Trolling Strategies: Leadcore
Written by Capt. Paul Kik - Salmonhead Charters   
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 18:32
For some reason when people get into fishing the big lake, leadcore line isn’t one of the popular choices to start out with.  Apparently down riggers and divers must seem easier to master, because that is what most people start fishing with.  Leadcore often becomes the third weapon in the assault on Great Lakes fish.  With a few pointers, maybe leadcore can become one of your main weapons next trip out.

You might be wondering what the heck leadcore is or why you would want to mess with it since you catch fish on riggers and divers already.  Leadcore can add another dimension to your fishing and it’s not an expensive presentation.  All that is required is enough rod holders forward of your divers, a couple inline planer boards and however many rods you want rigged with leadcore.

In order to know how you want to set up your rods, you need to know a few basics about leadcore.  Leadcore is a Dacron line that is filled with a lead core to make it heavy.  So there is an outer sheath that gives the line its strength and an inner wire made of lead to give it it’s weight.  Leadcore comes in a variety of pound tests including 18, 27, 36 and 45 with 27# being the most popular for salmon trollers.  For ease of deployment, leadcore comes with alternating colors every 10 yards (30 feet) on the Dacron sheath.  You may have heard of a full core or half core or some reference to a specific number of “colors”.  A “full core” is a length of leadcore that is 100 yards (300 feet) long and therefore consists of 10 colors of leadcore line.  Since the full core of 10 colors is the base line, a half core is 5 colors and a core and a half is 15 and a double core is 20 colors.  Lots of anglers, myself included, tie up our own lengths of core and use any length and don’t necessarily stick to 5, 10, 15 and 20 colors. 

One benefit to running leadcore line is in its inherent inability to maintain a specific depth.  Leadcore is thick, since it’s a sheath over a lead core, and yet it’s heavy.  The thickness of the line resists the water making it rise higher in the water column the faster the boat speed, but at the same time, its weight causes it to sink.  The slower the boat is moving, the deeper the line will sink.  On average a full core will run 40-50 feet deep, a half core is 20-25 deep, 15 color is 60-75 deep and a double core is about 80-100’ deep. It is important to keep in mind the exaggerated rise and fall that leadcore exhibits when being pulled through the water.  If you are a fast troller, the depths you get with leadcore will be at the upper end of the normal range or even higher.  If you troll slowly, depths achieved will be on the deep end or deeper.  That is the beauty of leadcore, you really don’t know exactly where it is.  Another big advantage to leadcore is the simple fact that your baits are a long way from the boat.  This fact in itself can make the difference some days. 

Now that you have decided you want to run leadcore, you need to get some reels rigged up.  Keeping in mind that leadcore has a greater diameter than any other line you are likely using, you might need to get a larger reel than you are used to.  Most of the makers of common Great Lakes reels make a reel to fit your needs.  The standards for a full core are the Penn 330, Shimano Tekota 700, Okuma 45 series and the Daiwa 57.  Each of those models will hold a full core.  Stepping up to the 15 and 20 color capacity reels, you will find the Shimano Tekota 800, Penn 340 and 345 and Okuma 55 series.  Stepping down from the full core to shorter cores, you will find more reels to fit the bill; Daiwa 47’s, Okuma 30 series, Shimano Tekota 600’s and Penn 320’s will all hold about a half core.  Your choice in reels boils down to budget and what you already have.

As for the rods to run leadcore on, that is pretty much wide open.  Any rod you already have will work, although some are a better suited than others.  Shimano Talora leadcore rods are great, but also pricey.  Any diver rod works well and so will rigger rods.  I prefer a rod with some backbone especially on longer leadcore rigs.  All that weight out there will push a less stout rod closer to its limits. 

After the rods and reels have been selected, you need to get things rigged up.  The easiest way to start out, and a great idea for the first time user, is to get a pre-rigged combo from your favorite sport shop.  Often you can have a local shop rig each reel with any desired length instead of the standard rigs that the larger places will carry.  If you choose to get a pre-rigged combo, it will save you time and money, but you might not get the specific length of leadcore you want, or the rigs to choose from might not be the exact rod or reel you want.  If you choose to do your own rigging, you can select any rod/ reel combo you want and any length of leadcore you want also, but keep in mind that it might be a bit more expensive than the pre-rigged setup.

