Technically speaking, just about any artificial lure or live bait rig can be used at the terminal end of a lead core set up.
One of the limiting factors to lead core is getting set up requires owning a lot of expensive rods and reels. The author routinely carries a pair of 3, 5, 7 and 10 color set ups spooled onto Daiwa Saltist Levelwind reels and Daiwa Telescopic Planer Board Rods.
I find it ironic that a fishing line that has been widely available to anglers since the late 1940s continues to be surrounded by misinformation and half-truths. Lead core fishing line was designed with trolling in mind. In my eyes as an avid troller, lead core is a fish catching machine. Despite how effective lead core is at catching all kinds of fish, it absolutely amazes me how many anglers do not fully understand even the fundamentals of fish-ing lead core.
ALL LEAD CORE IS NOT CREATED EQUAL
All the lead core lines on the market are not created equal. For decades the only lead core line option were various brands of lines that featured Nylon/Dacron as the outer coating over a soft lead wire that makes the line sink. Nylon coated lead core is available in 12/15-, 18/27- and 36/45-pound test options. The 12- and 15-pound test share the same diameter lead wire as do the 18- and 27- and the 36-and 45-pound test versions.
So there are three different lead wire diameters that are adapted to six differ-ent pound test offerings. As a result the “sink rate” or depth that these lines will achieve is similar for 12/15, 18/28 and 36/45 which brings up the question why do so few anglers use 36-pound test lead core which is the heaviest stuff widely available to the fishing consumer?
The very reason anglers use lead core line is to achieve greater depths with their trolling gear. Ironically, the deeper running 36-pound test lead core is rarely used in the Great Lakes. The 27-pound test lead core is overwhelmingly the most popular choice with some walleye anglers favoring 18-pound test lead core.
Dacron/Nylon lead core lines have essentially been unchanged for decades. It could be argued that these lines worked great when they were introduced around the end of World War II and they work equally well today.
Lead core lines that feature a Spectra Fiber/Microdyneema sheath such as Western Filament’s Micro Lead and Sufix Advanced Lead are made from stronger and thinner fibers than those used in traditional Nylon/Dacron/Polyester braids.
The manufacturers of these product advertise them to be 30% deeper fishing than traditional lead core lines, but that statement is a touch of an exaggeration. The folks at Precision Trolling Data have taken an in-depth look at all the common sizes and types of lead core line and they have come to the conclusion that products like Micro Lead and Advanced Lead do fish deeper than traditional lead core, but the the added depth is a more modest 15 to 20 percent.
However, the added cost of Spectra fiber lead core is considerable compared to traditional Nylon lead core lines. On aver-age, a 100-yard spool of Nylon lead core costs about $16.00 compared to the Spectra lead core lines that retail for around $35.00 for a similar amount of line.
Traditional Nylon lead core line has historically been only produced by a couple manufacturers who in turn private label their product to a host of different brands. Currently there are only two Spectra based lead core lines on the market and upon close scrutiny Micro Lead and Advanced Lead are completely different products.
Micro Lead features a more tightly woven outer sheath that features excellent abrasion resistance. Most anglers who use this stuff are getting two or three seasons of hard use from Micro Lead before it needs to be replaced.
Advanced Lead features a loose weave that with a little use stretches and exposes the lead wire it is supposed to be covering. Obviously the strength and abrasion resistance of Advanced Lead is in question and this line should be replaced every year to insure the line doesn’t fail at the worst possible time.
When it comes to confusing people, the manufacturers of lead core line have done an excellent job of publishing all kinds of sink rate charts that are for all practical purposes useless. Telling people that lead core line sinks at the rate of five, six or seven feet per color or length of lead core deployed is simply misinformation. Lead core sink rates depend heavily on not only the amount of lead core deployed, but also the trolling speed at which an angler is fishing.
When the Precision Trolling Data phone app looked into lead core, they came to the conclusion that variations in trolling speed play a huge role in the sink rate of these lines. Minor fluctuations in trolling speed as little as 1/10th of a MPH produced measurable differences in the sink rate of lead core!
So fishing lead core and getting it to the target depth isn’t as simple as using the overly simplified and speculative charts lead core manufacturers have published for decades.
While the manufacturers of lead core have been guilty of publishing misinformation about the sink rate of their trolling lines, anglers are just as guilty of exaggerating the truth. The age-old statement “a little information is a dangerous thing” applies big time to anglers who use lead core line and come to overly quick conclusions on how deep it fishes.
