Fishing with a popping cork is one of the simplest methods for catching Speckled Trout and Redfish in saltwater. Popping corks are the main hardware in a surface fishing rig that uses sight and sound to attract fish to your lures or baits. Popping corks are also an excellent choice when water visibility is on the murky side and your baits need a little helping hand to increase their effectiveness. They come in a wide variety of styles, colors, configurations, and weights. There are many different designs that make a wide variety of gurgling, popping, splashing, or clicking noises when popped and combinations there of. Popping corks can be purchased pre-rigged which allow you to simply add a hook or lure to the end with a snap swivel or you can purchase your own hardware and a simple cork and go at it on your own.
The majority of my fishing is done from a kayak and I use artificial baits exclusively. No matter how you fish, it is important to know the depth of water in order to keep the leader shorter than the shallowest depth of where you are fishing. If you're fishing in 3' or more of water, a 30" leader is sufficient. If the water is typically less than 3', an 18"-24" leader is fine. I like chasing Redfish in the kayak and focus a lot of my attention on the grass against the shoreline. I'll tie a 12" to 18" leader in those instances. You want to suspend the bait, after all, you've got their attention and you'd like to have your bait up to be found, not buried in the mud when water clarity is poor.
Cupped Face or Tapered Popping Cork
Some folks will use a heavier weight line for their leader material, say 20 lbs. to 30 lbs. test. I usually cut off a piece of my fishing line as I use 12 lbs. to 14 lbs. test and it's plenty adequate. Just every once in a while after catching fish or getting hung in oyster shell, check the line next to your hook or lure for abrasion and trim off the worn line and re-tie.
The first step to setting up a popping cork rig is to pick a cork to use. Whether you want a clicking or rattling sound which mimics jumping shrimp, or a gulping noise which sounds like fish engulfing bait on the water’s surface, or a water spray that mimics scattering surface bait fish. Now, tie your leader material directly to the swivel on the bottom of the cork.
Oval Popping Cork
Next, choose the type of hook for the bait you are going to fish with. A treble hook for live shrimp, a single hook for live baitfish or soft plastics, or a 1/16 oz. jig head for soft plastics if you need a little weight to help keep the lure down. Now, tie the other end of your leader material directly to the hook. When using live bait, you may want to clamp a small split shot onto the line above the hook to keep the bait down in the water as the cork is popped.
Now let's focus on the actual technique of popping the cork after the cast. Work the slack out of the line and keep your rod tip up. When you pop the cork, lift the line off the water almost to the cork so that the line isn't visibly ripped across the surface of the water when you pop the cork. It should really only take a snap of your wrist. The cork should be popped, on average, every 7 to 10 seconds. The idea is to use the pop to attract the fish, and let your bait fall back down to be eaten. If you pop too much, you could possibly be spooking away the fish you are trying to catch. A good clean pop with a tapered popping cork should create a chug sound along with a splash of water 6 inches high or so.
Cigar Popping Cork