Recently I have spent a good amount of time casting flies along our coastal salmon migration highways. I have not always seen success but have found good fishing and have just started to scratch the surface in learning about some new places. Learning these areas when you're dealing with tides, currents, and migratory fish takes time. This is where it gets interesting. Does the learning curve increase or decrease by using non-fly fishing techniques?
The technique most often used to search for salmon among "fly fishermen"is called bucktailing. Bucktailing is trolling a fly behind a moving boat. If you weren't familiar with this area you might wonder why a trolling technique gets so much attention and press in the Pacific Northwest fly fishing community and press.
When discussing bucktailing it comes down to one simple question. What defines fly fishing to you? For me fly fishing is first and foremost about the cast. Whether the cast is aerialized or cast using water borne anchors we use the weight of the fly line and not the fly to deliver our flies to waiting fish. We can argue for days about the definition of flies with all of the new synthetics and weights we use to construct flies these days but without fly casting we're not having any of those arguments.
Does bucktailing help someone learn how to become a better saltwater salmon fly fisherman? Does bucktailing help a fly fisherman learn the water types salmon prefer? My belief is that is answer to both questions is no. No amount of trolling a fly around is going to help you become more proficient in casting or learning which retreives work.
Like most fly fishermen in the Pacific Northwest I had always heard that bucktailing was the way to fly fish the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is how I started fishing for salmon at Neah Bay. I quickly found out that I not only did not enjoy trolling flies but I wanted to actually fly fish for salmon. I stopped trolling flies and my education truly began. I slowly started to learn how to read the water and slowly started to have success. As I gained knowledge of the fishery the good days started to outnumber the poor fishing days. Not only did I not bucktail personally but I was able to successfully guide fly anglers for years with zero bucktailing.
What I find interesting in the fly fishing communities acceptance of bucktailing is the lack of acceptance of other methods that are far closer to fly fishing than bucktailing. Bring up fishing beads for steelhead on any Northwest fishing forum and watch the sparks fly even though fishing beads is closer to fly fishing than motoring a boat with a fly dangling in the prop wash.
The only thing bucktailing shares with bead fishing is an attempt to speed up the learning curve. Unfortunately it doesn't teach you how to fly fish and the only thing it helps with is hooking a few fish on a fly rod. Of course, what is the point of using a fly rod if you are not going to fly fish?