This is the second in a series of articles written for the average bay fisherman who would like to know a little more about approaching a day of fishing. Let’s imagine you are arriving at the boat ramp on a spring morning, and the wind has been blowing since before you sat down for breakfast at that greasy spoon restaurant — a solid 18 knots! Not to worry, that is a typical day down on the middle coast. You have to learn to adjust your tactics or have an empty fish box at the end of the day! A couple of the most important decisions you’ll make is what type of bait you decide to buy and the way you will present it to the fish. Your presentation will be decided in great part by the weather and time of year!
Shrimp and Popping Cork
Shrimp and popping cork is a great way to fish eight or nine months out of the year on windy days (fall, winter and spring)! This style of fishing is used by only a few guides; it seems there is a contingent that has become opposed to teaching their customers how to cast, work the bait and set the hook. Not me! Let me have a day of my clients casting over a day of anchoring up and casting for them! I have spent a lot of time working with the young and old alike. For example, the 70 year old Yeager’s (yes, the nephew of Chuck Yeager and also a war fighter pilot) were able to catch a whole mess of fish during an afternoon half day trip this spring. I like my customers to fish. This is a great style of fishing, even for children! There are times when the anchor-up guys catch more redfish, however they haven’t let their customers touch a rod other than to hand them the rod and reel when the fish is on. Now don’t get me wrong, there are days when that is productive — and I’m forced into that type of routine also, however the good catch on those days are limits of reds and a couple of drum maybe. Shrimp-and-popping-cork good days are limits of reds, near limits of trout with maybe a huge trout released, a couple of drum and a ton of fish in between!
Now this is going to get the attention of any stray-lure aficionados reading this: Consistently successful shrimp-and-popping-cork fishing is more technical than any lure I know! Here are some of the things I have learned over the years of doing one of my favorite styles of guided fishing:
Corks — I predominantly use Cajun Thunders, however on deeper reefs Rattle Corks work well. On lighter wind days, the old Mansfield Mauler could be and option too. I even save old corks for those days that the redfish don’t want a lot of sound!
Colors — I always start with two primary colors, pink and chartreuse. Most of the time you will find redfish like one and not the other, and the same for trout. However they may be hitting both, or you can select the color depending on when you are fishing an area more conducive to the fish you expect to catch.
Leader — Easy. I use only 20-pound fluorocarbon! The leader length when fishing the flats should be just above the grass you are drifting over. I keep varying lengths available to change on the fly. Leader lengths are increased when fishing the deeper bay, which I seldom do using this style of fishing.
Hooks — #2 or #4 Laser Sharp trebles depending on the shrimp size. I have found smaller to medium-size shrimp work better than the big ones. The larger shrimp do not work under a popping cork. You might as well save them as an appetizer with the corn-battered trout!
Knots — Use an improved clinch knot from the line to the cork. Do not use a snap swivel — it makes the cork lay over! I use a loop knot to the bottom of the cork for quick changing leader lengths and loop knots to the treble hook for more realistic movement.
Accessories — Beads are a VERY important part and sometimes not a part of the rig all together! The general rule of thumb is to start with small beads on most of the rigs and at least one rig without a bead. Really make sure your buddy is fishing the bait properly before ruling out any package! Sometimes going to a larger bead when the water is very muddy or stirred up makes a difference!
Now that the terminal gear has been laid out, it is time to talk about presentation! The cast should be made in an arch, and as the cork is floating down, flip the bail on the reel over by hand to make a softer presentation. Pop the cork once or twice immediately after it hits the water. Did I say immediately? I meant it! I believe that is a major key to being effective! I start out the day by popping the cork (learn to pop it without moving it toward the boat) in about five-second intervals. On windy days pop it more! Remember that even on windy days redfish may not like a lot of popping so alternate presentation to find what works.
This style of fishing isn’t like bobber fishing for perch, so the perfected bass angler hook set (Bill Dancing) is worthless here! The proper way to set the hook is to:
- Hold the rod at 10 o’clock during the retrieve (only making up the line as boat drifts to the cork)
- Drop the rod tip when the cork goes down
- Reel up to set the hook
- When you feel the weight of the fish, firmly lift the rod back to the 10 o’clock position
If you follow the actions listed above, you will get fish in the box! You’ll also want to learn to stop the bait within a couple of feet. If you don’t feel the weight of the fish and pop the cork if it comes back to the surface, you don’t want to keep reeling the bait out of the strike zone! Remember the retrieve is a steady reeling. If you let slack get in, then try to catch up you will not even come close to realizing your potential catch at the end of the day!
In closing, remember that nothing about fishing is set in stone. Pay attention, vary your approach and find what works! If fishing gets slow after a couple of good catches, I find that the angler gets a little pumped and is working the cork faster than before the hook ups! In an additional note, let’s not overlook popping cork and piggies on the occasional early summer day! Use the same popping cork rig but instead of a treble use an appropriate size kahle hook! This can be an incredible way to fish when nobody else has had a good bite. Keep the bait fresh — they don’t last long casting under a cork (expensive but effective)!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and remember: If you don’t eat it, release it. Try to release all big trout. Get a picture, it will last longer … And save some for the kids!
_— Capt. Scott McCune
__”__The Saltwater Cowboy”
Other Articles in this Series: