Few people do what they were truly born to do. Paul Brown is one of the lucky ones. Gifted with a grandfather-like wisdom, acute eye for design and unique ability to create the unconventional, Paul has made a mark on saltwater lure design and birthed a line of baits that stand as a true innovation in lure making. This storied lineage is highlighted by his Original Corky.
The bait is as humble as its origins. It has an unassuming appearance, no big flash, loud rattle or magic vibration. It simply embodies the ultimate goal in lure design – the subtle, life-like action of a struggling baitfish. Its inventor is equally modest, yet carries an enviable gift for innovation. For decades, he has observed the actions of every part of the saltwater medium. From the subdued descent of a defeated mullet to the erratic retrieve of an aggressive angler, his designs reflect years of experience and thought, but not a touch of arrogance. In conversation, it is hard to get Paul to even take ownership of his own creations. Always quick to give credit to Texas angling legends like Pete Tanner, Mike Carlile, Bill Norton and Bubba Silver, he has created a legendary set of baits that produce orca-quality speckled trout across the Gulf Coast…but you would never hear that from him.
The Original Corky’s birthplace is strikingly normal as well. There was no Transylvanian castle where the bait was etched from lightning or advanced design lab where the prototypes were tank-tested. Paul’s Corky was born in a residential home in south Houston with a converted garage that served for years as the Corky’s humble nursery.
“It’s always been about all the great anglers that I get input from and the baits that we create together,” said Brown. “It has never been about anything else.”
Paul’s designs have not been limited to the Original Corky and its now famous line of descendants, including the Fat Boy and Corky Devil. He has designed numerous soft plastic tails imitating shrimp, shad, finger mullet and the occasional oddity that only an inventor could love. Like any good mad scientist, Paul has never stopped inventing.
A Gumby with Fins
The first step to mastering the esoteric Corky is to truly examine its curious design. The characteristic that sets Paul Brown’s Original Corky apart is found deep within its structure and is a clear outcome of its inventor’s years as a radar technician. Soft rubber creates the buoyant body of the bait while its core is composed of wire and cork, hence the name. This odd combination of elements balance somewhere between a Gumby and a mullet and, more importantly, allow for a super slow and life-like sink. Additionally, the bait can be “tuned” by twisting and bending its unusual wire skeleton.
“The funny thing is that the Original Corky design originated from Jim Silver asking me to create a large, soft-bodied topwater,” said Brown. “We never quite hit that mark but from that first rough design, we started to refine a bait that was soft, flexible, super-slow sinking and different than anything else out there at the time.”
Unlike more conventional mullet imitations, the Corky has two stabilizing fins on its posterior. This, combined with the bendable nature of the bait, gives it a true darting ability. Not unlike a jerk worm, it has a three-dimensional action. By darting up, down and every other direction, it utilizes the breadth of the water column and presents a realistic picture of a struggling finfish. But, remember that the ability to adapt the lure does not always work in the favor of the angler. By our very natures, anglers tend to over-tweak their lures and, in this case, over-tuning the Corky can be a negative.
“Less is more with this lure,” says Brown. “A lot of people make the mistake of over-bending the tail of the bait. Too much adjustment to the tail will just make it spin.”
Not unlike the tail of an airplane, the Original Corky’s stabilizing fins require only a subtle adjustment for most applications.
When putting a Paul Brown Corky into action, there is one key to remember – go slowly. Everything about this bait lends itself to a dawdling retrieve with very subtle twitches. Too much action will often unravel the very elements that make the Corky so effective. The essence of it is found in the slow sink and 3-D action. The free fall is when the strike is most likely to occur, and it can be the hardest part of the retrieve to master. With too much action or lack of pause, the bait will spin, twist or steadily glide forward without ever achieving a true free fall.
As you work the bait, patience is priceless. You almost have to have confidence that you are throwing to a fish or group of fish in the area. This is not a bait that you tie on and tear across acres of flats like you might with a topwater or conventional soft plastic. The Original Corky, by its design, will not allow you to rapidly cover a given area or piece of structure. It is best when used to meticulously and thoughtfully probe specific targets and, better yet, a high-confidence area.
The culmination of the Corky experience comes in the strike. Often, an angler’s first fish is hooked without his knowledge. The free fall of the bait lends itself to a lack of control and contact with the angler, but is the reason that the bait is so incredibly seductive. This natural descent is the crowning component of the retrieve, but can often be the hardest to master. From an angler’s first red and white “bobber” or red bead double-drop bottom rig, we have all been taught to never lose contact with the bait…ever. With a Paul Brown Corky, do not be afraid to be a little out of contact with the bait at first. You may be surprised how much touch you actually have on it.
As with any new bait, a visit to a swimming pool is a great learning tool. Interestingly, Paul often utilizes his in-house aquarium when playing with various designs and stages of baits. He allows different shapes, models and densities of soft plastic plugs to settle among the startled goldfish and plastic plants in determining the correct balance.
Ever the perfectionist, he is quick to point out that a freshwater aquarium is not nearly as useful as a saltwater one, due to the differences in water density. But in lieu of a saltwater environment, utilize an unoccupied swimming pool to watch the speed of the fall of the bait. Equally, watch how a slight twitch will make it dash to the side, while the next can create a completely different reaction and direction. As you apply this bait in a real fishing situation, you can visualize your poolside experience and know what the bait is doing. It will allow you to train yourself to use subtle twitches and achieve the greatest action.
A Storybook Ending
Through the years, Paul Brown’s Original Corky and its offspring have not been the easiest baits to acquire. Interestingly, there was a time when a local Houston tackle shop limited the number of Corky’s a customer could buy during a visit due to the abundance of demand and limited supply. Fortunately for us all, that is no longer the case. Paul Brown’s famed baits are now available at numerous tackle retailers after L&S Bait Company acquired Paul’s designs and expanded their production.
“It has been like a storybook,” says Brown. “These baits have always been about the anglers who helped create them and all the other anglers who use them. The best thing now is that I can really focus on what I like best…working on the next new designs.”