When you start to do some travel fishing, you start to notice that anglers have their favorite techniques depending on where they live. A lot of that has to do with what kinds of fish are found in the lakes, streams, and oceans they’re fishing in. Even when the same species of fish live in different areas, people fish them differently. It’s kind of like how each area has its own food. Chicago’s pizza, Louisiana’s crawfish, Hawaii’s macadamia nuts. Down in the Gulf, one of the most popular pieces of fishing gear is the popping cork. Let’s take a closer look at these bright, bobbing, baubles and how to use them.
What is a popping cork?
At first blush, a popping cork looks a lot like a bobber. They’re usually brightly colored, similar in shape, and float in the water. But there’s a world of difference between bobbers and corks. The fluorescent oranges and yellows of a popping cork exist mostly for the angler’s benefit. The color makes them easy to spot in the water, like a bobber. They float, holding the lure suspended beneath them, also like a bobber. That, however, is where their similarity ends.
Unlike a bobber, popping corks are meant to be anything but stationary. They’re designed to make noise and splash to attract attention Then, when a bass, a redfish, or a jack comes along to find out what all the commotion is, they see your tasty looking lure dangling at eye level. They’re usually made from cork, plastic, or styrofoam with a length of line that goes right through the center. On the line, on either end of the cork itself, you’ll usually find some beads. These add noise to the lure, providing that attention grab. They’re shaped like an egg or like a top with a concave end. This concave end helps it throw water, adding more noise and splash.
When to use a popping cork
Just like any other lure, popping corks have a time and a place when they’re most effective. They’re generally used on saltwater species that feed mid-level in the water. Popping corks aren’t the best lure for bottom fishing, since they’re designed to hold your lure suspended beneath. You can vary where your bait hangs in the water by changing the length of your leader. Don’t use a five-foot leader if you’re only fishing in four feet of water.
A lot of anglers combine a cork with live or cut bait, but they’ll work well with many different softbaits and jigs too.
Different poppers make more noise than others. Most have beads that create sound and some have rattles. On one hand, loud noises can scare more skittish fish away. On the other, if you’re competing for attention over the wind, boats, and other noises, you’ll need a louder cork to be heard. Fish are also more tremulous in clearer water than in muddy water. You can still use a popping cork in both conditions, but the size and features you choose will change.
How to cast a popping cork
Another very big difference between a bobber and a popping cork is in the way you cast it. You want as little spin as possible on the lure when you cast it out. If the bait and the cork start to helicopter, you’ll end up with a tangled line, especially if you’re using a braided line. Just gently lob your lure out there and plop it in the water. Give the bait a minute to settle so that it’s suspended under your cork. Now, point your rod tip at the cork and reel in the slack. Then, it’s time to start making some noise.
Use a flick of the wrist to pop that cork back in your direction. Pop it a few times and then let it rest. Pop again, and rest. If you fish it like a crankbait, the fish isn’t going to have time to figure out what’s going on. Since it’s not the cork you want the fish to strike on, but the lure, use the cork to get the fish’s attention and give it a chance to find your lure. Make sure you pop it hard enough to get those beads to clack or rattle and always keep tension in your line.
Popping cork mistakes
If you’re new to popping corks, it’s natural to make some mistakes when fishing them. There are a few common issues you’ll want to avoid, even after you’ve mastered that gentle cast. The first is where you’re pointing the tip of your rod. Don’t hold the rod out to the side or high in the air. It should be pointed in front of you, directed at the cork. It’s too easy to get tangled up or lose tension otherwise.
Another mistake is using the wrong sized cork for the bait you’re using. If you’ve got a heavy hook and a large baitfish on the end, but a small cork, it’s not going to sit right in the water. It might even be submerged. If it is, the popping cork isn’t going to do what it’s designed to do. It won’t throw around water as much and it’ll be harder to pop. Another big mistake is cutting the leader too long. If the leader is too long for the water you’re in, the bait might sit at the bottom. Since most popping corks are weighted, they’re going to sit upright whether or not your lure is suspended correctly.
This is just a general overview of popping corks. There are different shapes and sizes, different colors, and all kinds of noise-making modifications out there. They can start to get costly as you get to the higher-end models, but you’re less likely to lose one than, say, a softbait or a hook. Because that fish shouldn’t strike on your cork, but on the lure instead, you don’t have to worry about having to cut the line and leaving the cork in the fish.
Try a few and see if you like them!