Fishing with a popping cork and a live shrimp is one of the most basic techniques for fishing in saltwater. I feel that it is because it is so basic, that many people fail to do it correctly. There are a few very important factors to making it a successful means of catching fish.
To begin with you should have a leader length of 18" to 24". Hook type is a matter of preference, but should not be too large. A small split shot weight should be placed about 10" above the hook, to help keep the bait down rather than letting it swim around the cork. This is the basic setup, and there are other rigs that will work but this has been the most efficient for me.
Now that you have your basic popping cork rig, let's go over the finer details of popping. My favorite method of using popping corks is to drift an area and cast downwind towards the new water you are drifting to. Many people get lazy, and want to drag the cork behind the boat while it is drifting, but this is not very successful for two reasons. First, if you are fishing behind the boat you are fishing water that the boat has already passed over, and it is likely that any fish that were there have been spooked. Second, if you are dragging the cork behind the boat, the bait will be pulled to the surface behind the cork. It will be unlikely to get a strike under those conditions.
While drifting and casting downwind, it is important to reel up your slack only fast enough to keep it from getting under the boat. You don't want to reel so fast that the cork is laid over and heading towards the boat with the bait trailing behind on the surface. Keep your rod tip up, and the slack in control so that when you go to pop the cork, you can lift the line off the water almost to the cork so that the line is not visibly ripped across the surface when you pop the cork. If you are getting this line rip across the water every time you pop the cork, it is not very natural and will reduce your success.
Another thing that will reduce your success is not popping often enough, or popping too often. It has been my experience that it is most effective if the cork is popped an average of every 5 to 10 seconds. I have seen people catch fish popping more often than that, but the most consistent method is to use a less frequent pop. The principle here is to use the pop to attract fish, and then let the bait fall back down to be eaten. If you are popping constantly, it is possible to spook away the very fish you are trying to catch.
Now that you have the proper rig, and have an idea of how to control slack, and what frequency to pop the cork, work on getting a "clean" pop. It doesn't take a huge thrashing pop using every muscle in your body . It is merely a snap of the wrist. If the line is held higher off the water with the rod tip elevated, it will take little effort to create the proper popping action. When popped properly, the cork should create a chugging sound, and a splash of water 6 to 8 inches high. I hope that these tips will increase your catch, and your enjoyment of our great sport of saltwater fishing. Happy fishing! Capt. Byron Hough.
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