I believe it possible that Texas might hold as great or greater diversity of shoreline habitat than any state that borders the Gulf of Mexico. Not only the landscape, the weather seems to be just as inconsistent as the bayous and bays that shape our coast. The only constant in this equation is that there are plenty of fish to be caught and it can be done from one end to the other. There are myriad methods and strategies an angler can employ to go about catching a few of these fish and I myself have tried most. However, when you lump them all together, one setup that I have the utmost confidence in is the popping cork. I will never leave the launch ramp without at least one rigged and ready because it can be thrown in any type of water, under just about any conditions, and will consistently produce fish.
The popping cork has a weird stigma within the fishing community and rightly so. Its looks are quite unappealing, if for no other reason than it conjures images of staring at a bobber, and nothing could be more boring. However, a similar argument could be made with crankbaits or spoons, that all you need do is toss it out and reel it back in with a slow, effortless retrieve. It took me a while to warm up to the popping cork, but after watching my buddy catch more fish than me, I began to change my opinion.
The first time I saw one up close and in action was maybe twelve years ago. There was a kayak fishing tournament coming on Sabine Lake and two guys on the old Texas Kayak Fishing Forum posted that they were looking for a third member to join their team. I quickly replied that I was interested and we began discussing where we might plan to fish. I told them that I knew of an area holding some quality fish. We put a plan together and decided to go there. The morning of the tournament was the first time I had ever met these two individuals in person. We were acquainted on the forum but up to that day it was our only contact. One of them was the owner and creator of TKF and the other is now one of my best friends, Chad. Funny how you meet some of you best friends at a boat ramp. Anyways, I was looking over Chad’s setup and he had a bigger spinning rod in one of his rod holders with a neon green popping cork waving in the breeze. My initial thought was that this was about to be a long day.
We made our way back into the marsh, spaced out evenly across a small lake and begin to cover everything we could reach with topwaters. We caught a few fish right at daylight and considered ourselves off to a decent start. The morning grew quiet and still and we all heard a redfish blowing up near the far shoreline. I would have considered this fish to be well out of casting range with hopes to catch up to it within a few minutes. Looking over at Chad, he was reeling in his topwater as quickly as he could, skipping it frantically across the surface. Quick as a flash he reached back for the big rod rigged with the neon cork. Rearing back, he aired a cast across the pond impressively near the spot where the redfish had been blowing up. I watched as he gave the rod a series of hefty jerks…pop, pop, pop…and the cork disappeared. His drag started to scream and he began fighting that fish while I watched in absolute amazement. I couldn’t believe that it actually worked. He proceeded to replay that exact scenario a few more times that morning. Since that day I knew that there was a lot more to throwing a popping cork than staring at a bobber.
One of the key factors about having a popping cork setup at the ready is that it can be used in virtually any situation. It is just as effective in a foot of water in backwater marsh ponds as it is in the open water of Sabine Lake. It can be used in the surf for chasing trout and also excels when casting parallel to the rocks along the jetties. The other great thing about this setup is that no matter what the weather might be, there’s still a place for the popping cork. I think it safe to say, the worse the weather is the better it works. A windblown shoreline and a popping cork can make for one of the better ways to catch fish in undesirable conditions.
Popping cork rigging doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact my set up is pretty straight forward. I like to use a 1/16 ounce jighead with 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader. A majority of the time I tend to keep my leader length pretty short, usually only about 8- to 12-inches under the cork. If I know I will mostly be fishing the jetties or main lake where the water is deeper, I will increase the length; but still less than two feet. My favorite lure is a white Gulp shrimp although any soft plastic will work just fine.The popping cork is without a doubt one of the most versatile setups a saltwater angler can have in their arsenal. They are easy to throw, easy to fish, and perfect for kids or first-time anglers of any age. You can catch every kind of fish on it and do it just about anywhere you would like. As I have said, I will always have one rigged up in my kayak or boat. If you are ever out on the water and your plan falls through, or fishing is tough, just remember; “When in doubt, pop ‘em out.”