Sinking trolling lines have been around a very long time. Designed to help anglers fish deep without having to employ expensive downriggers or hard pulling diving planers, lead core has been around the longest and continues to be the most popular.
The author is fighting a fish on a sinking line set up. Note that the board is tripped allowing it to be reeled in without having to fight both the board and fish. Great Lakes anglers who understand sinking lines are using them to supplement traditional set ups such as diving planers and downriggers.
Lead core became popular soon after World War II gave us the miracle fabric we now know as nylon. Created by adding a braided nylon coating over top of a thin, soft wire core, lead core comes in a wide variety of break strengths including 12-, 15-, 18-, 27-, 36- and 45-pound test. Lead core is rated by break strength and just to confuse matters 12-15, 18-27 and 36-45 pound test versions respectively share a common wire diameter.
Originally only available with a nylon coating, modern lead core is also produced using the super strong and thin fibers commonly used to make modern braided fishing lines. The fiber branded as Spectra is the most commonly used to manufacturer high-tech lead core lines that are thinner, fish deeper and last longer than traditional nylon based lead core fishing lines.
On the Great Lakes trolling scene 18-pound test is popular among walleye anglers and 27-pound test is hands down the most popular size among trout and salmon trollers. A host of brands produce traditional and modern “Spectra” braid lead core sold at popular tackle shops.
Lead core deserves the credit for getting the sinking line phenomena moving. It wasn’t until much further down the road that the invasion of the zebra mussel changed things by dramatically cleaning up the water and creating a need to fish even deeper.
Stranded copper wire is heavier than lead core, fishes deeper and has carved out a profound niche in the modern Great Lakes trolling scene. Ironically, stranded copper wire wasn’t designed as a fishing line. That however has not stopped savvy anglers from repurposing stranded copper wire into a sinking line well suited to deep water trolling situations.
A number of manufacturers source stranded copper wire, spool, label and sell it at popular retailers. Sold at both distribution and retail levels, copper line is most commonly seen in 45-pound test, but a few shops also stock lighter 20-pound test versions popular with some walleye fishermen.
The most recent introduction into the sinking line category is known as Weighted Steel wire.
Weighted Steel wire is about the same weight and fishes about the same depth as a similar amount of braided copper line, but there is one major difference.
Braided copper is very soft and widely known for easily kinking, bending, breaking where it kinks or bends and constantly creating annoying backlashes on trolling reels.
Weighted Steel has just the right amount of memory that makes it a dream to work with. This unique line is strong, spools onto and deploys off from trolling reels seamlessly, without kinks and most importantly without backlashing.
Everyone who has fished with the Weighted Steel wire prefers it’s handling and fishing qualities compared to copper wire.
Lead core, braided copper line and the new Weighted Steel wire all have one thing in common. These lines are most effective when fished as a pre-determined segment of sinking line, rigged between a fluorocarbon leader at the terminal end and married to a backing line consisting of either monofilament or super braid.
Segmented sinking line set ups can be fished straight out the back of the boat as a flat line, but to get the most from these rigs anglers team them up with in-line planer boards. Using an in-line board requires playing out the lure, leader and all the sinking line, attaching the in-line board to the backing line and then letting the board play out to the side of the boat.
Sinking lines have become so popular that many charter captains and avid Great Lakes trollers fish three or more sinking lines per side of the boat! To avoid tangles, the shortest and most shallow running sinking line is fished on the outside board and progressively deeper running set ups are rigged on the middle and inside board lines.
This simple set up allows a fish hooked on an outside or middle board line to be reeled in without having to clear other board lines. Because the shallow running line slides right over top of deeper fishing lines, trollers can stack multiple lines fishing at multiple depths without fear of tangling.
The down side of setting up a boat to effectively use sinking lines comes at the cost of owning and rigging a lot of dedicated rods and suitable sized reels. Most anglers fish sinking lines in pairs. For example, a captain or avid troller might have a pair of five, seven and 10 color lead core set ups at his or her disposal. The same angler might also have a pair of 300 foot long copper or Weighted Steel wire set ups that fish a little deeper.
Big kings like this one boated by Jake Romanack are always a rush and sinking lines such as lead core, copper wire and Weighted Steel wire are helping Great Lakes anglers catch more and bigger kings.
MATCHING LURES TO SINKING LINES
To the angler who hasn’t fished sinking lines in combination with planer boards, this set up looks like a giant tangle waiting to happen. Actually if set up properly, sinking line rigs rarely tangle with other lines.
Sinking lines fish with nearly zero tangling issues when trolling spoons are fished on these rigs. Spoons don’t dive on their own and as a result trail neatly behind sinking line set ups. Other lures like wobbling plugs have their own diving profile causing these lures to catch on other board lines when switching out baits and also when fighting fish.
Plugs such as the popular Yakima Mag Lip can be fished on sinking line set ups, but not on outside board lines. Sinking lines can be fished with diving plugs when these lines are the deepest board lines situated on the inside of the spread.
Wobbling and diving plugs like this Mag Lip can be fished with sinking lines, but it is best to position plugs as the inside and deepest board lines.
BACKING LINE ISSUES
The backing line used in combination with sinking line rigs is an important consideration and a personal choice. A lot of anglers favor monofilament because it allows them to use their in-line planer boards without having to purchase special after-market line releases and clips.