When spooling the reels with line, there are three components to consider…the backing, the leadcore, and the leader.  The backing lays on the arbor of the reel, the leadcore attaches to the backing and the leader attaches the leadcore and the snap to the lure.  The trick is to get the proper amount of backing on the reel to make the reel full, but also leave enough space on the reel for all the desired leadcore.  To make room for more leadcore on a smaller reel, you can use a braid backer, since braid has a smaller diameter than mono.  If you use braid, make sure to put a couple wraps of mono on the arbor first to keep the braid from slipping on the arbor and again, splice in a piece of mono before attaching the leadcore to prevent the braid from slicing through the sheath of the leadcore.  The easiest way to spool is with mono backing and mono leader.  The larger diameter of the mono requires a larger reel, but mono works well when attaching planer boards and has some stretch in it to help absorb the shock of  violent strikes from angry fish.  Having a local sporting goods shop spool you up is easy and they will know how much backing to put on each brand reel to keep the reel full, without over filling it.  If you decide to do it yourself, get on the message boards and post your specific reel and line that you are using and someone can tell you the amount of backing required for each reel.  If you have two of the same reels, you can do the reverse spooling technique.  Start by tying your leader on to one reel and winding on the desired length; then add the leadcore to the leader and wind on the desired number of colors; then add the backing and top off the spool.  Now you have a reel spooled backwards.  Now tie the end of the backing onto the reel you want rigged and reel all the line off the first reel onto the second reel and you are set to go.  Make a note of the line counter or number of cranks on the handle when spooling onto the final reel as a reference for other reels of the same make.  If you are loading both reels exactly the same, just duplicate your lengths, and you are good to go.  If you want more or less leadcore on the second reel, increase or decrease the backing.  I prefer to use all mono backing and leaders.  I use a tough 20# for both and keep my leaders trimmed to 3-15 feet.  I also re-spool all my leadcore rigs annually and do mid-season repairs as necessary.  For the knots I use when attaching backing and leaders to the leadcore check out the photo gallery with instructions at and if you need to repair the line and need to do a quick line to line connection, check out .

Now that you have a few rods rigged with leadcore, its time to go fishing.  A very popular method for running leadcore is off an inline planer board.  Using planer boards gets the rig away from the boat.  Getting the leadcore away from the boat has a few advantages.  First, it keepsthe bait away from the motor noise and away from other racket produced by rigger cables and divers that are closer to the boat.  Second, if you catch a fish on one of your other rods, its nice not to have to worry about the leadcore getting tangled with the fish.  If the core is off to the side of the boat, the fish can be fought out the back of the boat without worry of a mess and not having to crank it in every time.  One of the often overlooked benefits to running core off a board is the exaggerated rise and fall created by the increase and decrease in running speed due to cornering.  That is to say, when the boat turns or wiggles, the outside boards speed up and cause their cores to rise in the water column and at the same time, the inside cores slow down and sink in the water column.  This  rise and fall action  will often trigger strikes.

If you run more than one core per side on boards, keep the shorter core (the lighter and higher in the water column core) to the outside of the heavier deeper cores.  The lighter cores to the outside will allow you to retrieve and set them over top the inside cores without getting snarls.  That brings us to another point, setting rods.  Assuming you will be running 4 leadcores, 2 per side, try to pair them off. Let’s assume you will be running a 3, 5, 7 and 10 color.  I would run the 3 and 7 on one side and the 5 and 10 on the other.   The separation on the colors will help to keep things from getting snarled.  Start by letting out the 3 and 5 on their own sides of the boat, then add the 7 and 10.  Let the core out the back of the boat until all the core is in the water, then attach the board and let it out the desired distance and get the rod in a holder.  The board will catch water when you close the bail, and shoot out to the side of the boat.  Repeat the process until all the lines are in the water.

Now with all those rods in the water, you are bound to catch fish.  When a fish grabs one of your rigs, you will either have your boards rigged to release and slide down the line or to stay attached.  I prefer to keep the board attached to the line so it doesn’t slide down.  If you rig to have them slide down, make sure you use a speed bead a couple feet above the lure to stop the board from banging the fish in the head.  If you rig with the fixed board, keep your rod tip close to the waterline with the rod at an angle to the fish while reeling.  This will help keep the board in the water until its back to the boat and time to take it off the line.  If you point your rod in the air while the board is a long way from the boat, and the fish pulls the board will invariably go air born and subsequently plummet back to the water in the form of a diver and dive below the waterline.  Not good.  If a board does dive on you, keep even tension on the line and wait for it to surface before reeling again.  By keeping the rod tip low, it helps keep the board at the surface.  Once the board is at the back of the boat, lift the rod tip high to get the board clear of the water, keep reeling, and thenremove the board off when it gets to the rod tip.  Once the board is off, you can fight the fish as you normally would.  After the celebration is over when the fish hits the deck, you need to get that bait back in the water ASAP.  If it’s an inside board, that is really easy, just the same as initial let out.  An outside board is a little different.  Let the bait out the back of the boat, attach the board and continue letting it out until the board is way behind the inside board.  Now, engage the reel and get the rod into its appropriate holder.  The board will pull the core and bait out and above the inside board.  It will be behind it in the water.  After the board is tracking in its proper position, you can adjust the distance by reeling in or letting out more line. 

I don’t want to oversimplify fishing with leadcore, but it really is a pretty simple presentation to add to your arsenal.  Rods and reels can be very inexpensive and the line costs less than braid.  Leadcore covers a wide range of water depths and just plain ‘ol puts fish in the boat.  Give it a try, I think you will like the results!
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