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Adventures in Fly Tying... September 2006

The Arkansas Bucktail
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


Paul Stroud, in Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing by noted author and angler Joseph D. Bates, made these observations about a fly he'd designed; "This fly is an offshoot of Dr. Hoag's Hair Basser which was a great fly in many ways but which lacked several things I tried to include in the Ozark Bucktail.  It needed to be streamlined and tied more securely on the hook.  I also changed the rudder to make it travel with the hook point up.   In the past twenty years the Ozark Bucktail has taken all types of gamefish from the noble bluegill to the leaping tarpon.  It is tied in sizes 8 to 8/0 in many combinations of buck and skunk tail hair.  It is not tied to be weedless, but due to the fact that it travels upside down it is semi-weedless.  It is effectively fished with or without a spinner."

I've always fished it with a spinner.  As a young man I knew this fly as the Arkansas Bucktail.  It was shown to me more than twenty-five years ago by one of the salesmen at the now defunct Tight Lines sporting goods store.  Tight Lines, the quintessential 70's fly shop, was located not far from my boyhood home on Massachusetts' South Shore.  I've long since forgotten the name of that patient and knowledgeable fellow, but I'll never forget the hours I spent in that store, nor the lessons I learned from its staff and customers. 

The Arkansas Bucktail, or Ozark Bucktail if you prefer, is all-American, warm water classic.  It can be described as Spartan, utilitarian, or even frugal.  At its most basic, the Arkansas Bucktail is a play in one act.  All one needs to tie a great fly is a single, quality bucktail!  In the 21st Century we can be a bit more decadent with its dressing, though.  Use of a bit of Crystal Flash, thread in bright florescent colors and  perhaps some holographic eyes to tailor the fly to your home waters. 

Like a Lefty's Deceiver or Clouser Minnow, the Arkansas Bucktail is more a style of tying than a specific pattern.  And because of the reverse-tied bucktail wing, this fly has a deep body profile.  If you stop to consider that gizzard shad and threadfin shad are prolific warm water baitfishes, it's no wonder this fly is effective. Well over 100 years ago bass fishermen had already worked out a way to "match the hatch"!  Try this fly in saltwater, too! 


Hook – Mustad 3366, sizes 8 to 3/0.  Size 2 shown.

Thread – .Choice of colors, 140 or 210 denier. 

Tail – Bucktail, same as used for the wing.
Body – Tying thread
Wing – Bucktail in choice of colors.  Select long, straight, thin bucktail with a good "bounce" and spring to the individual hairs.. Hairs from the tip of the bucktail are the best.

Head – Built tying thread coated with expoxy.  Optional holographic eyes.



Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



1.  Attach thread behind the hook eye and wrap the shank of the hook with a smooth under-wrap, to a point above the barb of the hook.  Select a quality bunch of bucktail about 1/8 inch in diameter for the tail of a size 2 fly.  One of the secrets to making this fly effective is not to overdress it.  Keep its intrinsic translucency by using multiple ties of small quantities of high quality materials.


2.  Tie on the bucktail so it projects about one and one-half times to two times the hook length beyond the barb.  Trim the butts at a smooth angle and wrap a neat conical transition.  Coating the thread with a bit of head cement after each body segment will really help to make this a tough fly.  Using a drop of super glue (thin, just a wee drop) will make this an indestructible fly.  Make sure to give super glue a chance to dry before proceeding to the next step.


3.  Invert the hook in the vise.  The remainder of the fly will be tied "upside down.:"


4.  Select a bunch of bucktail of the same size as the tail.  Spit it to both sides of the hook point and tie the bucktail in without trimming the butts.  Make several tight wraps to hold the bucktail in place.  Fold the bucktail over the hook shank and pull it straight down with half on each side of the shank.  Make several tight wraps back up the bucktail to secure the cut butts in a mirror of the tapered ends. 


5.  This screen capture shows the second body segment completed.  A drop of super glue before tying on the next bunch will make this fly tough enough for pike and bluefish - you might get two or three fish before the hair is all gone but the body will still be there!


6.  Attach the third body segment in the same manner as the previous segments. 


7.  The stepped shape of the body begins to show. 


8.  Continue to add bunches of deer hair until you're about three hook eye diameters from the eye.  Then add a few strands of crystal flash or Flashabou. 


9.  To make a two-tone fly, select a contrasting color for the final bunch of bucktail.  Some great color combinations include brown-over-white, chartreuse-over-white, red-over-white, red-over-yellow and black-over-yellow. 


10.  Tie the final bunch of bucktail down with several tight wraps.  Bring the thread to a point close to the hook eye without completely crowding the eye. 


11. Fold the bucktail over, wrap a neat head and whip finish.  Add a drop of super glue or head cement.


12.  Trim the bucktail butts at an angle from the hook bend to the eye.  You can tailor the shape of the fly by playing with the angle and amount of hair you leave on the bottom.  The bottom shouldn't be more than 1/4 the length of the top wing at its longest, though.  Leaving the hair longer will prevent the fly from riding with its hook point up.


13.  Add holographic eyes, stick-on eyes, or even painted eyes as you see fit.  I believe a set of eyes makes a BIG difference when fishing for white bass, stripers and hybrids and less of a difference with largemouth. 


Till next time, tight lines and soft water…