These days lots of anglers are talking about getting rid of lead lures and fishing tackle. I hope that day doesn’t come anytime soon, because I’ve come to depend very heavily on lead core fishing line when targeting trout, salmon, walleye and even northern pike when they suspend over deep water in the summer time.
WHAT EXACTLY IS LEAD CORE
Lead core has been around for decades and first became popular as a fishing line around the World War II era. The war effort pushed chemists to create a wealth of miracle products including a fiber known as Dacron which is a form of Polyester.
Touted as a miracle fiber, all kinds of goods started hitting the market made from Dacron right after the war. That list of products included a Dacron coated fishing line called lead core. A thin and soft lead wire is coated with Dacron to create a strong fishing line that also sinks.
Lead core is produced in different diameters or break strengths including 12, 15, 18, 27, 36 and 45 pound test. The wire used in 12 and 15 pound test sizes is the same size. The 18 and 27 pound test line also share the same wire size and 36 and 45 pound test lead core share a third size of wire.
This in part explains why the fishing depth of 12 and 15 pound test is similar as is the depth of the 18 and 27 sizes and of course 36 and 45 pound test. A host of lead core products appear on the market, but most of these are simply private label versions marketed under different brands. Essentially Dacron based lead core lines are all pretty much the same, so brand loyalty is not a factor in choosing these fishing lines.
SPECTRA BRAID LEAD CORE LINES
A more modern version of traditional lead core line hit the market a few years ago. These sinking lines feature either a Spectra Braid or Micro Dyneema Braid coating over the soft lead wire. Because both of these braid fibers are smaller in diameter than Dacron, modern lead core is thinner in diameter and fishes about 20% deeper on average.
My experience with these modern lead core lines has been very good. I prefer lines produced using a tighter weave of Spectra Braid as they hold up to abrasion better and last for two or three fishing seasons before needing to be replaced.
CHOOSING A LINE DIAMETER
While many walleye anglers argue that the 18 pound test lead core is the perfect size, I personally fish using 27 pound test lead core. My logic is simple, because I fish a multitude of species using lead core, I’m only interested in buying and rigging one size. In my opinion, 18 pound test lead core is a touch on the light side for tackling big king salmon, lake trout and steelhead.
The 27 pound test lead core lines are strong enough to handle just about any open water trolling situation, yet thin enough in diameter that large amounts of line can be spooled onto trolling style reels.
The most practical way to rig and fish lead core is to first spoon on about 200 yards of backing line. The backing line can be either monofilament or super braid. Because I rig my planer boards for fishing with monofilament, I select 20 pound test monofilament as my backing line.
The backing is then tied to the lead core using a double uni knot. Before attaching the backing to the lead core, remove about six to eight inches of the soft lead wire from the end. This enables the double uni knot to be small enough that it easily passes through the rod and reel guides.
When rigging with lead core a pre-determined amount of line is spooled onto each reel. The most common set ups include 3, 5, 7 and 10 colors of lead core. Lead core line is metered using different color braid every 10 yards or 33 feet. A three color set up consists of approximately 90 feet of lead core, a five color rig features 150 feet of lead core, etc.
Once the desired amount of lead core is spooled onto the reel, a leader is added using the same double uni knot that was used to connect the backing line and the lead core. I use about 30 feet of 20 pound test fluorocarbon line as a leader. Some anglers prefer the leader to be about 50 feet.
REELS FOR LEAD CORE
Lead core is fished using level wind trolling reels. Because a known amount of line is spooled to each reel, line counter style reels are not necessary. However, I use line counter reels for fishing lead core because I often play out a significant amount of backing line to enable the lead core to fish deeper.
By simply playing out additional backing line, a three color set up can be fished down as deep as a five color set up, a five color fished as deep as a seven color and a seven color fished as deep as a 10 color. This little bit of savvy allows lead core fishermen to carry fewer reels spooled with lead core and still fish a wealth of depth zones.
The standard Daiwa SG27LC Sealine trolling reel is large enough to hold 200 yards of 20 pound test backing and three to five colors of lead core line. I use the SG47LC for rigging up seven color lead core rigs and the SG57LC reels for spooling 10 colors of lead core.
The manufacturers of lead core line state that these lines fish down about five to six feet per color. This is a very misleading statement as lead core is a sinking line and sinking lines are highly speed dependent. Trolling speed, how much lead core is deployed and how much backing is used all influence greatly on how deep a lead core line will fish.
The Precision Trolling Data app features two different kinds of lead core trolling data. A select group of diving crankbaits feature depth data for 18 pound test Dacron lead core line. This data appears in the “line choice” option for respective lures.
Precision Trolling has also studied lead core for open water trolling with non-diving lures such as spoons and spinners. This data appears under the Wolverine Tackle Mini Spoon heading and includes data for Dacron 18, Spectra 12 and Spectra 18 pound test lines.
This data is available for purchase at both the Google Play and Apple iPhone app stores.
LEAD CORE AND BOARDS
Lead core line can be fished as a flat line, directly out the back of a trolling boat, but a growing number of anglers use lead core in combination with in-line planer boards like the famous Off Shore Tackle OR12. Boards the size of the OR12 can easily handle lead core rigs up to 10 colors in length. If longer lengths of lead core are needed to achieve target depths, a larger board like the big brother to the OR12 the SST Pro Mag is required.
When fishing lead core with boards, it’s essential to fish the more shallow running rigs on the outside board(s) and progressively deeper rigs on middle and inside boards. My standard lead core set up consists of a five color on the outside board, a seven color on the middle board and a 10 color set up on the inside board. This set up allows me to hook fish on the outside boards, release the board and reel in the fish without having to clear any other board lines.
Not only does using in-line boards help in spreading out lines from a horizontal perspective, it allows anglers to also saturate the water column with baits. While this might seem like a lot of work setting and managing so many board lines, the fact is that lead core fished in combination with boards almost always out produces downriggers and diving planer lines.
Part of the magic of fishing lead core with boards is it allows anglers to get baits both out to the side of boat and down to depth. Just as importantly, lead core has minimal stretch and the hook up ratio is very good among fish that bite. It could also be argued that lead core trolling is in effect a “stealthy” presentation in that it gets the gear away from the influence of the boat and contacts fish that are feeding naturally.
WRAPPING IT UP
While lead core line has been around since the late 40’s, it has reached a new level of popularity among modern open water trollers. Fished in combination with boards, lead core is not only effective, it has become a mainstay among Great Lakes trollers. Easier and less expensive to rig and fish than copper wire or stainless wire, lead core is user friendly, readily available, doesn’t require special rods or reels and is versatile enough to be used for a wealth of species. Enough said!