May 01, 2018The title of this article pretty much says it all. Trolling with lead core line is a productive presentation year around and for literally every major game fish species popular in the Great Lakes region. Lead core can be used readily with shallow and deep diving crankbaits, spoons of all shapes and sizes and of course live bait rigs like crawler harnesses. Routinely used to target cold water species like coho, kings, lake trout, browns and steelhead, lead core is also handy for trolling up warm water species like walleye, pike, muskie and more. Few trolling depth control aids are as consistently productive or as versatile as these timeless sinking lines.
Lead Core Basics
Lead core line consists of a thin and flexible wire made of nearly pure soft lead, covered with a sheath of strong, but flexible braided line. Early lead core lines were made using nylon braid, but modern lead core lines feature an outer sheath made from thinner and stronger super braids such as Spectra and micro-dyneema fibers.
Some anglers still favor slower sinking nylon braid lead core lines, but an overwhelming majority of trollers favor the thinner and deeper fishing lead core lines made from super braids. Since the whole purpose of trolling with lead core is to get lures deeper than they might normally dive, it makes sense that the modern lead core lines that are thinner in diameter per break strength have surfaced as the most popular option.
To help anglers judge how much line is being used, lead core is metered by using brightly colored sections that change color every 10 yards. Contrasting colors are featured on lead core to facilitate counting the different segments of lines as they flow off the reel.
The author and Off Shore Tackle Pro Fisherman Rob Jones teamed up on Lake Erie to catch these summer steelhead using sinking lead core line.
Most anglers who regularly fish lead core line rig up their trolling reels with a designated amount of lead core line, leader and backing line. Known as "segmented lead core" an Albright knot or Double Uni knot is commonly used to join the sinking lead core line to the leader and backing lines. Popular lead core set ups include reels loaded with 3, 5, 7 and 10 colors of lead core line.
Lead core is typically sold in 100 or 200 yard spools, but some manufacturers offer their sinking lines in bulk spools. Expensive compared to other trolling lines, the plus side of lead core is this line is durable enough to survive heavy use for two or even three seasons before it needs to be replaced.
"Lead core line itself is tough enough to last for a few seasons of hard use," says Fishing 411 TV host, Jake Romanack. "The leaders and backing line fished in combination with lead core must however be replaced at least once a year. I recommend using 50 feet of 20 pound test fluorocarbon line as a leader when fishing lead core line and at least 200 yards of 20 pound test monofilament or 40 pound test super braid as a backing line."
Lead core line comes in various break strengths including 12, 15, 18, 27, 36 and 45 pound test. The most popular of these sizes include 18 pound test which is in wide use among walleye fishermen and 27 pound test which is typically favored among salmon and trout trollers.
Ironically, the same diameter wire core is used in both 18 and 27 pound test lead core. Both 12 and 15 pound test lead core share the same diameter wire core as does 36 and 45 pound test lead core lines.
The manufacturers of lead core line try to simplify the process of fishing sinking lines by making general statements about how deep it runs. Most brands claim that their lines will fish five to seven feet deep for each color or 10 yards of lead core line that is deployed. While general statements like this might give novice anglers confidence to fish lead core line, the facts remain that trolling speed, how much line is deployed and what lures are fished in combination with this line makes a profound difference in how deep a lead core rig will fish.
Precision Trolling Data, LLC is the only independent company that has actually tested various break strengths and lengths of lead core line with popular trolling lures and at popular trolling speeds. This invaluable trolling data is inexpensive and available for sale in a phone app for both iPhone and Android phone users at the Apple and Google app stores respectively.
Most anglers who routinely fish lead core line set up their boat with matching pairs of reels loaded with pre-determined segments of lead core. Because fishing lead core requires using reels dedicated exclusively to lead core line, it can get expensive to own and maintain a full array of lead core set ups.
"On my boat I carry a pair of reels loaded with 3 colors of lead core, another pair with 5 colors, a pair loaded with 7 colors and also a pair loaded with 10 colors of lead core," explains Jake Romanack. "The 3 and 5 color lead core rigs are loaded onto Daiwa SG27LC Sea Line reels and the 7 color rigs are loaded onto larger SG47LC reels. I used the SG57LC size reels for fishing 10 colors of lead core line. Each of these reels are respectively large enough to accept the lead core line, leader and at least 200 yards of backing line."
