By Captain Joe Paradiso
The North Fork of Long Island is blessed with abundant structure in the form of boulder-strewn bottoms, deep drop-offs, shoals, and strong currents that in turn all translate into big productive rip lines. These conditions, along with a constant influx of baitfish is why these waters hold some of the Island’s best Striped Bass fishing. One of the most popular and effective techniques to catch these game fish is called 3–way bucktailing.
The concept of 3–way bucktailing is simple. However, the technique will require some practice and patience to master. If it is your first time, or are relatively new to this type of fishing, I would recommend first jumping aboard one of the many North Fork’s charter/party boats whose experienced captains and mates are experts at this technique and will gladly guide you to help increase your success.
The 3-Way Bucktail Rig
The 3–way bucktail rig or “Orient Rig”(Fig. 1) is an easy rig to tie. First, a 5/0 high quality 3–way swivel is needed. From the first eye of the swivel tie, using an improved clinch knot, an 8 to 10-inch length of 30-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. At the end of this leader tie a surgeon’s loop big enough to attach a 16 to 20-ounce bank sinker. Use a lighter pound test on the sinker leader to allow for an easier breakaway if and when the sinker locks into the rocks, thus not losing the entire rig. Some will also tie an overhand knot in the middle of the leader to help allow for this also. From the second eye of the swivel tie, using an improved clinch knot, a 6 to 8-ft length of 50 to 60-pound. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. At the end of this leader, tie on a 1¼ oz. bucktail directly to the leader with an improved clinch knot or Palomar knot. Add a piece of Uncle Josh Pork Rind # 70S to the bucktail, and you are ready to fish.
Fig. 1: “The Orient Rig”
Fishing this rig requires stout tackle. Conventional reels like the Penn 320GT, Diawa Sealine 47SH, Shimano Tekota 400, or comparable reels spooled with at least 150-yards of a high quality 50-pound braided line will do. Rods in the 20 to 40-pound class, 7 to 7½- foot, like the Lamiglas Triflex 7040, are good matches. These class rods have the ability to handle the heavy sinker weight required plus a heavy fish while still maintaining some sensitivity and feel. The tackle should be comfortable to handle, yet have the ability to bring a big Striper to the net without a long, wearing battle that will compromise a healthy release.
Bucktails and Porkrinds
Bucktails come in many different shapes and sizes, but when fishing in strong, fast currents as is the case in the waters of the North Fork, two types are best. They are the Smilin Bill or rip splitter style, and the shovel slope style with a strong 7/0 or 8/0 hook. The sinker will do the job of getting the rig to the bottom so a 1 ¼ oz. bucktail is all that is needed. The lighter bucktail on the long leader results in a more natural looking presentation.
As for bucktail colors, there are many to choose from. Which brings forth the most frequently asked question when bucktailing Stripers. What color is best? There are primarily daytime colors and nighttime colors. Daytime colors should be lighter and essentially come close to matching the bait that the Stripers are feeding on at that time. Good choices for early spring are combinations of white/blue, white/pink, white/yellow. Later spring and summer try adding white/green and white/red to the above colors. Of course trial and error is crucial. If one is not producing try another, then another until your successful. As for porkrind, red or white will match nicely to any of these colors. Nighttime is a different ballgame. The darker the night, the darker the color of the bucktail should be. Deep red, dark purple, and black, or any combination of such, are good choices. Porkrinds for these dark colored bucktails should be dark also. So stick with red or black.
Soft plastic baits on your bucktails in lieu of porkrind sometimes can be deadly on Stripers. Again, so many different varieties and colors to choose from, and all have the potential to work extremely well on stripers. However, note that you will encounter numerous bluefish in some of these areas particularly during the daytime tides. These toothy critters will make short work of the soft plastic baits real quick, so porkrinds might be the better choice in these situations. If bluefish are not a problem then certainly experiment with a variety of these soft plastic baits on the end of the bucktail.
Now we come to possibly the most important aspect of 3–way bucktailing. The technique. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re new to this type of fishing it might be a good idea to book a charter boat or hop on a party boat on the North Fork to learn the ropes first before going at it yourself.
The 3–way rig is designed to present the bucktail down near the bottom structures where Stripers like to feed. The rig is most productive while drifting over the deep, desired structure, so 16 to 20-oounces of sinker lead is usually what is required in these areas to get the bucktail in the Stripers feeding zone. Lunar cycles, wind, and current/tidal stages will dictate the amount of lead needed but it is imperative that you maintain your bucktail in the proper zone without scoping out too much line away from your boat, so adjust sinker weight accordingly. Position your boat to drift over the structure you want to fish, drop the rig, and allow it to fall into the depths until the sinker touches the bottom. Once contact is made, immediately engage the reel, and take 3-cranks of the handle to get the rig off the bottom and hold on. Now the bucktail on that 6 to 8-ft. leader will be in or near the strike zone. While drifting along, you will constantly need to adjust the rig either up or down, depending on the bottom contour changes, in order to keep the sinker 3-cranks off the bottom. Failure to adjust the rig will either put the bucktail high out of the strike zone, or get the sinker snagged in the rocks, resulting in the loss of part, or the entire rig. Due to the currents and depths you will be fishing, it’s difficult to deter between a strike from a bass or the sinker smashing against a rock. So, most captains will advise that every time you feel a “bump” lift the rod tip quick and high, as if setting the hook into a fish. At this point, if you are not hooked up, take 3-cranks on the reel, to get the rig off the bottom. This whole process is repeated until you either hook a fish, or have finished the drift.
Be sure to bring a good supply of rigs, bucktails, and sinkers, as you will most definitely donate more than a few to the rocky bottom. However, with a little practice and patience, you can master the technique of 3-way bucktailing and could be rewarded with that striper of a lifetime.