The feeling of the Corky “thump” is subtle, yet profound. In trophy trout circles, it’s a feeling that is known well. It’s a bite transformed into a mythical persona and one that gains steam in conversation when the thermometer retreats from the summer heat.
Let’s examine the sink rate and sink profile of some popular Paul Brown lures and decide if time of year turns this bait from ordinary to extraordinary.
As an early 1980s baby growing up in New Orleans, I was fortunate to remember a time before social media. Days on the delta weren’t measured by likes and shares but seared into a camera’s film. Countless negatives at my parents’ house proved that we liked to fish — a lot. Better yet, magazines and other periodicals gave us monthly insight versus the Google keyword searches we now live by.
In one of those magazines, I remember reading about the legendary Paul Brown Corky. As I matured and the dawn of the internet arrived, I remember visiting www.wadefishing.com On this early internet site, I remember reading posts and gawking at pictures by Capt. Jesse Arsola and other South Texas legends. One thing I distinctly remember was, as temperatures cooled, big trout became more prevalent, and it never failed that the “Corky” was the lure of choice.
Fast forward, and it’s clear to see that the dawn of the information age set the foundation to a notional “Corky season”. In other words, when temperatures got colder, the more effective these baits became.
Now with a cult-like following, Paul Brown references show up on social media starting Oct. 1 and linger into the better part of spring. Why? Are these baits that much more effective in the winter than the summer?
I wanted to explore that possibility, examining sink rate and sink profile for a variety of lures in various salinities and water temps.
I set up a 10-gallon tank. There was no current, and it was filled with tap water. I then filmed five descents of six lures: the Fatboy, Fatboy Floater, Corky Original, Devil, Soft Dine and Soft Dine XL. Establishing the foundation, I did this at 0 ppt (parts per thousand) of salt and 71.9-degree water, which means the water column is void of all density. Below is the average of the five descents and measured in seconds/foot:
- Fatboy: 1.64
- Fatboy Floater: 2.16
- Corky Original: 2.10
- Devil: 1.3
- Soft Dine: 1.73
- Soft Dine XL: 1.83
I added 1 ½ pounds of kosher salt to the tank. Every pound of salt equals 10 parts per thousand of salinity. In addition, I decided to chill the water, using ice, to the lower 50s to simulate what would be true winter water.
Here are the sink results at 15 ppt and 52.3 degrees:
- Fatboy: 1.98
- Fatboy Floater: 3.22
- Original: 2.15
- Devil: 1.63
- Soft Dine: 1.97
- Soft Dine XL: 1.99
Taking it a step further, I wanted to simulate a high-salinity estuary, so I added another 1 ½ pounds of salt, which raised the salinity to 30 ppt. — a total of 3 pounds to 10 gallons. Keeping the temperature the same, I measured the descents again.
- Fatboy: 2.30
- Fatboy Floater: 4.23
- Original: 2.58
- Devil: 1.69
- Soft Dine: 2.15
- Soft Dine XL: 2.22
It’s clear to see that all Paul Brown lures sink more slowly as salinities go up and water temperatures go down. As anglers, having a sound understanding of the baits’ sink performance is critical in a sterile environment. As wind, tide and water clarity factor into the equation, sink rates may be impacted even more.
In other words, if I’m fishing in February, I can target some skinny water pretty effectively because I know in a sterile environment, a Fatboy will sink close to a foot every 2 ½ second. Factoring in wind and water clarity, it may sink even more slowly, which leads to this being an optimal choice for targeting big fish in skinny water.
Now that we’ve examined sink rate, let’s look at sink profile.
Like sink rate, sink profile is also paramount to visualizing what your presentation looks like to your targeted fish.
Fatboy: The Fatboy is known for its “wobble.” This sort of built-in characteristic separates this bait from the others. It clearly wobbles side-to-side as it sinks. Better yet, it sinks horizontally, which give it a great profile for big trout to target. Its sink profile did not change between salinities, just the sink rate.
Fatboy Floater: Contrary to popular belief, this bait doesn’t float, except at 30 ppt and 51-degree water temps. Even then, it will only float for a half-second before it starts its descent. Unlike a regular Fat Boy, it doesn’t possess the wobble and sinks tail first, albeit very slowly when the water gets cold and salty.
Original: Of all of the Paul Brown lures tested, this one had the most-consistent sink rate, varying ever so slightly. It also had the most-consistent sink profile. Upon entry, it typically righted itself almost immediately and had a very subtle wobble, unlike its bigger brother, the Fatboy.
Devil: The Devil, as you would suspect, had the most unique sink profile, and like that of the soft plastics I’ve tested, its sink profile emulated a darter-style bait. Every time it entered the water, it sank with the head slightly forward and tail up. In addition, it glided gently through the water column, even with no current. Its profile did not change as salinity levels increased.
Soft Dine: This was an interesting find because I was really surprised at how much a regular Soft Dine wobbled upon descent. In stature, this bait has a much smaller profile than a Fatboy but it possessed all of the same characteristics: horizontal descent, no glide and a ton of wobble. That was good to see, because it offers a great alternative to its bigger profile cousin.
Soft Dine XL: Like the regular Soft Dine, I thought it would have a pronounced wobble, but it didn’t. Instead it had a regular sink profile: little to no wobble and a horizontal descent. It also glided a little more than the Soft Dine.
Despite having a sound understanding and a tremendous amount of success with these baits, I learned a lot by doing this experiment. Watching each descent coupled with having tangible sink-rate data, I can remember different trips and why one of these was successful. These baits perform differently given the water temperature and salinity levels in your estuary, and whether you fish in North Carolina or Louisiana, I encourage you to reflect on why these baits may have been successful.
Corky season, fact or fiction
Those images on high-gloss magazine pages in the mid-1990s presented the notion that these baits transcended their performance once temperatures fell. Now, with tangible evidence, it’s safe to say that Corky Season is indeed a real thing. Let’s examine why.
The first is water level. Regardless of estuary, water levels in the winter typically get lower. Because the descent rates of these baits slows as the water gets colder, you can fish them consistently and confidently where trophy trout roam: skinny flats with deep water nearby.
Second, and most important, it imitates a finfish. Here in my south Texas home, trophy trout can be found in surprisingly skinny water in the winter. Also, most other forage has vacated the shallow flats, leaving mullet and other small trout as their main forage. So, confidently fishing a bait that performs better in a shrinking water column, coupled with a mullet profile imitation, can lend itself to some epic winter trophy trout action.
I’m not dismissing the notion that these baits don’t work year-round, it’s just that their characteristics lend themselves to being much more productive in the winter.
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