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The Bucktail Deceiver is my go-to fly for the beaches and inlets of the Atlantic coast. It’s a good general imitation of a menhaden, a mullet, a snapper, or similar-sized baitfish, and its round, chubby profile makes it visible from any angle. Thanks to the stiff yet flexible nature of bucktail, it is very light, despite its apparent bulk, and easy to cast.

The fly is of course a version of the Lefty’s Deceiver—Bernard “Lefty” Kreh’s brilliant design with a bucktail front end and a tail of hackle feathers. The wavy motion of hackle feathers in the water is remarkably lifelike, but bucktail is more durable, and is uniform in appearance from the fly’s snout to its tail. The tail still sways from side to side as the fly hovers, swims, and darts like a vulnerable bait.

Bob Popovics of Seaside Park, New Jersey, introduced the Bucktail Deceiver in Pop Fleyes, his 2001 book with Ed Jaworowski that’s now a Bible of saltwater fly-tying. All you need to make the fly is a couple of bucktails in the colors you prefer. Tie a long bunch at the back of the hook and add four or five successively shorter bunches as you work toward the eye, squeezing them so they surround the shank. Per Popovics’ instructions, the fly looks great with a light veil of flash over the bucktail, but sometimes I forget to add it and catch fish anyway. The eye is optional; the kind with tie-in tabs is the easiest and most durable.

I’ve made the Bucktail Deceiver as small as 3 inches to catch trout and bass, but the fly works best in the 4 to 6 inch range, on a 2/0 or 4/0 hook. Some versions are much bigger. Popovics developed the ingenious Hollow Fleye by tying on the bucktail bunches facing forward, then jamming them rearward with tying thread, which can result in a body as thick as a soda can. Leaving the butts of the bunches in place produces the Bulkhead, a Hollow Fleye with internal structure that “pushes water” to make its presence known. Lengthening the body with bucktail bunches tied onto heavy monofilament makes The Beast, an enormous yet still castable fly that has become a category of its own in the vises of people like Gunnar Brammer.

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The Bucktail Deceiver has proven its value in the New Jersey surf, and has been adapted to catch apex freshwater predators like northern pike and muskellunge. I recommend it for any big fish that eats smaller fish, which is almost all of them.

Bucktail Deceiver Recipe

  • Hook: Tiemco 911S or similar, size 1-4/0
  • Thread: 280 Denier or fine monofilament
  • Body: Bucktail
  • Eyes: Optional; tab eyes, jungle cock, or your favorite