For example, an angler trolling in a following sea might well find a 10 color of lead core line dredging bottom in 60 feet of water, while the same amount of lead core trolled into a facing sea might only fish down 40 feet. Current created by wind, waves, thermocline layers, etc., and the associated friction created on trolling lines also plays a huge role in the sink rate of lead core line.
Even walleye anglers can benefit from trolling sinking lines such as lead core. Mark and Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV have featured many shows over the years that focus on creative ways to fish lead core more effectively.
Because these often-overlooked variable are constantly changing and impossible to measure, the very anglers who use and swear by lead core line are commonly guilty of propagating misinformation. In the big picture overly enthusiastic anglers making misleading posts on social media doesn’t make it any easier for other well meaning fishermen to get a handle on fishing lead core.
The very nature of how lead core works mandates that anglers use a lot of “line out” to achieve the “feet down” goals associated with catching Great Lakes trout, salmon and walleye. Lead core is compared to other line types much larger in diameter and as a result getting a lot of lead core onto a reel can be challenging in of itself.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using Spectra fiber lead core lines is the thinner diameter of these lines allows anglers to put more line on their reels without having to invest in much larger trolling reels. Still, lead core, even the Spectra models, takes up a lot of space on a trolling reel forcing anglers to invest in larger 30, 40, 50 and even 60 class reels.
Most Great Lakes trollers opt for using what is known as the “segmented” lead core rigging option. With segmented lead core, the angler determines how much lead core is going to be used, then sandwiches this lead core line between a backing line and a suitable leader line using double uni knots to attach the lead core to the backing line and also the lead core to the leader line.
When an angler is fishing segmented lead core the lure, leader and all the lead core line on the reel are deployed and then typically an in-line planer board is attached to the backing line. A minimum of 200 yards of backer line is needed and most anglers prefer to use a 30- to 50-foot long leader. This set up allows multiple board lines to be fished on each side of the boat.
To make all this work, each board line must contain appropriate amounts of lead core line so that when a fish is hooked on an outside line, it can be reeled in without having to clear other lines. This is accomplished by running shorter and more shallow running lead core lines on the outside board and progressively longer and deeper running lead core lines on the middle and inside board lines.
For example, I typically carry on board a pair of 3, 5, 7 and 10 color lead core set ups that allow me to fish three or in some cases four lead core lines per side of the boat. Obviously this requires a sizable investment in rods, reels, lead core line and planer boards to fish this many set ups. Those anglers who are just getting their feet wet with lead core and start out with a much more modest amount of gear and grow their system over time.
A few trollers still use lead core primarily as a flat line for contour trolling applications. Walleye anglers who fish in rivers or reservoirs where fish often stack up at certain depth ranges will often spool on 10 colors of lead core line, add a 10 to 15-foot leader and then their favorite crankbait or crawler harness at the terminal end.
By letting out progressively more and more lead core and watching the rod tip, it’s possible to determine when the bait hits the bottom. At this point, simply reeling up a couple turns on the reel handle positions the bait just off the bottom.
This kind of structure trolling is very effective, but it limits the angler to fishing a more modest number of rods at any given time.
LURES FOR LEAD CORE
Technically speaking, just about any artificial lure or live bait rig can be used at the terminal end of a lead core set up. That stated, the lures that are most commonly used in the Great Lakes are spoons because a spoon will essentially run at the same level in the water column as the lead core line. This situation enables an angler to fish a 3, 5 and 7 color for example at respectively different depths and easily fight hooked fish without having to clear any other lines while fighting that fish.
Crawler harnesses are another popu-lar option for anglers who fish lead core line. Like spoons, a nightcrawler harness is going to be running at the same depth as the lead core line. The same is true of in-line or trolling style spinners such as the Hildebrandt Squid Spinner which is very popular on the west coast among salmon trollers and is becoming popular here in the Great Lakes.
So, the question becomes, what about anglers who want to fish with diving crankbaits on lead core. Certainly, a crankbait can be fished in combination with lead core line, but there are issues to understand. Because the crankbait is actually diving deeper than the running depth of the lead core line, stacking multiple board lines becomes a slippery slope.
Say for example a three color of lead core with a diving crankbait is presented on an outside board line. If a fish is hooked on that line or if that line needs to be reeled in and a different lure deployed, because the crankbait is diving it will catch on any other board lines in the trolling program.
The only practical way to fish a diving crankbait on a lead core set up is to make the line with the lead core/crankbait the inside and deepest running line in the pattern.
Steelhead that are often found high in the water column are especially vulnerable to sinking lines like lead core. When matched up with spoons, it’s possible to stack multiple board lines on each side of the water in route to saturating the water column with baits.
