We’ve all fished with a popping cork at one time or another, and whether you call it a bobber, float or simply a cork, these devices are extremely efficient at triggering and signaling strikes. More importantly for inshore anglers, they effectively control the depth your offering is being presented at. While popping corks are very popular among live bait anglers, these extremely valuable fish-attracting devices are equally as effective when used in conjunction with artificial offerings. While there are many variations and types of popping corks, the common factor among all is commotion. Feeding game fish create loud popping and splashing sounds as they attack their quarry and drive helpless baitfish to the surface. Nearby predators, greedy and not wanting to miss out on an easy meal, are also attracted to the sound of this surface activity. Ultimately, popping corks provide the attracting power of a topwater plug with the hookup ratio of a single hook bait suspended below the surface.
Popping corks are most frequently employed by shallow-water anglers who target game fish in two to six-feet of water, and these noisy offerings attract a wide variety of species including trout, redfish, jack crevalle, ladyfish, snook, flounder and snapper.
Popping Cork Designs
Slotted corks are quick and easy to rig, as they can be attached directly to your line. To rig this type of cork, simply run your line through the pre-cut slot and insert the plastic pin that fits in the hole through the center of the cork. When fishing braided lines, slippage may be a problem with this type of cork. To avoid this, you can tie a swivel to the end of the braid and then attach your leader material. The swivel will act as a stopper. Slotted corks can be purchased with and without the addition of an internal weight, which will add significant distance to your cast.
The latest popping cork designs incorporate some sort of clacker or rattler and are fashioned with a highly visible float that has a length of wire passing through the center. Combinations of plastic and/or metal beads are placed on either side of the cork. A swivel is affixed to each end of the wire making them a cinch to rig. The original designs had a cigar shaped float, but newer varieties feature oval or cupped face corks. In addition to the splashing water, as these corks are ripped and popped across the surface they offer an added sound advantage which provides extra fish attracting power. Like slotted corks, the clacker varieties can be purchased with and without weights. Other than offering longer casts, weights also cause the cork to float in an upright position allowing them to make more surface commotion when retrieved.
Leader length is a matter of personal choice, but should be adjusted based on the depth of water you are fishing. Most anglers find that leaders longer than 36-inches are cumbersome to cast. I prefer 18 to 24-inches of 20lb. fluorocarbon leader. Captain Mark Nichols, owner and inventor of D.O.A. Lures, recommends tying a piece of leader above and below the cork when using braided line. “Braid has a tendency to wrap around the end of the wire that passes through the float,” Nichols says. “A short piece of leader at the end of the braided line will eliminate this problem.”
The theory behind the popping cork is simple. With a loud splash and rattle on the surface, you are effectively imitating a feeding frenzy. When inquisitive predators swim over to investigate, they see your bait suspended below the surface. There are a wide variety of live and artificial offerings that can be effectively fished with popping corks. Some of the most effective live offerings include shrimp, pilchard, mullet, pinfish and pigfish. Plastic shrimp imitations, grubs, and jerkbaits can also produce fantastic results. One of the more popular rigs is the D.O.A. Deadly Combo. This setup comes rigged and ready to fish with a commotion-creating float, leader and three-inch shrimp imitation.
Many anglers often ask which is more effective, live shrimp or plastic imitations. I prefer plastics, hands down and for several reasons. First of all, shrimp and other live baits are prone to flying off the hook when they are cast or popped too hard. Secondly, a live offering is only good for one fish. With artificials, I can release my catch and immediately make another cast. On more than one occasion, I have seen over two dozen fish taken on the same imitation crustacean, a feat that can never be matched by a live offering. Those issues, along with the fact that you do not have to worry about buying or catching live bait, make artificial baits my preferred choice. Another negative to fishing live bait is that pesky pinfish and puffers will steal your live shrimp before it has a chance to attract the attention of more glamorous species.
The techniques used when popping a cork are as varied as the anglers who use them. Some prefer a steady retrieve with a two to three-second pause between pops. Others believe that the length of time between pops should be much greater. The best advice is to try a variety of styles and see which is the most effective. On some days, the more noise you make, the better. Sometimes, a subtle twitch is all it takes to illicit a vicious strike. One thing is certain, your retrieve can never be too slow, but it can certainly be too fast.
The best thing about popping corks is that they can be used by anglers of all ages and skill levels. It is one of the best tools for introducing kids to fishing. Not only does it not require any special skills for it to attract and catch fish, the angler knows for certain when the fish has taken the bait because the float disappears beneath the surface. This is a big advantage for inexperienced anglers because it is a visual cue for them to set the hook.
To obtain the most out of your popping cork, it is important to keep your line tight. After you cast, reel up any slack and move the rod-tip close to the surface, and about one to three feet to your side. If the rod-tip is pulled up, it can make the top of the cork rise out of the water, minimizing the splash and noise. The most efficient pop is made with a quick snap of the wrist rather than a slow sweeping motion. A common mistake is to pop the cork and immediately point the rod back towards the cork putting several feet of slack into the line. If you get a strike with slack in the line, it can result in a missed hook set. Maintain a close watch on the cork. As soon as it goes under I like to employ what Captain Keith Kalbfleisch calls the “crank then yank” method. Make four or five rapid turns of the handle. This will eliminate any slack and begin to set the hook. This is followed by rapidly raising the rod-tip several feet to drive home the hook.
Choosing a Location
Popping corks are extremely effective in locations where sight-fishing is not an option. Deeper grass flats as well as the outside edges of flats and sandbars are great areas to target. Here in East Central Florida, I look for spots that have a mixture of sand and grass. From April through November, anglers can find trout and other species foraging around large concentrations of mullet, and this is definitely where you want to target your efforts. If you don’t see any bait, keep searching until you do. If you find a promising spot and you don’t get a bite after a dozen casts, it’s a good idea to keep moving. You may only need to move a short distance to locate the fish. Once you do, it can often lead to a strike on every cast.