

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