Last year about this time I mentioned my experiments with what I called "popper-knocker" rigging, a popular setup for speckled trout and redfish in estuaries around the Gulf Coast and Southeast Atlantic coastal region. The basic rig, which can be made at home consists of a popping cork in conjunction with bead-and-sinker rigging. On each pull the cork pops the surface while the bead combo gives off a beady "caa-chink." Popping corks have been used as attractors for some freshwater species in certain parts of the country for a long time. The addition of the clacking part of the assembly hasn't been employed much, though.
This sort of rigging as an attractor for freshwater fish seems such a natural to me, given the overwhelming popularity of rattles, rattling lures, Carolina rigging and such, that I keep experimenting with it, and suggest here again that you might do the same. I haven't the time to fish in each situation you face. I'm enthusiastically positive, though, that this form of rigging will find a comfortable home in freshwater.
Adding to this story, the past year, we did a spring trip to film redfish on the inshore waters near Charleston, South Carolina. The guide we worked with, Captain J.R. Waits, introduced us to a Precision Tackle product called Cajun Thunder, which is an upgraded commercial version of the basic popper-knocker rigging.
Cajun Thunder rigging consists of a seven-inch portion of wire with two heavy brass beads for weight, below a sliding float, and two plastic beads, for additional noise, above the float. One Cajun Thunder design offers a cigar-style float; another offers a 2.5-inch oval float. The cigar design offers less resistance than the oval design, for fishing smaller baits. We used this design to fish with shrimp and with leadhead jigs in South Carolina. The oval design will suspend a bigger bait.
The idea for redfish and trout is to attract the fish with commotion of the float in conjunction with a metallic clicking noise that anglers believe imitates the "clicking" noise given off by shrimp as they swim. Again, this is one of the most popular riggings for reds and trout in inshore waters--a proven performer. And again, I know that at times, freshwater fish also are attracted to the noise. Indeed, according to Bill Hall, who runs Precisiona Tackle from their offices in Montgomery, Texas (936-597-6145), the bigger noisy float rig is beginning to catch on among anglers fishing big shiners for bass in Florida. Use the noise to draw the fish closer to have a look, then eat the shiner.
Smallmouths like this sound in certain situations, too. I've made fair catches now on five different occasions on the upper Mississippi River. Logic might suggest that these rigs would work best in dingy water. I haven't done that much experimenting in this situation, though. My success has been with the water at normal levels and clear in late summer. In one instance, I saw a smallmouth, attracted by the clicking noise, pull off a rock and swim 30 feet apparently in search of the noise, then eat the leech that was hanging 2 feet below the float.
I've also caught smallmouths during postspawn on famous Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota, on two occasions when the fish weren't going well on more traditional approaches like casting grubs, straight topwaters, and jerkbaits. These fish came from along the deep edges of shallow rock shoals. In one of those situations I used leeches below the float. In the other, I used a finesse-style hair jig traditionally used in Float 'n' Fly presentations. On yet another occasion, I filmed a short TV segment using a Cajun Thunder rig to catch smallmouths and walleyes stacked against a wideward shoreline. Then again, I fished the combination once for pike during late summer, trying to attract them to a suspended chub--on this occasion without success. I'm certain this will work on occasions, though, for English anglers occasionally use noisy floats to attract pike.
For smallmouths and walleyes, by the way, I use the same sort of long-cast rigging popular for estuary redfish; that is, a 7-foot medium-action, medium-power rod, with a regular walleyes-size spinning reel like the Pflueger Trion 4730, loaded with 10-pound-test Berkley FireLine. I used circle hooks to fish the leeches and never missed a smallmouth on two trips.
Make a long cast, let the rig settle, then when using it in conjunction with bait, give the float a modest chug to get the rig to do its thing. With a small shot about 6 inches above the leech, the leech will raise up and then swim and swivel-hip it back down. You can be much more aggressive fishing a jig below this rigging. I know smallmouths are going to eat up an aggressively fished jig presentation on occasions. Just know it.
And that's where it stands now. Too many freshwater fish, too many situations, and me with too little time.