Popping Corks - The Complete Guide | Great Days Outdoors

Popping Corks – The Complete Guide

I think I fished my first popping cork around 1989. Back in those days, the simple white float with an orange painted ring and a green reed was really the only option (at least that was all Dad had anyway). Plenty of redfish and speckled trout fell to this style, and plenty of frustration was had with tangles and cork slippage. Today, go into any coastal tackle store and you’ll find a plethora of options in the popping corks section. Some work well, others not so much.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into how to fish a popping cork, including tips you can use to rig your popping cork in a way that will prevent tangles and help you fish more efficiently. We’ll also take a look at the various popping cork designs and what you need to consider to make sure your tackle budget isn’t blown on corks that don’t hold up. 

Popping Cork Fishing

For most anglers, popping corks represent a means to combine a strike indicator with a “fish call” and suspend his or her bait at a desired depth. These three benefits are important, but there is an often overlooked aspect of popping corks that makes some of them deadly effective, and that is casting distance. The importance of making long casts cannot be overstated.

Whether dealing with spooky fish on gin-clear flats or siltier river-influenced systems, inshore gamefish are very aware of the sounds and displacement that your boat’s hull is creating. Getting your bait further away from the boat puts you in the strike zone longer and in front of fish that are unaware of your presence. To take advantage of everything your popping cork has to offer, you must first know how to rig it to avoid tangles and ensure good hooksets. 

The Popping Cork Rig

Capt. Blake Nelson is the owner and head guide for Last Cast Fishing Charters in Destin, Florida. Between guiding clients and competitively fishing for redfish, Blake fishes 12 months out of the year. In his extensive time on the water, he has seen what works with a popping cork rig. I recently caught up with him on the Northwest Florida Fishing Report where he shared his pearls of wisdom on popping cork fishing. 


How To Rig A Popping Cork

“The way that I’m settled on now, I use a 10 or 15-pound braid on my main line, and I do the FG knot to a 25 or even a 30-pound piece of leader. And I’ll use fluorocarbon a lot. I’ve also started using just 25 or 30-pound mono and I use anywhere from a 15 to 20-inch section. I’ll do a Trilene knot from the fluorocarbon leader to the top of the popping cork. The reason why I do the Trilene knot is that the tag end on a uni knot or most knots are up, whereas on the Trilene knot, it’s down. 

popping corks
Casting distance should be considered when choosing the right popping cork for you.

I’ve found that the line doesn’t get caught up in the knot so fewer tangles and I’ll do the same not on my leader line underneath the cork. I usually go with a 20-pound leader just in case you hook up to a big redfish. I’ve experimented going with real long leaders, thinking maybe it’ll get down further to the fish but I really don’t think it matters. I don’t go any longer than two feet, usually, I’ll go 18 inches. Then I’ll typically do another Trilene knot to the hook. I just don’t deal with tangles anymore. Not to say you can’t you can’t get tangled, but it used to be when I used popping cork, it was like, every few casts, I would just expect to get it all buggered up. And, and now that I rig it this way, it just doesn’t seem to happen.”

What’s The Best Hook For A Popping Cork?

“I’ve bounced around to a bunch of different kinds of hooks. I pretty much settled on a Mustad Demon Perfect Circle Hook. I’ve tried Mutu Lights, I’ve tried Gamakatsu, and the one that seems to have better hookups for me is the Mustads. They’re not really expensive at all, and I choose the size based on the size of the bait, not the fish. If I’m using a little shrimp I use a 1/0. If I’m using big shrimp I use the 2/0 or 3/0, if I’m using bigger greenies, I’ll use a 3/0 if I’m using big Croaker I’ll use a 5/0 or 6/0. It doesn’t matter what fish you are catching, what matters is what bait you’re using to pick the hook size.”

What’s The Best Popping Cork Rod?

“I just use a universal rod. On my charter set up now is just a Penn Battle reel with a 6’6” medium action St.Croix Triumph. That does the trick and there’s nothing fancy about it. It throws it just as far as any other rod you can use. It’s a universal charter setup that I’m settled on right now.”

Fishing A Popping Cork For Redfish And Speckled Trout

The combination of sound, displacement, long casts, strike indication, and consistent presentation of your live or artificial bait in the strike zone by a popping cork has proven deadly for years on redfish and speckled trout. While popping corks are very effective, they are not the right choice for every situation and they shouldn’t be fished the same way in every scenario. I asked Blake what he thought about this. 

How Often Should I Pop A Popping Cork?

“The only time I’ve seen [a popping cork] spooking fish is when it’s just glass and you’ll actually see the shadows of the fish out on the flat. I’ve watched [as I pop the cork] fish not being attracted to it but actually scared of it. But as long as it’s not like that, if there’s some good chop or it’s a little bit churned up, I say pop away. I’m kind of indifferent on it but I don’t think it hurts to pop.”

popping corks
Popping cork fishing is an extremely effective tactic that when chosen wisely will help you put fish in the boat.

When Not To Use A Popping Cork

“Typically on deep flats, those three to five feet that have good sand, I like using a knocker rig and that’s what I’ve always thrown into those sandy pockets. I would say more times than not feeding off the bottom is going to be better than a popping cork. There are times, I’ve even fished popping corks next to deep docks, six/seven feet deep, and caught good redfish that’ll come up and feed right next to the surface. It’s one of those things you’ve just got to try it and see what the fish are in the mood for because sometimes they do like to come up and eat baits that are up high.”

Popping Cork Problems And Solutions

Capt. Blake is a self-described “OCD fisherman”. When he became frustrated with the designs of popping corks that were on the market, he let his obsessiveness take over and started to tinker with each design to design a popping cork that solved all of the problems commonly associated with the various styles. 