So, what happens when lead core line is used to deploy attractors such as dodgers and paddle style rotators? Because these attractors have weight, they sink below the running level of the lead core line, but not as pronounced as a diving crankbait would do. So it’s possible to fish rotators or other attractors on lead core and still stack multiple board lines. The secret to this option is to make sure to leave plenty of space between board lines to keep tangles to a minimum.
Instead of fishing for example a three color and a five color on boards, an angler might rather fish a three and a seven color that are running at much different water depths in the water column. This separation of gear helps to insure hooked fish don’t find themselves tangled in other lines.
One of the most important lessons to learn when using lead core is that speed can be an angler’s ally or it can lead to horrific tangles. The best lead core trollers are constantly monitoring the speed over ground on their chart plotter and also subsurface speeds using products like the popular Fish Hawk X4D depth probe.
Speeding up and slowing down at critical times can work magic at triggering strikes from following fish. However, in playing this speed game it’s critically important to make sure your gear doesn’t sink to the bottom and get snagged. If one lead core line gets snagged on the bottom it can take out all your gear on that side of the boat before you know it. The last thing anyone who fishes lead core wants to happen is for the lure to snag bottom and ultimately get broken off.
The best way to maintain trolling speeds consistently is to employ the use of a digital throttle control on a kicker motor or to use a GPS guided electric motor to control boat speed and the direction of travel. Many anglers employ both a gasoline kicker motor and an auto-pilot style electric motor at the same time. The kicker provides the primary forward thrust, while the electric motor is used to tweak speed and also to navigate the boat from waypoint to waypoint.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER SINKING LINES?
Pretty much everything we have discussed to this point about lead core line also applies to other sinking lines like stranded copper line and the new Torpedo Diver Weighted Stainless Wire. One of the biggest differences is that copper line and Weighted Stainless Wire are more dense or heavy per foot of line deployed and as a result the sink rates are different. It’s commonly thought that copper and Weighted Steel fish significantly deeper than lead core line and that is not exactly true. Much of this misinformation can be traced to anglers who have deployed copper or weighted steel quickly while the boat is moving at a modest forward speed. As a result, these lines sink like a rock instead of gradually achieving depth as they are designed to do.
Sinking lines such as lead core are an excellent addition to any Great Lakes trolling spread. By teaming up lead core with in-line planer boards it’s possible to significantly expand any trolling pattern for salmon, trout, walleye and more.
All things being equal, the amount of line deployed, trolling speed, terminal tackle used, etc., the sink rates of lead core line are only modestly different from copper and Weighted Steel. While many anglers simply can’t get their mind wrapped around that fact, it’s true.
Considering how user “unfriendly” copper line is to use, it’s amazing so many anglers are convinced they need this stuff to be effective. Certainly, in the hands of a charter captain who fishes copper daily, the issues are minimal, but put copper in the hands of someone who has not spent hundreds of hours on the water and it’s a recipe for disaster that typically plays out sooner rather than later.
Lead core and Weighted Steel are both more user friendly and they accomplish essentially the same thing without the ever-constant worry of tangles that can simply ruin a day on the water.
LEAD CORE IS A TOOL
The most important thing to keep in mind when exploring the use of lead core line or any sinking line is to realize that sinking lines are a tool anglers can use to target fish in a wide variety of trolling applications. Like any other tool it has limitations to what it can accomplish, but for the angler who knows how to get the most from sinking lines, it’s game on everywhere in the Great Lakes.
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Its always a great read from a knowledgeable troller
great article, i mostly use cooper but will try leadcore for targeting fish higher in water water column.
I don’t think you are entirely correct about the differences between Tuff Line and Suffix Advanced. There was an article a few years ago in Great Lakes Angler by Mike Scoonevelt that explained it better. Yes denfinately the Microlead has a tighter weave and is more durable but it also uses a thinner lead wire. 10 color of 18/27 Microlead fit on 30 series reel. 10 colors of 18 pound Suffix Advanded does not. Microlead is thinner and stronger than conventional leadcore but it does not go deeper. Microlead does not make any claims on their package that it runs deeper. Suffix Advanced claims 30% deeper and as you point out it highly dependent on speed but it definitely goes deeper than conventional. Suggest maybe use a micrometer and compare the lead wire diameter of the two lines to confirm the original Scoonevelt article.
Very good Information on leadcore dos and donts thank you
Not sure trolling a rotating flasher with lead core would result in greater sink depth. I would think it would result in greater blowback reducing running depth. I wish someone would clear this up as we use lead core a lot and always feel flashers require more lead to reach desired depth.