A Case for Corks

A Case for Corks
Live pinfish rigged under a clicker cork.

Not everyone has the right rod, experience, patience and stamina to dance a jig hour after hour with that perfect, upward twitch of the rod tip. That’s why I’ve been using corks lately, keeping their jigs, spoons or bait from getting snagged on bottom.  Which causes a delay in our drift. When that happens, it’s either motor over and save the rig, or break it off. We usually idle over and jiggle it loose. Corks also make very good strike indicators; a vanished cork usually means fish, something we all learned around age five.

I keep a dozen corks in the boat and most are battle-scarred; we seldom lose one entirely unless a hefty shark grabs on. Different brands, shapes and colors, and most of them slide on a wire and make that fish-attracting click that imitates a panicked shrimp.

Texans should be proud to know that the first saltwater clicking corks originated in Port Mansfield. Cast your mind back to 1982 or so, and that’s when Capt. Bob Fuston in  Mansfield invented the first of these corks, a cigar-shaped version that landed with minimum noise in the clear, thin waters of the Laguna Madre. Named by visiting writer Ken Grissom from the Houston Post who wade-fished with Fuston that day, the little cork on a wire was then and there dubbed the Mansfield Mauler.

If memory serves from the 1980s, many Maulers were made locally, but the concept of copyright was perhaps overlooked. Fuston was retired from power plant engineering and was on a doctor’s orders to live a low-stress lifestyle. It can be surmised that patent fights had no appeal, when the clear Laguna beckoned each morning. 

Anyway, today’s clicker corks are found in stores at least from Texas to Florida. (Now found in Wally World, it’s clear they’ve gone mainstream). There have been other cork designs as well, such as hollow, hard plastic floats with BBs inside. Many were made in Rockport and found in the aisles of bigger tackle stores. Today I see more Cajun Thunder corks in the big box stores than any other brand, made by Precision Tackle in Montgomery near the shores of Lake Conroe. When it comes to saltwater corks, it seems that Texas has it over all the other states.  

From what I’ve seen, most cork fishermen use live bait. Pin a hook to a hopper shrimp or a live pinfish or finger mullet while drifting or anchored in four to eight feet of water, and almost anyone can hook a trophy trout or redfish. Such a rig is a necessity when fishing oyster reefs that will snag any tackle reaching bottom.

Folks use corks at the jetties too, suspending live bait above jumbles of granite rock just below. Years ago we had a neighbor down the street, an old man who fished by himself. He would trawl up his own shrimp at the Sabine jetties and then always anchored at the same spot, a small washout in the rocks where channel water flowed out into the Gulf. He just sat there, patiently watching his cork. This went on for years, and there is no telling how many trout and redfish he kept; we often heard reports he’d boxed 30 or more fish on a single tide, and back then there were no limits. He must have been selling them. We passed him countless times on our way to the end of the jetties, where we threw gold spoons. 

Today we do a lot of drift-fishing, and typically with two guests on the boat. The husband will sling jigs downwind while his wife, not comfortable with constant casting, will trail a cork and live bait, back upwind. The wives typically set the hook not as…energetically as I would like, but they consistently catch trout, sometimes the biggest of the day.

Depending on water clarity, cork color seems to matter. We had a spate of clear water for several weeks, and the lucky cork was green. For two days, a retired woman angler kept gleefully cranking in trout while her husband, with an orange cork, struggled to get a bite. This happened in only four feet of water, and we were using live pinfish. Not big pinfish, just the little four-inch pinnies that had their dorsal fins clipped off with scissors. Without those prickly fins, they were easily scarfed up by trout.

Last trip I didn’t bother with live bait, just pinned a strip of ladyfish on the hook, a killer bait for trout back when I was a kid. Unfortunately, sharks showed up for the party and the novice angler landed 12 while getting yanked around the boat with lots of splashing and excitement. The sharks were small ankle-snappers and easy to unhook, fortunately. Next trip I’m switching to jigs under corks; the sharks should mostly leave them alone. Jig size should ideally have a ¼- or 3/8-ounce lead head, to allow flutter-and-sink after the cork is popped. How often? If you wonder how long it takes for a jig to settle down, try it next to the boat and count seconds. And the tail design makes a difference; it seems a twister tail never stops twirling. Even a slow jig can get grabbed; it’s hard to imagine a better offering than a DOA shrimp under a clicking cork. Or a scented Gulp! shrimptail.

Points to remember:

>With clicker corks, be sure the heavier end of the cork points toward the hook.

>Twenty-pound fluoro leader under the cork should be fine for trout, and 30-pound for redfish. Carry both sizes in the tacklebox; with only 20-pound leader on the boat, you run the risk of getting busted up by a school of redfish.

>Choppy water will certainly add to the jig’s action, while calm, glassy water means more work.

>This is no time for whippy rods: stick with seven or eight foot, medium-heavy action rods that offer a strong swing when casting, and more leverage when setting the hook.

>If you anchor and set out a spread of lines, corks will accurately mark each bait, but they migrate in a current and will also snag drifting vegetation. I generally don’t use corks when fishing points, where there is more tidal flow.

>Egg-shaped corks land with a serious plop, but in murky water the fish don’t seem to care. On the Laguna Madre’s clear water, they probably will. Egg corks have fairly good ballistics and can be cast a long ways even upwind. Downwind, they sail like a golf ball.

>In clear, shallow water, cigar-shaped corks seem to work better, typified today by Cajun Thunder’s Equalizer series. Pick out a variety of colors, and remember that it’s much easier to spot a red or orange cork out there in the waves, compared to a green cork. Watching a green cork adds to eye fatigue by day’s end. But if that’s what it takes to catch fish, go with lucky green.

>It’s a hassle, but leader length below the cork matters. As the day goes on, my leaders get shorter from switching jigs to hooks, also losing hooks to sharks. So, I keep a small spool of fluoro leader close at hand.

>Cone-shaped corks (going back to the 1960s) certainly chug and gurgle easier. These corks are designed for maximum noise in murky water, calling up fish that can’t see far.