Many anglers believe that nothing beats using live bait to fish for coastal species such as spotted trout, redfish and snakes. When fishing for such fish, I mainly use bait, but I also have a rod on hand with a popping cork and live shrimp or minnows, which has often marked the day. Here’s some advice on how to fish for live shrimp or minnows with popping corks as you drift ashore.
Size and rigging
I take what I can get but prefer larger baits for larger fish. A number 1 or 1/0 J hook is used by many anglers when fishing for live shrimp and minnows. However, I prefer the circular hook of the same size, which minimizes the deep hooking of caught fish and allows easy unhooking and an intact release. One of the absolute tenets of fishing for live shrimp or minnows with a circular hook is not to make a hard hook movement when a fish is taking the bait, but to just get firm and hold the pressure constant.
Live shrimp can be hooked through the top of the head or tail for free swimming. Minnows (called Bull Minnows or Mud Minnows) should only be hooked by the lips. Bring the hook up from your lower lip and then through your upper lip.
I use pre-assembled popping corks with plastic beads on the upper wire shaft and brass beads on the lower part, the latter making clicking noises when the rig is moved. The main body of the cork can be shaped in a cylindrical shape, oval or egg shape, or with a tapered body and a concave top. The latter creates the greatest excitement, which is especially good in cloudy or deep water. The other shapes are more subtle, which is good in clear and shallow water.
Tie your main line to the top of the popping cork rig, then tie an 18-30 inch fluorocarbon leader (longer for deeper water) from the bottom of the rig to the bait hook eye. Depending on the depth and strength of the current or tidal movement, add a small split of lead to the leader 6 to 8 inches in front of the hook.
Work (or not) the cork
There are two ways to fish with live shrimp or minnows under a popping cork: tossing and slow trolling or drifting.
The main purpose of the popping cork is to draw a fish’s attention to the bait, mainly through sound. To do this, lower the tip of the rod, point it at the cork and pull the tip of the rod down and back so that the cork “pops”. So casting and popping is the main action.
Vary the cadence – the times between pops – to see what works. Keep in mind that clear and shallow water may require less aggressive action. The harder and more often you pop, and the more power there is for a live bait to swim against, the shorter the time your bait will stay lively. Therefore, you may need to switch frequently. This is especially true of minnows, which are sturdy but have little value when inanimate.
If you’re drifting or slowly moving your boat via an electric motor or rod, or fishing from shore with multiple rods, you can fish a minnow under a popping cork without actually popping it (or infrequently popping). The popping cork just turns into a swimmer (or bobber). You will be surprised how often this slow or motionless tactic catches fish, provided the bait is lively and not caught in grass or other debris. A small split shot is usually needed to prevent bait from sliding up near the surface where fish may not see it, but pesky seagulls do.
So get your fishing license, a cork rig, some live shrimp or minnows and indulge yourself.