STORIES THE SALTIER SIDE By: Rob Newell, WorldFishingNetwork.com Advantages of Popping Corks: Not Just for Beginners with Live Bait Debunking and dispelling the fallacies of fluorescent floaters; they offer many presentation options for seasoned anglers using live bait and artificials too Many shallow saltwater species can be caught using a popping cork, such as this nice redfish. (Rob Newell photo) Popping corks make coastal fishing fun and easy. But due to their simplicity, a lot of anglers don’t maximize their full potential. With that in mind, it’s time to dispel some popular popping cork myths in an effort to better understand just how effective these surface sloshers can be. Popping corks are only for live bait While it’s true popping corks are commonly used to float a live shrimp or a baitfish, they also are deadly in floating just about any kind of artificial lure you want to put under them. The vertical bobbing motion from a cork adds a lot of life to an artificial lure suspended beneath it. A 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jighead with a soft plastic grub or Gulp Shrimp is deadly under a cork. If floating grass in an issue, try taking a Gulp Jerk Shad and Texas-rigging it to a belly-weighted hook to make it weedless – big trout love this combination. Beyond that, I have used ¼-ounce weedless spoons under corks, too. Also, I once watched a guide and his party wear trout out with ¼-ounce Rat-L-Traps under corks. Popping corks are like a little extra advertising for lures – it helps get them noticed. A popping cork is just a “strike detector” Another misconception about popping corks is they are just made for “bobber watching.” Some think you just throw them out there and let them sit. Not so! Popping corks are made to fish like lures and they play a critical role in helping attract strikes as well. Coming from a freshwater background where quiet is king, it took me a while to understand surface noise is a good thing in saltwater. There is a reason they put all those clackers and beads on popping corks. Saltwater fish are inherently more attracted to surface commotion than freshwater bass. The sound of something getting thrashed at the surface in the brine is like the dinner bell to inshore species. For that reason, all that splooshing, splashing, clicking and clacking is the kind of racket that makes the ears of saltwater fish perk up and take notice. So don’t be afraid to get aggressive with a popping cork. Use several fast jerks to really make the cork slash and clack, let it sit and do it again. Finally, corks also have the unique ability to keep your lure hovering in very specific strike zones: tight up against grasslines, shoals or oyster bars. Indeed, popping corks do far more than just “detect strikes.” Longer leaders are better I don’t necessarily buy this one. Since the surface commotion is what attracts the fish, I think it’s best to have your offering as close to the action as possible. You want the lure to fall and stop right in the fish’s face, not dart below him. Obviously, this is all relative to how deep you’re fishing. If you’re in 18 inches of Louisiana marsh, then a 12-inch leader is all you need. If you’re drifting grass flats in Florida in 3 to 5 feet, then something down to 18 inches is fine. In general, I find somewhere between 16 to 24 inches of 15- to 20-pound-test fluorocarbon to be perfect. Weighted corks work the best Weighted corks do cast far better into the wind, but the caveat is they sit up upright all the time – even if your lure is sitting dead on the bottom. Unweighted corks require the weight of the lure to pull them upright, so if your cork is lying flat on the water, you know your lure is on the bottom and you need to shorten your leader. If your leader is too long and the bait drags bottom, it defeats the purpose of even using a cork and weighted corks tend to lie about that so just be aware of it. Popping corks are just for trout I hear this a lot in the Panhandle of Florida where popping corks are popular for trout. But they can help catch many other species too. Other usual popping cork suspects include redfish, blues, Spanish mackerel, jacks and even flounder. Popping corks are just for beginners Some anglers view popping corks as training wheels for flats fishing. Popping corks may be simplistic, but in skilled hands they can be fast fish catchers when nothing else works. I’ve seen top redfish pros utilize them successfully in tournaments multiple times. This is especially true when pros need to get lures in very tight or confined strike zones up against marsh banks, oyster bars or even up on top of shallow shoals. No other presentation can hover a lure into a strike zone like a popping cork – it’s what makes this technique so unique. When jigs bury in the mud, spinnerbaits wrap up too much grass or topwaters don’t stay in the strike zone long enough – a popping cork is perfect for drifting your offering right up against the bank with the tide and clacking it in place until the “strike detector” goes under!