In the Gulf Coast area, it is common knowledge that this time of year live bait, especially croaker, is a staple for many anglers. There are many methods and techniques that can be used when rigging up with live bait. One age-old device that still holds the spotlight in the fishing community is the popping cork. Originally designed to imitate the sound of nervous shrimp jumping at the surface of the water, popping corks provide many positive attributes that make them an angler favorite. When working the cork, the ‘popping’ and splashing of water draws the attention of nearby fish. Usually brightly colored, it is easy to spot the location of your cork on the water, and it is exciting for anglers of all ages anytime a fish strikes and the cork disappears under the water.
The new Legend Popping Corks reset the standards for corks of today. Rather than being composed of cork or dense foam, like other models, all Legend Popping Corks are made of durable plastic, designed to take a beating. Inside are either buckshot BB’s or large ball bearings, depending on the model. This added noise makes some awesome racket that is sure to grab the attention of hungry fish nearby. These corks seem to initiate a feeding frenzy!
However, fishing with live bait definitely has a few setbacks. Bait can be rather expensive, especially if you get into a large school of “bait stealing” fish. Aside from the cost, it can be difficult to keep bait alive for long. The use of livewells with proper aeration through oxygen tanks or aerators is a must.
I prefer a method that is simple, reliable, and with the help of the new Legend Corks, it catches just as many fish. Anyone that has been on a guided trip with me knows that I am almost exclusively an artificial lure fisherman. This preference carries over with our use of the Legend Corks. I have found that rigging a cork quite the same way as one would do for bait, but replacing the bait and circle hook with a jighead and a Berkley Gulp artificial works wonders. I tie the mainline to the top of the cork, and then add a monofilament leader between the bottom of the cork and the jighead. The length of the leader line depends on the depth of the water and where the fish are suspended in the water column. Generally speaking, shallow water over grass & sand calls for around a nine to twelve inch leader. For deeper water over rocks, reefs, or other structure, the leader is extended up to twenty-four inches. I like to use a 1/32 oz screw lock jighead. These tiny jigheads allow for a very free and life-like movement of the plastic lure.
The action that I give to this setup is similar to a topwater popping plug. Cast the rig out as far as possible. I believe that longer casts have higher success rates simply because they allow your lure to be present in the water for a longer period of time. Once the cork has settled, reel most of the slack from the line. Give the rod a sharp, solid jerk similar to the method of bait fishing with a cork. This jerking action will pop the cork, causing it to splash some water and rattle. The difference between fishing with lures compared to live bait is the rate of popping. I like to allow about a two second pause between pops. It should be just enough time for the cork to settle and jighead to sink. Reel in some slack and pop the cork again. Most of your strikes are going to come during this pause while the lure is slowly falling. Continue this cycle of pop, pause, pop, at a steady speed until you have retrieved the cork. When a fish strikes your lure and takes the cork under, be sure not to let the excitement and adrenaline get the best of you. Many fish are missed or lost due to a poor hook set. When a fish strikes, allow the cork to go under. Reel in slack while lowering the rod tip, then pull straight up and back on your rod to set the hook. You should now have a solid hook set and the fight is on!
Cork selection depends a bit on preference, time of day, and weather condition. Legend Popping Corks has done an awesome job at providing an array of colors and rattle variances in their products. On a completely calm day, or in clear water, try out a stealthy black cork with little or no rattles like the Urban Legend or ET007. For higher visibility—a bright and flashy color, like orange or pink, makes a Legend cork easy to see. If the wind is chopping up the water or you really want to make some noise, try the Heavy Hitter which contains two large ball bearings inside for noise. It will really call in the fish. I definitely agree with Bart Payne, founder of Legend Popping Corks, in his claim that the noise from a Heavy Hitter mimics the gill plates of a fish, clapping together while they are fiercely feeding at the surface. Their newest cork, the Midnight Rodeo, is by far one of my favorites; it combines the small BB rattle of the original Legend with the powerful ‘clank’ of the Heavy Hitter. This cork never stops making noise! While rocking with the waves, the little BBs steadily rattle. When you pop the cork, the big bearings really make some sound.
Lure color and selection also depends on the same variables. As I mentioned, Berkley Gulp lures are an excellent choice. I like the Swimming Mullet or the Mantis Shrimp.
If you are like me and enjoy the sporting nature of artificials, or simple do not want to pay for and fool with live bait, this method rigged up under a Legend Popping Cork will definitely do the trick. You can check out all of the great stuff from Legend Popping Corks and order online at www.legendpoppingcorks.com. Also, follow them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/legendpoppingcorks.
I hope you all are setting hooks & peeling drag. See ya on the water!