A soft-plastic shrimp fished under a cork is the best thing you can offer a speck in October
Almost two decades ago, I had one of the most humbling fishing experiences of my life on a trip with Capt. Ross Barkhurst near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Barkhurst had been catching some really nice speckled trout — legitimate 3- and 4-pounders that were biting like schoolies — and he invited me to tag along with him to do a story for Louisiana Sportsman.
Of course, I didn’t let the opportunity pass me by, and on the first day both of us had clear schedules, I met Barkhurst at Venice Marina. We headed southeast to Blind Bay, stopping in a cove with roseau-cane points on either side.
The water didn’t look especially pretty. The spot didn’t look especially inviting. There was no bait or any other sign that speckled trout would be there, but Barkhurst seemed quite confident.
I expected him to pull out a topwater, a jerkbait or at least a paddletail, but what Barkhurst reached for was his cork rod.
Time has erased the memory of what hung below the cork, but I will never forget the cork itself. It was a Bomber Paradise Popper, new at that time.
A tough lesson
The reason I remember it is because, using that cork, Barkhurst made an absolute fool out of me. I was of the opinion before that trip that corks really didn’t matter. I thought they were just a means for suspending lures in the strike zone.
But that day, Barkhurst blew my preconceived notions out the river-stained water. He caught at least 10 speckled trout for every one I caught. I was using the same lure, fished the exact same depth, and watched him put fish after fish in the boat while I might as well have been eating a sandwich — a really big, dry one that took forever to chew.
I finally took Barkhurst up on his offer and tied on a Paradise Popper of my own. Needless to say, my catch rate skyrocketed.
In the time that has passed since then, many cork brands have been developed with features making them as good as or better than the Paradise Popper. My favorite is the VersaMaxx Knocker, which has a great sound and allows me to quickly and easily adjust my leader length.
Perfect cork time
That’s all germane now because October, to me, is made for cork fishing. Many specks have made their move to the inside, but bait is plentiful, so the fish haven’t yet schooled up around features that force bait to concentrate.
They’re typically scattered over flats, and to me, the most efficient way to target specks on a flat is to make long drifts, tossing soft-plastics under corks and stopping to make multiple casts wherever you get bites.
That’s Capt. Sal Gagliano’s favorite technique as well, and he likes one bait in particular below the Four Horsemen cork he fishes.
“That TKO Shrimp is unbeatable,” he said. “The fall rate of that bait makes it look exactly like a real shrimp in the water.”
A shrimp thing
That’s important this month, because the marshes are chock-full of white shrimp that are getting big and looking to make their move to the outside bays. Speckled trout engorge themselves on the crustaceans, hoping to get as fat as possible before the lean winter months.
Anything that looks like a shrimp is in danger, and the TKO matches the real thing almost perfectly.
I like to start with the lure a foot above the bottom, and move it up if I’m not getting bites or getting fewer than I think I should. Most often, a foot above the bottom is the magic zone, but I’ve seen many times that the fish are thickest a foot or two below the surface.
Nearby submerged aquatic vegetation is also critical for producing October speckled trout in the areas I fish. Shrimp use the grass to hide from the specks, and the specks know that, so that’s where they go to feast on the shrimp.
No one ever accused a shrimp of being smart.
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