“I started tournament fishing for redfish back in 2005. I had different moments where I had popping cork failures. The Titanium wire popping corks would snap and the wire shaft popping corks would bend and kink and just not last very long. I used popping corks that didn’t cast far and didn’t seem like they were effective because of this and I just got frustrated. After I started running charters in 2008, I got a wire former and bought some parts and started breaking down my popping corks and remaking them. I was using egg sinkers and any weight I could use to just toy around with different weights.

popping corks
You can catch fish with live or artificial bait underneath a popping cork.

After I found what I liked, I would move on and try something different and I just kept adding to it and changing it over the years. About 2018, I was like man, I think I got a pretty good popping cork. I used them professionally, I used them for my charter service, and I got to where I thought people would like to use this. I’m in about a dozen stores right now between Pensacola and Panama City. It’s just me, I build them all by hand. But I mean, as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best popping corks hands down. I’ve put in tons of time and effort and trial and error and they last forever. All the feedback I’m getting from captains that are using them is that they absolutely love them.”

As a user, I can tell you my experience has been the same. They cast far and true, they don’t helicopter and tangle up, and they sound really good. The thing that I have been most impressed with is how well they hold up over time. I’ve been fishing the SendIt design for over three years without failure. Blake had this to add about his designs, “Instead of using an egg sinker, I use two really heavy brass weights are they’re quarter ounce each so it’s a half ounce of weight on the bottom. So I mean it’s pretty much as heavy as you can make it without sinking.

Everything that is designed for that popping cork is 100% purposeful and custom. The wire shafts are marine grade 316 stainless steel, And I make them as short as you can possibly get it, which was my goal. Those longer shafts kink moreAnd they keep more. I’d have frustrating moments where I’d catch a redfish on a brand-new popping cork that would just be completely mangled. And I’m like, This is ridiculous that I spent $4 on a popping cork, and it’s ruined after one fish. That’s why I use the thickest gauge wire you can use. Everything on there is just super heavy.”

Best Popping Corks

What I look for in a popping cork first and foremost is accurate and long casts. The ability to get baits away from your presence is a key factor that is often overlooked. After long casts, I want durability and great sound. While many popping corks accomplish the latter, few accomplish the former. 

Sendit Popping Cork

Sendit Popping Cork

As you might have gathered, I’m a big fan of the SendIt popping corks. I love that Capt. Blake has purpose-built his design from the frustrations of using other popping corks. He has built these popping corks to perform, not to meet a price point, but you will find them to be the best value over time because they are extremely durable. He has various float styles available that will give you more or less sound and color options to give you the style that you like best. My experience has been that no matter which design you choose, they all cast farther than any other popping cork design that I have used and hold up better than any other style as well. I’ve used quite a few other styles, here are some other options that I’ve considered. 

Cajun Thunder Popping Cork

Cajun Thunder Popping Cork

The Cajun Thunder Popping Cork is renowned as an exceptional surface fish attractor, along with its counterparts. The Cajun Thunder features two solid brass beads and two large plastic beads. These brass beads not only amplify the bait-click sound but also shift weight from the leader to the Cajun Thunder, resulting in improved action for live bait or artificial jigs. Additionally, the added weight enables longer casting distances, enhancing your fishing experience. While popular, I find that the wire in these corks kinks very easily.

Blabbermouth Popping Cork

Blabbermouth Popping Cork

The Blabbermouth Popping Cork was designed to create a loud popping noise and surface disturbance. With its durable construction and easy attachment to your fishing line, the Blabbermouth Popping Cork is a reliable and versatile option for attracting a variety of game fish. Whether you’re targeting redfish, speckled trout, or other species, this popping cork can give your fishing experience an extra edge.

Four Horsemen Popping Cork

Four Horsemen Popping Cork

The Four Horsemen Popping Cork is a high-performance fishing accessory designed to attract and entice a variety of fish species. This innovative cork features four distinct sound chambers that create a unique popping and rattling noise when retrieved through the water. The combination of popping and rattling sounds effectively mimics the commotion caused by feeding fish, grabbing the attention of nearby predators. The Four Horsemen Popping Cork is durable, easy to use, and enhances your chances of landing that trophy catch.

Billy Bay Popping Cork

Billy Bay Popping Cork

The Billy Bay Popping Cork is a popular fishing accessory designed to attract fish and enhance your chances of a successful catch. This versatile cork features a unique design that creates a popping sound when jerked, mimicking the sound of prey breaking the water’s surface. It is equipped with a durable metal stem and a brightly colored float, making it highly visible in the water. Anglers can attach their choice of bait or lure to the bottom, allowing for customization based on the target species. The Billy Bay Popping Cork is favored by both novice and experienced fishermen alike, offering an effective and exciting technique for attracting fish and increasing fishing success.

H&H Popping Cork

H&H Popping Cork

H&H Popping Cork is a versatile fishing accessory designed to attract fish by creating surface disturbances and sound. It consists of a buoyant cork attached to a leader and a weighted lower portion. When cast into the water, the cork pops and splashes, mimicking the sound of prey fish feeding on the surface. This action draws the attention of predatory fish, making it an effective tool for saltwater and freshwater fishing. The H&H Popping Cork is popular among anglers for its ability to target species such as redfish, speckled trout, and bass. It is easy to use and can be adjusted to vary the popping sound, allowing anglers to adapt to different fishing conditions and preferences.

Final Thoughts On Popping Corks

Popping cork fishing is an extremely effective tactic that when chosen wisely will help you put fish in the boat. While there are some tricks to rigging that will help you, rigging will not overcome bad popping cork designs. Look closely at your next popping cork purchase, and use the points of consideration outlined here to make sure that your next purchase will give you frustration-free fishing. 

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