In this, Part 1 of a three part series, famed walleye pros and Hall of Fame Legendary Anglers Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz begin to cover all aspects of trolling for walleyes with lead core line.
Ever since Keith walked away with the 2002 PWT Championship Title, the airwaves have been buzzing with questions about trolling with lead core. Most savvy walleye anglers know lead core as a great tool for getting lures to run in water much deeper that they’re designed to go on their own, but there in the upper reaches of Lake Oahe, Keith was trolling with lead core in depths of four to six feet … depths that the cranks he was using would have no problem reaching on their own. So why did he implement lead core into his trolling pattern? Depth Control … control being the optimum word here.
In this three part series, we will cover as much about trolling lead core as anyone ever has, in the hopes that walleye anglers throughout the country will begin to learn just how versatile and effective this system of depth control really is. Here in part one, we’ll cover the mechanics of trolling lead core: the line itself, knots used, running straight lead core as opposed to segmented lead core, and the gear used to present this technique effectively.
Lead core line, for those of you not that familiar with it, is basically Dacron line with lead running up through the center of it. The outside sleeve of Dacron is color coded every thirty feet, which is very helpful in setting out lines and determining how much lead core to use for particular applications. The most common size used in walleye trolling is 18# test. All the weights higher than 18# have the same size of lead insert, but sport heavier Dacron coatings. Therefore, 18# has the thinnest diameter for the amount of lead used. The key advantages of this is that the thinner diameter line will dive deeper and you can get more of it spooled on a reel. This stuff is bulky by nature, and we recommend using large capacity reels for your lead core set-ups.
The first rigging set-up we’ll describe is for spooling up reels with straight lead core. That means the lead core line is tied directly to the reel spool, with no use of any backing. This is the rigging used when you want to fish your bait at or very near the bottom in whatever depth you’re fishing. A standard spool of lead core like Bass Pro’s Magibraid, comes in 100 yard spools. For the Gold Cup I like to put on nine colors (90 yards) although you probably could sqeeze on all ten colors. Once the lead is on, we tie on about a 10 foot leader of either 10# test Trilene XT monofilament or 10/4 FireLine. The FireLine is used if we want a completely no stretch system – that’s especially helpful in areas where your bait might pick up debris.
There are about as many ways to connect lead core to a leader as there are anglers that fish this system, but a simple and effective method goes like this: Tie a simple overhand knot in the end of the lead core line. Then take your leader material, and tie an improved clinch or Trilene knot over the Dacron above the knot. As you pull the knot tight, let it slide up against the back of the overhand knot in the lead core. It’s not the prettiest way to do it, but it’s easy and very reliable. (If this knot leaves too big of a bump for the type of reel you are using, you can use the same knot, but start out by pulling the last 2 inches of lead out of the Dacron then tie the overhand knot in the Dacron.) Lastly, tie a small – size 1 – cross-lok snap to the end of the line and you’re ready to attach a bait.
There are times when lead core is very effective in trolling open water for suspended fish too, and this is where you’ll want to rig up with “segmented” lead core. For this, you spool your reel with a backing of 10# monofilament, like Berkley Trilene XT, tie in either one, two or three colors of lead core (remembering that lead core is color coded every 30 feet), followed by about a fifty foot leader of either 10# monofilament or 10/4 FireLine.
Rigging segmented leadcore is a little more complicated than straight leadcore – here are the details. Attach the backing line directly to the spool and put on at least 100 yards. Next, splice the backing onto the lead core using the same knot described above (improved clinch or Trilene knot slid up to an overhand knot in the lead core). The number of colors of lead we use is determined by how deep we want it to fish. Next, splice the lead core to the leader (same knot) and attach the snap. We’ll cover more details on how to choose the amount of leadcore to tie in and reasons for choosing different leader materials later in this series.
One of the main reasons for running segmented lead core is so the system can be used in conjunction with trolling boards. This is a technique typically used in open water trolling scenarios, and the use of in-line boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers is essential to spread out the trolling pattern to cover water and contact more fish. Connecting the boards directly to the lead core is not recommended. Even on a wonderfully ballasted board like Offshore’s, the weight of the lead core can ruin the way the board tracks in the water. It is better to let out the leader and the segment of lead core, followed by enough backing to get the lure to the depth you’re targeting, and then connect the board to the backing to take the system out to the side of the boat.
The rods used for lead core trolling are also very key to success. They need to be beefy enough to handle the weight of the lead core, but yet have a forgiving tip to aid in fighting fish with this low or no-stretch system. Of all the rods we have designed for the Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Signature Series, the 8’6″ model WL86T Trolling Rod has the best action for lead core trolling. The length and soft tip help in fighting fish with no-stretch line, and yet the butt section gives these rods the strength to tow a walleye trolling set up including lure, lead core and in-line board with ease. Even though the rods are long, they feature a telescoping handle allowing you to collapse the rods to make storing them away in a rod locker much easier.
One last piece of the puzzle to touch on here is the hooks you use with this kind of a trolling system. Anytime we troll crankbaits, especially with a no-stretch presentation like this, we recommend switching the lure’s factory trebles with Mustad Ultra Point Triple Grip Trebles. When you’re reeling in a big walleye (or even a small one) from a long distance behind the boat and using no-stretch lines, the chances of your bait tearing a good sized hole in the fish’s mouth are dramatically increased. Once that hole is there and the fish comes to the surface, it doesn’t take much of a head shake to toss the hook with a regular treble. The “inward bend” of the Triple Grips lock the hook in place, and with their Ultra-Point technology, they stay super sharp fish after fish and even after continuous bottom contact.
We hope this at least gives you a good beginning on understanding the mechanics of trolling lead core. In parts Two and Three we’ll get more into the nitty gritty of each lead core tactic, be it trolling straight lead core or segmented. We’ll also delve into why this type of trolling system gives you the angler so much control over how your lures run in the water column. Until then, feel free to hop over to the Forum Page and ask any questions regarding this or other articles you read on this site. It’s a great way to learn from a wide range of fellow “Biters” willing to help you get your Next Bite!