By Jason Wright, Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV
My first experience trolling with lead core line occurred while pre-fishing a tournament on Lake Sakakawea. Only days prior to my pre-fishing period, the walleyes had been on a feeding frenzy up shallow – less than 4 feet of water – and it was awesome as southerly winds continued to provide the most textbook walleye chop day after day; therefore, the bait was continuously being pushed up shallow on every point in this particular portion of the lake, which in turn triggered the innate predatory instinct of schools of walleyes. Any angler that was willing to pitch a small jig tipped with a leech or piece of crawler into most any shallow windswept point was in for some of the best shallow water walleye action Lake Sakakawea could provide.
But, like most pre-fishing situations, just when you think you have it all figured out and a pattern has fully developed, which seems flawless, the perfect weather pattern is completely disturbed… cold front! That’s right, the winds switched and began gusting 20 – 30 mph from the northeast, the temperature plummeted, and for the next 36 hours a cold front destroyed all established patterns and scattered these schools of shallow walleyes forcing them into deeper water to recover from the effects of the cold front.
The days following the harsh cold front rebounded as the temperatures climbed back into the mid 80’s and the wind calmed down, which may sound like the perfect conditions; wrong! Yes, the weather was very nice following the cold front with clear skies, perfect daytime temperatures and absolutely no wind day or night, but the schools of active walleyes only days earlier were now in a state of inactivity, which eventually would force me to learn a new trolling presentation.
It was tough to give up on my shallow water pattern, but after nearly four hours of searching for my shallow fish, I conceded and began rigging with a very slow presentation in deeper water; 20 – 30 feet. Eventually fish began to show up on my Lowrance – nearly glued to the bottom – and every once in a while a fish would be enticed to bite, but they were scattered much too far apart for a presentation this slow.
The next best option was to try and cover more water with bottom bouncers and spinners in hopes of connecting with more walleyes; however, that proved to be even less effective, so we extended the telescopic trolling rods, put the 9.9 Mercury ProKicker in gear and dropped down four deep diving crankbaits in hopes that we could trigger reaction bites; nope! It was at this time that the “Walleye Gods” must have taken pity upon me and my crumbling confidence as the tournament day quickly approached, since the only technique left available to me at that moment were two 8 ½ foot trolling rods with large line counter reels spooled with 18 pound Lead Core trolling line with a 20 foot piece of 12# Trilene XT leader to absorb shock and a small crankbait, which under most circumstances would normally dive 4 feet.
It was late in the day, but if I didn’t give this small crankbait trolling presentation a try, it would haunt me the rest of the week, so out went the lead core trolling line with small crankbaits trailing behind to the target depth of 26 feet…WHAM! That’s right, fish number one hit before I was able set the rod in the holder, and the rest of the afternoon was nonstop walleye action as were the remaining days leading up to the tournament.
Although trolling with lead core line is not a new approach to trolling by any means, it has become a more widely used practice in the Dakotas the past ten years allowing walleye anglers to send small and/or otherwise shallow running crankbaits to deeper depths than they are normally capable of diving. There are other methods that will position shallow diving crankbaits in deeper strike zones; however, lead core is the best option in order to effectively contour troll off and around breaks in order to target lethargic fish and/or fish that are relating tight to structure, which is often the case for several days following a strong weather disturbance. The combination of the lead core trolling line and small crankbaits was the turning point during this particular week of fishing, but without the lead core line, my fishing partner and I wouldn’t have been able to effectively present the lures and get the needed bites.
The Right Equipment
Similar to most any sport, you will need the right equipment in order to effectively take advantage of trolling with lead core, which may require a trip to Scheels, your favorite retail hangout, or online fishing source. But, who doesn’t like the excuse to browse and shop for some new gear for the upcoming open water season; right? Although there are a variety of brands and models as far as rod and reel combos are concerned, I will do my best to keep it simple, affordable, and effective.
My lead core trolling setup consists of four trolling rods, two 8’ 6” telescopic Scheels Outfitter rods and two 5’ Scheels Outfitter e-glass rods – also known as a shorty – which are designed with the lead core troller in mind. Each rod has an oversized Scheels Outfitters linecounter reel, which is necessary in order to spool up with the large diameter lead core line; this is not the time to look for a sleek linecounter reel…big is best! You may have a particular rod & reel brand preference, and some lead core experts prefer trolling rods up to 12 feet, but one thing we most likely all agree upon – due to the no stretch characteristic of lead line – is that it is critical that the rod tip section has a soft tip and moderate action in order to absorb the shock of a snag, aggressive strike, or the head pounding fight of a giant walleye.
