The water temperature climbs quickly during mid-summer on Lake Erie.
Along with that, the walleye will drop in the water column, sometimes significantly, looking for their ideal water temperature. Out of the central basin of Lake Erie in Conneaut, Ohio, my home port for Offshore Obsession Sportfishing Charters, most fishermen will use wireline or lead-core to get down deep into the zone where the walleye are lurking. I also use lead-core and wire, but I decided that there had to be other effective ways to get my board lines deeper without the 400 plus feet of line out with wire, or 2- to 6-ounce weights added to the lead-core on top of the 5-7 colors out. So in early 2011, I began adopting techniques from Lake Ontario salmon fisherman, and I settled in on copper.
What I call a “hybrid” of wire and leadcore.
From the Pennsylvania/Ohio state line to the west there is a drop off that starts with what I call “the bar.” It’s a relatively quick drop off from 50 ft. into the mid to upper 70s. Once you get into that 75-78 ft. range it stays that way to the Canadian/USA border, and the area is void of structure. During mid-summer you will find walleye close to the bottom or right on the bottom due to warm lake temperatures, making it imperative you have tactics to get down to them effectively. With less line out, copper gets deep quickly, which will get you into the fish zone faster and spare your friends or customers from reeling 500 ft. of line in!
The formula I use for copper is 22 ft. of depth per 100 ft. of line out depending on speed and lure selection. My choice of copper line is A-TOM-MIK 45-pound test. I buy it in 600-foot spools and cut it down to 200-foot lengths. Copper requires larger reels such as the Penn 309m, which I use on all my copper setups. They are a good, cost-effective reel and can handle the bulk of the copper line.
As far as the rod goes I really like any medium-heavy action rod.
I prefer the 8’6” length. The medium-heavy action rod works well on the boards with copper, anything less than a medium-heavy rod pulls much too hard and is difficult to detect bites.
Set up copper reels much like you would set a lead-core reel. To start, spool on the backing, 250-300 ft. of 50 lb. Power Pro braid (monofilament backing can also be used.) But the direct non-stretch approach to the braid really makes it easier when trying to snap a line off a planer board release. Next, spool on the copper line. For this, you will need a small barrel swivel, preferably, a Spro size number 10, and the smallest electrical shrink tubing you can find.
Feed the copper line into the swivel and haywire twist, then slide a small section of shrink tube over the twisted copper and apply a light amount of heat to it. The shrink tube prevents the copper from fraying and potentially “balling up” in the guides as the line is reeled in. Next, make the final connection of the braided backer to the other end of the barrel swivel with a double clinch knot, for insurance apply a drop of super glue to the knot, this will prevent the braid from slipping. It’s is important to note that the braided backing should be the final attachment, due to applying heat to the shrink tubing. At this point you have a tried and true connection and can spool on your 200 ft. of copper line.
Once the copper is in the reel, haywire twist the end to another number 10 barrel swivel and heat shrink another small piece of tubing over the haywire twist, again to prevent “balling up” thru the guides. On the other end of the barrel swivel spool on 50 ft. of 15- to 25-pound test monofilament which attaches to your snap.
The barrel swivel connections are key to this setup, as you will not get line memory which is common if you hook up with unwanted species such as sheepshead or silver bass.
Copper, much like leadcore, can cover different areas of the water column based on trolling speed and lure selection. However, copper really shines when the fish are 50 feet or deeper. Shorter lengths of line behind the boat, a reflective light property that attracts fish, can make copper a deadly technique for walleye. This coupled with some great lures will give you a great recipe for success when the fish drop deep.
Common lure choices are as follows: Jr. Thunderstick, Deep Thunderstick, Rapala Husky Jerk, and Renosky shallow divers. Each lure has its day. I usually start out with a Jr. Thunderstick, it’s a staple on my boat and continues to be lethal throughout the entire summer. I begin using deeper diving lures such as the 20 foot Rapala Tail Dancer or Husky Jerk dhj12 when fish get below 65 feet of water. On occasions where fish come up in the water column above 50 feet, I will jump my trolling speed to 2.5 mph and use shallow divers such as Bombers or Renoskys.
BOARDS AND TURNS
When getting ready to send copper out always have the reel clicker on! Though more forgiving than wire-line, copper likes to kink, and a backlash in the reel can make for some ugly messes. Save yourself the hassle, especially if it’s your first time using copper. Much like a lead-core planer board setup, let out the leader, copper, and enough backing until the copper is completely underwater, then set up on your planer board line. I generally use up to 4 copper lines per one board, but it’s important that no matter how many rods you plan on using per board that you do not alter lure selections. In other words, if you are using Thundersticks on your port side board, run all of your port side rods with Thundersticks. Any random lure you place outside of order will surely cause you a tangle when hooking up and clearing your inside lines.
Boat control is key in all trolling applications but especially with copper. As stated before, copper sinks extremely fast, making it imperative you keep your boats planer board tow line “tight.” Any major slack on your inside turn lines will cause your setup to fall quickly to the lake bottom, loading up your lures with mussels or in worst cases tangling up your lines. Give yourself plenty of time and keep your turns wide and don’t be afraid to jump up your speed a little on a turn to keep things tight.
Offshore Obsession is a 25-foot Carolina Classic with duo props and trolls too fast without the aid of trolling bags. On most occasions, especially in May and June, I will use two trolling bags to slow it down and keep me in the 1.8-2.2 mph trolling range. But with copper line I will only use one trolling bag. Walleye will have no problem chasing down a lure moving 2.2-2.4 mph in mid-summer, which is my typical summer trolling speed. Even on cold front days, this speed has often worked triggering “reaction bites” as the lure goes quickly by a walleye. The other added benefit to this speed is the bonus of hooking up with steelhead.
On one occasion last summer while fishing the Uncorked Winefest Walleye Tournament out of Ashtabula, Ohio, copper proved to be the difference in Offshore Obsession’s 1st place finish. Looking for bigger fish, my team of Paul Hayes, Aaron White, Garrett Boop, and Ben Rebuck ran to a spot that has always been good for a few big walleye and steelhead. After a short boat ride and observing my fish finder, I noticed the fish were very deep, so we set out our 200-foot coppers paired with Thundersticks. We brought in our limits of big walleye and a pair of bonus steelhead. Copper out fished all of our lead-core setups and landed the majority of our tournament-winning fish.
WRAPPING IT UP
Copper line has its challenges for a first time user, but after some “on the water” practice and repetition it can be one of the most lethal tactics to catch Lake Erie walleye. So the next time you see walleye deep down in the water column, give them some copper, and dig them out!
Your friends and customers will be happy you did.
Questions? Feel free to contact Captain Scott Kuvshinikov:
Offshore Obsession Sportfishing (814) 602-0367