On the Troll: “Coca-Brella” Schoolies - The Fisherman

On the Troll: “Coca-Brella” Schoolies

2018 4 Coca Brella Schoolies Catch
A slow-trolled Coca-brella rig was the key to this and many more schoolies on an early spring trip last year.

It was an early Sunday morning in May, and we had been scheduled to head offshore to catch some cod. The forecast was for some stiff wind so we decided we’d change our plans and see if we could make a morning of it harassing some stripers in the protected back waters instead. This would shield us from the wind and hopefully allow us to still catch a few fish. Leading up to the day we had been catching a few schoolies in the upper reaches of the Rhode Island salt ponds, so hopes were high.

The tools for the day were a couple of lightweight outfits that were loaded with lead-core line. On the end we’d be fishing a rig that I call the “Coca-brella.” This rig is essentially a miniature umbrella rig frame that utilizes small Cocahoe Minnows as the teasers and baits. Cocahoes are well-known for their effectiveness on school bass and are often tossed by surfcasters from the shore and jetties in the spring. They’re a product of H&H Lures in Louisiana and come in two sizes (3-inch standard and 4-inch Queen sized) and a variety of colors. The paddle tail that these baits have creates an excellent baitfish imitation when they’re retrieved or trolled.

Playing off the success of this soft plastic bait, we changed up an umbrella to use Cocahoes minnows instead of the typical tube lures or shad baits.

2018 4 Coca Brella Schoolies Boat
A rigged “Coca-brella” ready to be deployed. The rig is 12 inches wide and features five hook-less teasers and four hook baits.

The Rig and Components

The central component is obviously the umbrella frame. For this rig you have several options: a larger umbrella frame cut down to be no more than 10 to 12 inches in diameter, a kayak or miniature frame, or an Alabama Rig frame. For fishing back water or shallow areas for schoolies you don’t need a heavily-weighted frame. I prefer cut down frames as the arms hold up better in the saltwater. However, there are some saltwater Alabama rig frames out now that will work well.

Swivels are attached at the midpoint of each arm and at the tip of each arm. A split ring and swivel is also attached to the back eye behind the center of the frame. To the swivels at the arm midpoints and behind the eye we attach teasers (baits without hooks that act merely as attractants). The best way to attach Cocahoe Minnows as teasers is to use a bait spring. These are small screw-like rigging components that are made out of a wire material like springs. These devices allow you to attach them to the swivels and then “screw” them into the front of the plastic bait. Essentially it’s held on via this screw action.

My favorite size and color of Cocahoes to use for this rig are the 3-inch baits in either white, pearl or chartreuse. The size seems just right for schoolies, and you can never go wrong with white or chartreuse. If you have more of the larger-sized fish around then you can always upgrade to the larger Queen-size Cocahoes. To complete a rig you’ll need at least nine of these baits (four hook baits and five teasers) but always carry some extras for ones that get chewed.

To the swivel at the end of each arm attach a 16-inch piece of monofilament leader and tie on either a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jighead or a straight hook (Mustad #34007 in size 3/0 to 5/0). Slide a bait over each hook being sure to insert it as straight as possible. If there’s a bend in the bait as it’s riding on the hook it will cause the bait to spin and not fish correctly. Adjust the lengths of the leaders so that you have the desired length leader. You can keep the leaders fairly short here; I normally leave about 10 to 12 inches of leader between the swivel and the head of the bait.

For rod and reel setup I typically use a Tsunami Slimwave SWSPC661-H. This rod is light and has great action. I fish the rigs with Penn 310 reels loaded with lead-core line. The lead-core helps gain depth and is very easy to use. A 6-foot, 30-pound test fluorocarbon leader with a small snap swivel finishes up the end.

2018 4 Coca Brella Schoolies Collection
Bait springs are an excellent way to attach soft bait teasers onto the umbrella frame.

Alternative for Casters

Because you can’t really cast an umbrella rig with leaders without it getting all tangled up, you have the Alabama rig as a viable method of fishing this rig for surfcasters or shore fishermen. With these you’ll follow a similar setup except that you won’t use leaders and instead attach your jigheads directly to the ends of the arms. This eliminates the tangles when they’re cast. You can still use bait springs to attach any teasers to complete the bait school look.

For rod and reel setups you’re going to want something that can handle casting 3/4- to 1-1/2-ounce rigs. A 6-1/2- to 7-foot rod and a strong line are musts here. Many of the freshwater pro anglers who regularly fish these rigs use fluorocarbon lines as they prefer a little more stretch than braid, but not all of the stretch of standard monofilament.

Fishing Them

Alabama-style frames also work for trolling, but when trolling I strongly prefer the versions with the leaders as the versions with the hook baits attached directly to the arms are more rigid. This rigidness sometimes causes free baits to snag fish that are already hooked in the body during the fight. It’s just an extra hole in the fish in my opinion. You can get around this somewhat by using less hook baits and more teasers on the rig.

When I say we’re fishing the back water with these I’m referring to the upper reaches of the harbors and salt ponds of South County, RI. We slowly troll along the edges of channels and flats with particular emphasis around points. Because the water depths that we fish are relatively shallow, it’s best to let the rig out slowly so that you don’t hang them up. You can definitely get away with fishing braid in these backwater areas that seldom go more than 12 feet deep, but my preference is still lead-core so that I can keep the rigs themselves lighter and can change to trolling a single fly as needed.

Despite the fact that we did get the wind that was forecasted on that day noted in the introduction, we still managed to have a great morning. There was only one other boat fishing the general area and we ended up tagging and releasing 88 school-sized fish from 12 to 25 inches. We also managed two keeper fish that the crew decided to take home for the grill. The Coca-brella did its job!

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