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Bill Taylor

Bill is an all around Oregon hunter/gatherer and full time guide with a passion for not only fishing but clams, crab, wild mushrooms, forest berries, big game and bird hunting.

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March 04, 2014

The Lil Corky - Simplicity Succeeds in a Complex World

by Bill Taylor

In today's world, rampant with technology, we can access information with our smart phones virtually any time, anywhere. It is amazing there are so many gadgets and appliances jam packed with complex functions. That said, it still seems the best things in life are very simple. One of those things is Yakima Bait Company's Lil' Corky?. Developed by Howard Worden and others in the 1950's. Along with the Spin-n-Glo? and Rooster Tail?, the "corky" has emerged over time to be the most sought after salmon and steelhead lure in the fishing world. One reason could be their price point. At 15 to 17 cents a pop, they are a tough lure to beat for the money. Another could be the wide selection of over 130 patterns. Polka-dots, pearl, metallic, fluorescent, glow, nightmare, pirate, egg scales, tiger, glitter, contrasting color - there is a Lil' Corky pattern that will match virtually every fisherman's need in all types of situations…a treasure trove for the intricate minds of tackle mongers, if you will. Selection and price point combined with the simplicity of the Lil' Corky, a little floating orb with a hole through it, has landed it in the vests and tackle boxes of anglers everywhere.

Whether you prefer going old school with pink pearlies and flame chartreuses or you want to rock something sexy like the Misty River or UV Double Trouble, there is a corky for you. I am a firm believer that color makes a huge difference to entice a bite. That said, it sure is nice to have that many options.



An interesting development in steelheading these days is the growth of bead fishing. This technique has a lot of people, myself included, clamoring for beads, whether they be glass or plastic. In my humble opinion, the bead really owes its existence to its predecessor, the corky, in function and form. Although the techniques can sometimes be different, bobber dogging and floating versus straight drift fishing, the principle of fishing an egg-like bait in a natural "flow with the current" approach is exactly the same. Spinning drift bobbers such as the Lil' Corky's big brother, the Spin-n-Glo, are also are descendants of the Lil' Corky. While it may appear these supercharged drift bobbers have one up over the little guy, there are still numerous instances where the demure presentation of a corky is preferred.

Even with the advent of awesome plugs and spinners, there is just something about the Lil' Corky that sets it apart as a bona fide fish killer. That guy on the bank flicking a single corky out there will always catch my eye as someone who knows what is going on. Even if I fish half as much as you, I bet you feel the same.



The presentation possibilities are seemingly endless when rigging up a Lil' Corky. Generally, as the water clears, you will want to decrease the size of the corky. I prefer the smallest three sizes when fishing for steelhead, those being 10, 12, and 14, with 14 being the smallest. Hook size needs to be commensurate to the size of the corky if you are not using bait. Using bait will help disguise the hook and you can run a tad bigger. When running corkies without bait, I will run 1/0's and 1's with a size 10 corky, 1's and 2's with a size 12, and 2's, 3's, and 4's with a size 14. Water clarity is considered when deciding between these sizes. If using bait in conjunction with my corky, I will always go on the high side of hook size within these parameters. In it's simplest form, the Lil' Corky can be run single with a hook. I like to term this presentation as "running naked." Running naked is a viable alternative at all times and is especially effective in low clear water, when fishing pressure is high, when sun is on the water or in high light conditions, and in the latter half of the day after fish have been seeing some offerings. It can also pay off to "strip and go naked" if you've missed a bite while using bait with your corky by taking the bait off the next few casts.

Another time tested presentation is the corky and yarn. It is quite possible this presentation has taken more steelhead than any other bait in the last 50 years minus maybe the straight corky. Tie a piece of yarn in a half hitch to your line in between the corky and hook or tie a piece to your egg loop. Both are effective. Make sure the yarn is not too long. It should never be longer than your hook. If using yarn, I make sure to have it trimmed at least an eighth of an inch from the bend of the hook so the fish will get the whole bait in its mouth if it engages. Another great technique is to stack your corkies. They can be the same size or differing sizes.

When a lot of color is in order, i.e. - when the water is turbid, stacked baits can set you apart. Stacking is also a great choice in big rivers where you want to draw the fish's attention. Another alternative is to use a corky, yarn, and bait, especially eggs, altogether. Again, this would be another reasonable approach in high water but might be overkill in lower water situations. It has also been a long time practice to run a double hook rig with a corky in between the hooks. This is a good set up when you add bait to the top hook and is particularly effective when boondogging, free drifting or side drifting.

Another rigging I love to run I call the "barbell." This is a double hook rig with a corky in between two hooks with an additional corky slid on top of the two hook rig. Bait is then placed in between the two corkies on the top hook. It is a bait presentation made up specifically for boondogging as it gives the fish a lot of color to look at on a "one time through" basis both as it approaches the fish and after it passes the fish.

These last two presentation techniques, using two hooks, can be pretty snaggy so you will want to make sure the size of your corky(s) is sufficient enough to float your two hooks. Just drop the rigging in a bowl of water and see if it floats. If it does, you have the added feature of buoyancy the Lil' Corky is so well known for.

Next time you walk in to the tackle store, take a moment to look for the corkies. Most likely, there is going to be one big long row devoted primarily to them. There is method to the madness, they are one of the best baits in the business.


Comments (4)

uplandsandpiper wrote 3 years ago

Great article!

This past year I was wading way out in the rolling gravel bars below Merwin Dam on the North Fork of the Lewis. I had only brought a bobber and jig/worm rig with me. Suddenly a flash of chrome caught my eye when a steelhead rose up out of the deeper water behind a gravel mound. Upstream of the steelhead two dark chinook were spawning and the steelhead was feeding on eggs kicked downstream of them. I drifted a jig and a worm by the steelhead and it would investigate briefly but would not strike. I was kicking myself for not having a single pink, orange, or red corky on hand. Otherwise I may not have gone home empty handed.


sthdjay wrote 3 years ago

Your article is making me feel all nostalgic for the lil' corkie, even though I still use them all the time. I am always amazed when I land a nice steely with nothing on the line but a piece of lead, a hook, and a #12 corkie. Minimalist, but effective.


12pulls wrote 3 years ago

One of my favorite ways of fishing. There have been times when a corky with good scent will get attacked when all other methods fail. I rarely use this method anymore because of the seemingly contentious attitude of today's fishermen accusing anyone who happens to be a corky drifter of flossing for fish. Thank you for posting this article, I hope it will educate all those who enjoy the art and sport of fishing.


Papashoog wrote 1 year ago

The biggest winter steelhead I have landed in the last 10 years was caught on the N. Umpqua a few years back on a size 12 corky with a little piece of yarn. Corkies under a bobber can be killer!!


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