Many anglers don't use line counter style reels when fishing lead core because they know how much line is loaded onto each reel. Romanack reminds anglers that it's possible to get any lead core set up to fish much deeper by simply letting out more backing line. "I let out my lure, leader and all the lead core line I have loaded onto a reel," explains Romanack. "I zero out the line counter on the reel when I reach the backing line and closely monitor how much backing line is being deployed. The more backing line that is deployed, the deeper that lead core set up will run."
This simple tip is invaluable for the angler who can't justify the expense of owning a boat load of reels dedicated for lead core trolling. By simply using extra backing line, a 3 color lead core set up can be fished at about the same depth as a 5 color set up, a 5 color rig can reach the same depths as a 7 color rig and 7 colors of lead core can fish as deep as a 10 color set up, etc.
Flat Lines and Board Lines
Trolling with lead core lines was popular long before the invention of the inline planer board, or downrigger for that matter. Our fathers and grandfathers fished lead core by simply letting the lure, leader and lead core line straight out the back of the boat. Still to this day walleye pros who routinely use lead core to get shallow diving lures to structure loving walleye, favor the flat line trolling tactics of our forefathers.
Flat lining lead core is the most precise way to target specific depth contours, structure breaks, river channels and weed lines. For this style of fishing it's best not to use pre-determined segments of lead core line, but instead to spool a couple reels with 10 colors of lead core and let out as much lead core as necessary to make contact with the bottom.
Place the rod in a handy rod holder and let out short amounts of lead core until the rod tip indicates the lure is making contact with bottom. This rather simple form of lead core trolling is an amazingly effective way of targeting structure loving species like walleye and can also be handy for targeting other bottom loving fish like lake trout and brown trout.
When targeting suspended walleye, trout and salmon, fishing lead core rigs in combination with inline planer boards is the hot set up. Veteran lead core trollers maximize their success by flooding the water column with lures using two, three or more lead core set ups on each side of the boat.
By setting the shallowest diving rig on the outside board and progressively deeper diving rigs on middle and inside boards, the lead core troller can saturate the water column with lures, hook fish and reel those fish in without having to constantly clear other trolling lines. A fish hooked on an outside board line can literally be reeled in right over top of deeper fishing rigs without fear of tangling lines.
The Off Shore Tackle OR12 Side-Planer is a popular board among lead core trollers because this board comes factory rigged to allow the board to be released when a fish strikes, yet remain pinned to the fishing line.
To set up a lead core rig with this inline board, simply let the lure, leader and pre-determined segment of lead core line out behind the boat. Next grasp the backing line, squeeze open the line release on the tow arm of the board (orange OR19) and place the backer line between the rubber pads on this release. Finish rigging by attaching the backing line to the red OR16 Snap Weight Clip mounted to the back of the board, drop the board in the water and allow line to play off the reel as the board planes to the side of the boat.
The Snap Weight Clip (red OR16) features a patented plastic pin inside the release jaws. When the line is placed behind this pin, the board can be tripped by jerking the line free of the tow arm release when a fish strikes. Just as importantly, the tripped board remains pinned in place on the line thanks to the Snap Weight Clip at the back of the board. This rather unique rigging method allows the angler to easily reel in the both the board and fish at the same time without having to fight the board or clear other lines.
To make it easier to trip the board when a fish is hooked, try wrapping the line around your index finger and giving the line a few quick twists to create a small loop of line. Place the twists of line between the rubber pads of the tow arm release.
Known as the "loop trick" this simple tip makes it easy to trip the board for fighting fish or just to check a line or switch out lures. This rigging method is designed to work flawlessly when using monofilament line as the backing line. Anglers who prefer to use super braids as backing lines can duplicate this set up by substituting a pair of line releases designed to function with braids.
On the tow arm of the board rig a Sam's Release produced by Silver Horde Tackle and at the back of the board rig an Off Shore Tackle OR18 Snapper Release. The Sam's release requires wrapping the braid backing line around a rubber plunger three or four times and closing the plunger into a jettison style clip. When a fish strikes, a sharp snap of the rod tip pops the plunger open and allows the braided line to slip smoothly from the release.
At the back of the board the Snapper Release features cam operated jaws and is designed to hold super braids securely. By simply selecting the right line clips and releases, inline boards can be rigged to release when fishing both monofilament and super braid backing lines.
Summing It Up
Lead core line has been around a very long time and continues to be one of the best ways to get lots of different lures to depth. In the hands of trollers who know how to get the most from lead core line, this timeless trolling presentation lives on. Lead core line never seems to go out of fashion because it works, plain and simple.