Catch more redfish and seatrout with a popping cork
Out of the box, a popping cork looks like an unlikely fishing rig. Long, gaudy, complicated and awkward, the popular inshore set-up must have been invented by a mad scientist. But, in the right hands, a popping cork is one of the most effective lures for redfish and trout.
A popping cork is a large float connected to a two to three-foot leader and a light jig or live bait. Jerking the rod tip makes the float splash and click on the surface of the water, making the lure or bait hop below.
The rig is designed to imitate snapping shrimp and feeding fish. It works great over snaggy bottom, like a grass bed or oyster reef. The popping cork is easy to use, just jerk the rod tip and the rig does the work. When done right, fish come from every direction to check out the commotion.
For PENN Fleet Captain Jot Owens, popping corks are a go-to tactic in spring, summer, and fall when trout and redfish are feeding on schools of shrimp. “It works best when the fish are in shallow, stained water,” he adds.
Corks come in two styles: popping and rattling. A popping cork is solid foam with beads while a rattling cork is hard plastic with beads inside. Captain Owens uses the cork on big red drum. “The foam cork creates a lower-frequency pop and a larger splash,” he explains. Big noise brings in big fish, so Owens offers them a large six inch Gulp! Swimming Mullet on a 3/8-ounce jighead. To keep a big drum connected, Owens uses a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader between the lure and the cork.
For slot drum and trout, Owens picks the high-frequency rattle and more subtle commotion of a rattling cork. Less commotion and a lighter chatter prevents spooking of the fish. Owens adds a 20-pound-test leader to the rattle and connects a 1/8-ounce jighead and three to four-inch Gulp! Shrimp. Whether he’s using the cork or the rattle, he makes the leader long enough to keep the lure a foot off the bottom.
Casting a long leader and heavy cork requires a longer rod. Owens goes with a seven-and-a-half-foot Fenwick HMG Inshore spinning rod. “The longer rod makes it easier to lob the rig away from the boat.” He encourages long casts in shallow water to avoid spooking the fish.
Fenwick’s HMG Inshore rod blanks are constructed out of sensitive graphite wrapped with tough carbon fiber. Owens says the combinations creates a powerful rod for casting the large rig with strength to work the popper.
When the cork lands, Owens instructs anglers to let it sit still for several seconds. Once the cork floats upright, he’s sure the bait has settled below. “Hold the tip low with the line 90-degrees from the rod,” he says. Then, Owens gives the rod two quick jerks to make the cork pop.
Quickly crank the reel to bring in slack line then let the cork pause for several seconds. “Quickly retrieving the slack line makes it easier to hook the fish,” Owens says. When a fish strikes the lure, the angler must turn the reel fast to come tight on the hook. Owens likes PENN’s new Clash II high speed spinning reels for responsive line control. “Every second counts,” he says.
The Clash II also features high-powered and smooth HT-100 carbon fiber drag. With a fighting fish dragging a heavy float and several feet of leader, it takes a tough drag that won’t stick to prevent pulling the hook. Any slack in the line gives the fish an opportunity to escape, Owens says.
Owens insists popping corks are fun for pros and novices. “I’ve seen days when we caught 50 seatrout on the popping cork,” he boasts. Then adds the rig is equally effective for new anglers. “A kid can cast and work the cork on his own,” Owens points out. With the right tackle and a little pop and crank rhythm, a popping cork is a fun and effective way to catch more fish.