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Put a Cork in It

It’s a big ocean out there. Even a good paddler can’t cover much of it at kayak speed.

Pelagic fish, on the other hand, are pretty darned fast. They’re also much more attuned to locating prey from long distance than humans. Sound and vibrations travel over four times faster below the water surface than in the atmosphere, and sensors located along the fish’s lateral line are designed to lock onto it. So it’s just more efficient to bring a 40-knot fish to the kayak than take a 4-knot kayak to the fish.

That’s why tackle manufacturers build vibration and rattle into their lures. But offshore kayakers dragging a live bait can also enhance its fish-attracting qualities by utilizing a simple tool from our childhoods—the lowly bobber.

I don’t personally use them, but popping corks are a staple of many flats fishermen throughout the South, not to mention a few bass anglers. But I’m not above adding this simple device to enhance offshore presentations.

A cork accomplishes several tasks. First, a kayak angler can visually ascertain precisely how far behind the kayak the bait is running, and at what angle. Every time the cork hits a wave, it rattles, emulating the clicking noise that baitfish or feeding fish emit. The bobber also increases the vibrations sent out by the baitfish as it struggles to dive against the float’s buoyancy. The cork allows deploying one bait or lure deep without worrying about entangling the surface offering.

Finally, a suddenly active bobber often provides ample warning that something sinister is stalking the bait, allowing a kayak angler time to clear the deck for action prior to the strike.

Adding a bobber to an offshore rig isn’t any tougher than it was when you were a kid chasing bluegills. There are actually rattling corks allegedly dedicated for bluewater, although I can’t say I’ve documented that one design—concave popping corks versus oval—is much more efficient offshore than the other. A couple brass knockers below and a pair of plastic beads above are pretty much standard. One of my favorites is a tiny, no-longer-produced hard-plastic rattle float made for crappies. I’ve used it to call in several sails in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

I generally run an 8-foot fluorocarbon leader between the float and bait. The terminal rig is obviously determined by the quarry species, although I generally skip the use of wire. I don’t mind a few mackerel cutoffs to enhance my chances of connecting with sailfish, mahi or tuna.

If using braided line, add a couple feet of mono or fluorocarbon—30- or 40-pound—between the top of the cork and the braid. The relatively stiff mono helps prevent the limp braid from entangling the wire protruding above the cork.