Keep the popping cork close by

Popping cork rigs catch all kinds of fish, as Capt. Charlie Bush caught this chunky marsh bass on a Vudu Shrimp under a popping cork the very next cast after catching a keeper speckled trout.

It’s good to have the rig in your toolbox

Capt. Charlie Bush and I were set up on the inside edge of a grass point, catching trout sporadically while waiting on the tide to turn.

We knew the tide was about to start going out and that we were in a great area once it did.

Bush had just caught a trout and tossed it in the livewell for tagging when we saw her coming.

She was a small fish-and-ski loaded with five rather large men, and she was coming in hot.

She came by our grassy point running like a scalded ape, made a hard left turn just off our port side, a hard right turn and came off full throttle.

The fish-and-ski hadn’t even leveled off when all five anglers launched their large, orange popping corks in various directions.

The way the scene unfolded, with the crescendo being their orange popping corks arching through the air, reminded me of a video I saw on Facebook of an AC-130 Spectre Gunship launching its flares.

Hey, just another day on the water chasing those beautiful speckled trout.

All you can do is shake it off and keep grinding.

When you’re in that grind between tides, some adjustment is almost always necessary.

Bush and I chatted about those times you have to grind and the importance of having an arsenal of techniques to be successful in the slow times.

We both prefer tight-lining soft plastics on jigheads, casting topwater baits or fishing some type of subsurface bait, but we also know certain times call for lures or techniques outside our comfort zone.

We both agreed there’s one more technique an angler better have in their toolbox — a popping cork.

Neither of us like fishing a popping cork, mainly because you don’t have that direct feel to your lure. I’ll be honest and say that a popping cork does get associated with — unfairly — novices and folks who seem oblivious, like our fish-and-ski trout-chasing brethren.

Shortly after the boat ran by us, the wind kicked up out of the south to 15 knots or better. The south wind combined with less than a foot of tidal range basically prevented the tide from going out.

Essentially we were stuck at high tide the remainder of our trip.

Capt. Charlie had experienced this before and knew our best bet was to use the ol’ popping cork.

He started casting and popping, and continued to catch trout. It wasn’t as fast and furious as our early morning bite, but it kept him in the game.

I stayed with a jig — then a MirrOdine — then a topwater — and then finally made the switch to a popping cork.

Another reason I don’t care for a popping cork is because I didn’t understand its purpose. Friends had tried explaining it, but it never sank in.

As an old bass fisherman, it made absolutely no sense to me.

My friend Hunter Hinson at Sea 2 Swamp gave me some advice on using popping corks, and recommended a cork and some baits. I left with a few oval Boat Monkey popping corks and gold Vudu Shrimp.

A trip with my wife to Graveline Bayou shortly after my conversation with Hunter was a popping cork game changer.

It finally clicked.

I had that “aha!” moment I needed to give me more confidence.

The water was extremely clear that day in Graveline, and the trout were feeding on small shrimp close to the surface.

The “aha” moment came on one of my first casts with a popping cork. When my cork was about 30 feet from the boat, I gave her a good pop. I saw a trout dart toward the cork, turn, go straight down toward my bait, grab it and take my cork with it.

There it was: I saw with my own eyes what my friends had been trying to tell me.

The trout had heard the pop, went to investigate, saw that whatever had caused the pop had missed the delicious shrimp that was slowly falling into the depths and grabbed it for himself.

I love it when the light bulb turns on in my noggin.

Tackle for fishing a popping cork isn’t complicated, and odds are you have what you need propped up in your garage.

My popping cork setup consists of a Parker Poles 7-foot, 2-inch moderate-fast spinning rod; a Penn Battle II 3000 spinning reel spooled with 30-pound PowerPro Super 8 Slick; an oval Boat Monkey cork; an 18-inch, 15-pound Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon leader; and a gold 3 1/4-inch Vudu Shrimp.

I’m no popping cork guru, but I do know you want a rod with backbone because you’re casting more hardware than just a simple lure.

I chose a spinning reel due to the cumbersome nature of casting a cork, leader and bait. A baitcaster will work, but there’s a lot going on at the end of your rod that can cause some serious backlashes if you’re not extra cautious.

Braid is the best choice for the simple reason that it has very little stretch. I can cast a popping cork rig a country mile, and monofilament would just have too much stretch to effectively pop the cork.

I prefer a Boat Monkey cork because of the quality but, to be honest, this comes down to your personal preference. Some anglers use a plain old oval clip-on cork and catch the stew out of trout.

There are times an oval is best, other times when a cup-faced is best or when the slender, cigar-shaped models work best.

Trial-and-error are your friend here, so I won’t delve into that subject.

Opinions vary on the leader, but I prefer a 15-pound fluorocarbon leader because it is less visible to the fish. I know several folks who use a monofilament leader up to 30-pound test and have great success.

Again, it comes down to personal preference and what you have confidence in.

What is tied to the end of your line boils down to personal preference and confidence, as well.

I have the most confidence in a Vudu Shrimp because it is so darned lifelike. Some of my friends prefer DOA Shrimp and do just as well. Some even use various colors of Matrix Shad baits.

There’s a lot of wiggle room in the popping cork world for personal preference that still allows an angler success, but you still need to keep in mind what’s going on at the end of your line.

The cork sounds like a fish hitting some type of bait; the voracious feeding nature of a speckled trout attracts them to the noise and the subtle fall of your bait triggers the trout to strike.

If you’re not using a popping cork, I suggest you dig through your rod-and-reel pile and try the rig. Like the MirrOlure 52MR I discussed last month, the popping cork is something that needs to be part of your arsenal to be successful on a consistent basis.

Truth be told, I’m going to stick with a soft plastic on a jig far too long on most days, but I do have my popping cork setup in the rod holder poised for action. If you’re serious about your trout fishing, I suggest you rig up with a popping cork and be ready — just in case.

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