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Popping Cork Tactics

Lure-cork combos are deadly on trout and reds—if you work them right.

By Matt Stevens

This is textbook “pothole” water, with white spots amid lush seagrass. Think a trout will be next?

The sound a big fish makes when it explodes on the surface and inhales bait is a beautiful thing. That's the sound you want to duplicate with a popping cork. When the fish hear it, they'll almost certainly come over to investigate.

For decades we've used corks primarily with live shrimp or pinfish, but in recent years more and more anglers are discovering that corks are great for rigging with jigs and soft-plastic lures. The system works on calm summer days as well as howling coldfront winds in winter.

For seatrout and redfish, try a 3/8-ounce jighead with a 4-inch soft plastic paddletail. Using about 2 feet of 30-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon, tie the lure to a weighted, oval-shape popping cork with a rattle. The weighted cork allows for longer casts, while the rattle adds more noise to attract fish. Shown here is Bomber's Paradise Popper X-Treme, with titanium wire. Use a loop knot to the lure for optimal action.

White, pink and chartreuse are always good lure colors for trout and reds, but use your best judgment. If you like the color and are confident working the bait, chances are the fish will be receptive. Same goes for lure shape: Makes sense to pick a pattern that resembles what the fish are feeding on, but at times the odd-man-out is the one that gets the bite.

Live baits are attractive in their own right, but lures work best with some action. Be aggressive with your technique. Make three hard jerks of the rod—Sploosh! Sploosh! Sploosh! Pause for a few seconds, keeping your eye on the cork to see if it shoots under water, and have at it again. Your goal is to tick off the fish so badly that it can't resist the urge to obliterate your bait. If your shoulder is not a little sore the next morning you weren't working hard enough. And if you miss a hookup, keep after the fish. If it's still in the area, chances are good that it will strike again.

When the wind is howling and you are throwing a popping cork, keep your back to the wind and your rodtip pointed down when working your bait. This will help keep your line closer to the water and help you get the effect you need to drive the trout crazy.

When the cork goes under, it's easy to get excited and overcompensate the hookset by bringing your elbows up and raising the rod above over your head.

Instead, stay focused and keep your elbows tucked into your sides. When you are ready to set the hook, shoot from the hip and let your wrists do most of the work as you move the rod across your body while keeping pressure on the line.

Once you've located a good school of fish, work it until the bite turns off, especially if you are catching big fish. Trout tend to school together by size, so if all you are catching is undersize fish it's time to move on to the next hole.

And make sure to cover all the ground in the area where the fish are biting. Don't just cast in the same spot over and over. This can be an easy habit to fall into, but when you start hitting different spots you will often find different pockets of fish that might be holding the gator trout you're looking for. Make a few casts in one spot, then shift your cast a few yards. Basically you want to work in half circles from the area of the boat you're fishing. Do this, and let the audible attraction of the cork call the fish to your hook. - FS

First Published in Florida Sportsman Magazine, June 2011.

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