When super braids are used as backing line, it becomes necessary to equip in-line boards with line clips designed to function with super braids. Chip Cartwright of Wolverine Tackle solves this problem by using 50-pound braid as his backing line with an 18 inch length of 25-pound-test monofilament tied into the braid backer.
“I like super braid as backing for my sinking lines because it is thin and I can spool more backing onto smaller reels,” says Cartwright. “Tying in a small length of monofilament to my backing lines gives me a perfect place to position the planer board. It also allows me to trip my board when a fish is hooked so I’m not fighting the resistance of a planing board and the fish.”
As more and more anglers have adopted sinking lines and started fishing longer and longer lengths of braided copper and Weighted Steel, a demand for larger in-line planer boards has emerged.
“Our OR12 Side-Planer will handle lead core set ups up to and including 10 colors rigs,” says Nick DeShano of Off Shore Tackle. “For the guys who want to fish heavier and deeper running copper line and Weighted Steel wire, the larger SST Pro Mag is recommended,”
Guys that are running a mixture of lead core and copper or Weighted Steel wire are best suited by using the smaller boards for the lighter gear on outside board lines and the larger boards only for the inside lines carrying the heavier gear.
A typical set up for targeting Great Lakes trout and salmon would include a pair of five and 10 color lead core set ups fished on the OR12 boards and a pair of Weighted Steel wire rigs fished on the SST Pro Mag boards.
Bruce DeShano of Off Shore Tackle holds a nice Lake Michigan king salmon caught fishing sinking lines in cooperation with the SST Pro Mag board. Larger boards like this are gaining in popularity among anglers who fish longer and longer lengths of lead core, copper line and the new Weighted Steel wire.
Boats that are fishing in-line planer boards with sinking lines are also normally using traditional gear like diving planers and downriggers. To spread out gear, get the widest spread from in-line boards and to avoid tangles, the best rod holder options for sinking lines are rod holder trees. Trees are not only mounted further forward in a trolling boat, they keep the rods up off the water surface, the tips well separated and they do the best job of eliminating board line jumping that commonly occurs during turns.
AFTER MARKET LINE RELEASES
A number of line releases are on the market that can be rigged to an in-line planer board and used to hold the slick and ultra-thin super braid lines commonly used as backing lines. Most fall into the category as “line clips” because they are not designed to release like a traditional line release, but instead to cam lock and hold the board firmly on the line.
This configuration forces the angler to reel in the fish and board as it is planing before removing the board. The uniquely designed Silver Horde Sam’s Release solves this problem and works with either monofilament or super braid lines. The line is wrapped around a rubber plunger which in turn fits into a jettison style clip. When a fish is hooked, a sharp snap of the rod tip pops the jettison release open and the line smoothly uncoils from the Sam’s Release.
The Sam’s Release allow in-line boards to be tripped even when fishing super braids. This unique line release can also be rigged on the tow arm of most in-line boards by simply using an oversized split ring.
Angler’s Avenue Pro Shop sells a lot of Sam’s Releases thanks to their e-commerce site. Off Shore Tackle recently reached a marketing agreement with Silver Horde and will be helping distribute and promote this useful product.
RIGGING SINKING LINES
Rigging leaders and backing line to the various types of sinking lines requires some unique knot tying skills. The Albright Knot is a standard for use with segmenting lead core to both fluorocarbon leaders and braid backing lines. To learn how to tie the Albright Knot, visit the site www.animatedknots.com for a simple to follow illustration.
Before tying the Albright Knot with lead core it’s important to remove about six inches of the soft lead wire from the end to be knotted to the leader and also the end knotted to the backing line. Removing the wire from the lead core makes for a much smaller knot that flows smoothly through the rod guides and also the reel’s line guide.
Rod holder trees like these positioned behind the left shoulder of Buzz Ramsey are ideal for fishing sinking lines in combination with in-line boards. Not only do trees position rods further forward in the boat, they keep the rod tips well separated and the lines high enough off the water surface that tangles rarely occur.
The Albright Knot can also be used on stranded copper wire set ups with satisfactory results, but unfortunately the Albright Knot does not work well when working with the harder surfaces of Weighted Steel wire.
One option for rigging Weighted Steel is to use a small barrel swivel, a couple of line crimps and a glass bead. The glass bead is only required on the leader end to protect the line crimp sleeves from being damaged against the rod tip.
Thread the bead onto the Weighted Steel wire, followed by a couple line crimp sleeves and then thread on a barrel swivel small enough to easily pass through the reel’s line guide. Thread the Weighted Steel wire through both sleeves and crimp them down securely. Cut off the tag end as tight to the sleeve as possible and let the bead slide up to the sleeve to protect this termination from the rod tip.
As a second option, Torpedo Diver has created a YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G78kxzymgc0 that describes how to tie a rather complex knot featuring a length of super braid they are promoting as the ideal way of terminating Weighted Steel to leaders and backing lines. The video isn’t exactly a professional production, but it gets the point across.
After tying the necessary knots needed to rig up segmented sinking lines, test each knot. When fishing sinking line set ups, the knots used are the weakest link and should be checked and double checked to avoid losing fish and valuable fishing gear.
Fishing with sinking lines has been spurred on by clearer waters and tougher fishing conditions. Of course using sinking lines requires more gear and of course costs more money. The up side is that fishing sinking lines in combination with in-line boards flat out works.
Great Lakes trollers either love or hate sinking lines.
A lot of trollers hate sinking lines, but they still use them… and that, fellow Great Lakes Anglers, says it all.
- by Mark Romanack