Lead Core trolling line is just that, it’s a tightly braided polyester fiber or nylon sheath for strength and abrasion-resistance encapsulating a soft lead core or insert which is available in a variety of pound test spools ranging from 12 – 45 pound test. The preferred weight choice for most walleye anglers is 18 pound Lead Core trolling line because you get the best weight to line diameter ratio because it has the most lead with the smallest diameter line. A common misconception is that the greater the pound test, the heavier the line is; therefore, allowing it to dive deeper, which is not true.
The fact is pound test line greater than 18 pound Lead Core has the same size lead core insert, but rather, the greater the pound test the larger in diameter the line will be because it has a stronger sheath or outer covering, but not more lead. Again, the reasoning behind the 18 pound line is it has the most lead and smaller diameter allowing your crankbait to dive deeper and you can get more of it spooled on your reel. Plain and simple, pick up a couple of 100 yard spools of 18 pound Lead Core Trolling Line, and remember, this isn’t about finesse or low visibility.
Depending on which angler you ask or what they are trying to achieve, you may receive a different answer as far as how they would recommend spooling lead core line onto the reel. My recommendation, until you have practiced and learned a bit more about trolling with lead core, is to just spool it directly onto the reel without any backing, but it is important – if using a linecounter reel – that the reel is at maximum line capacity in order to achieve accurate linecounter readings. Then once you have successfully spooled your reel(s) it is important to incorporate a monofilament, fluorocarbon, or superline leader, and again whether you choose mono, fluorocarbon, or superline can depend on the fishing situation. If I am fishing a tournament during windy conditions with few snags I might choose to use a mono leader of 12 pound Berkley Trilene XT because I want to have some stretch in the line while fighting a big fish close to the boat as it’s surging in the waves. But, if I am fishing in an area with a lot of debris on or near the bottom or around submerged vegetation, then I will choose 10 pound Berkley Fireline as my leader material so that I am able to detect even the slightest debris which may foul my crankbait. The length of the leader can be a personal choice and/or determined by the fishing situation, but under most circumstances I tie in a 15 – 20 foot leader.
Through my experiences and practice while trolling with lead core line I have found that small crankbaits and lead produce much better results compared to larger crankbaits. A few of my favorite go-to crankbaits whether I am trolling lead in 12 – 16 feet or 22 – 26 feet of water are the 200 Series Reef Runner Rip Shads as well as the #4 and #5 Berkley Flicker Shad.
Not to say that larger baits don’t work, but rather the smaller baits seem to produce time and time again. Most often my best and most successful days trolling lead core have been when the walleyes are less active; therefore, the smaller baits seem to trigger more bites and the lead core line enables me to put the baits in front of the fish more successfully than other methods making it the better method during scenarios when walleyes seem to be hugging tight to steep structure during a tough bite.
The obvious is that lead core line has a much larger diameter compared to more commonly used mono or superline, which is actually another advantage that good trollers use to put walleyes in the boat when other anglers return to the ramp admitting that it was just good to get out. The larger diameter causes the line to be very speed sensitive; therefore, slowing the trolling speed down will allow the line to sink taking the crankbait with it and if you speed up the troll the water will actually force the lead core up and higher in the water column allowing the bait to run shallower. Knowing this will allow you to concentrate on contour trolling and using the trolling speed to adjust the diving depth of your lure(s) to the varying depths as you work up, down, and around sharp breaks/points. The resistance caused by the larger diameter of lead core line also tends to allow the line – as well as the crankbait – to track the boat’s course; therefore, following the depth contours more effectively allowing you to target fish that may otherwise be untouchable with other trolling methods and presentations.
Is trolling with lead core the most intimate and “fun” method of catching walleyes? Probably not. But if you are interested in learning another method or trolling technique to put more walleyes in the boat during otherwise very tough fishing days and/or tournament fishing, then learning to effectively troll with lead core could very well be next on your list of accomplishments. I have introduced trolling small crankbaits with lead core to many fishermen from the most inexperienced to the more advanced walleye angler, and the result is always the same; it’s fun to learn more about a sport that you truly enjoy.