Trolling leadcore line for Lake Erie’s open water walleye

By on January 7, 2015
A hooked walleye in the clear waters of Lake Erie’s central basin. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

Leadcore fishing line has been a versatile trolling tool for walleye and salmon anglers for decades. The biggest advantage is getting lures to greater depths with the weight built right into the line. In the upper Great Lakes and also Lake Ontario trollers use leadcore line to reach the extreme depths needed to catch Great Lakes salmon and trout. Over the past ten years or so, I have been experimenting with leadcore line while trolling in summer for Lake Erie’s roaming schools of deep open water walleye, and I’ve found it can be an especially deadly tool in Ohio waters of the central basin from Cleveland to Conneaut.

Leadcore line has a core strand of lead the runs the entire length of the line. Newer versions have braided sheaths that greatly reduce the overall diameter of the line, allowing it to have less drag in the water and accomplish greater depths.

Leadcore line obviously has the advantage over monofilament or braided lines of reaching greater depths. But even more important when fishing open water for walleye is the diving characteristics of the line that causes it to rise and fall with speed changes, turns or wave action. This imparts a vertical swimming action that’s very difficult to reproduce with other weighting systems.

Leadcore line is colored in 10 meter segments and a full “core” of lead would be 10 colors for a total of 100 meters of line. I’ve found that most fishing in Lake Erie’s central basin requires anywhere from 5 to 7 colors of lead.

Travis Harman’s dad with a walleye from Lake Erie’s central basin. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

Travis Harman’s dad with a walleye from Lake Erie’s central basin. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

This setup for leadcore trolling is much different than what you would use to troll structure with leadcore. In open water, it’s more efficient to troll four leadcore lines at once off of inline planer boards. Using planer boards requires that each reel have a specific amount of leadcore line loaded on the reel. I have multiple reels pre-loaded with 5, 6 and 7 colors of lead. As a general rule, longer rods will help you handle the weight of the leadcore line. Most of my leadcore rods are two-piece, 9-foot medium heavy rods with a fast action. Long rods with a soft tip add forgiveness when you get big fish near the boat.

I normally set up a large capacity trolling reel with cheap monofilament backing, followed by a few hundred feet of 30 pound test braided line (the section of line that the planer board will attach to), leadcore line, and then finally 50 feet of high quality monofilament or fluorocarbon line (generally around 15 pound test).

It’s extremely important to tie good knots between each section of line when loading the reel. These aren’t just backing knots that will be buried in the reel. They’ll be out in the water fishing and will have to hold up to fighting a fish. At each junction, I tie a double uni-knot, which is very reliable for line-to-line connections. It’s important to keep in mind that when you are tying a knot with leadcore line you need to first pull the sheath of the line back 6 to 8 inches, cut the center lead strand off, and then pull the outer sheath back to its original length. This will give you 6 to 8 inches of line to tie knots that won’t have the inner strand of lead.

After I’ve located a good school of central basin walleye, I will start experimenting with different lures and amounts of lead. Shallow diving stick baits work very well with leadcore. My two favorites are size 14 Rapala husky jerks and shallow diving Renosky’s. Normal Lake Erie color selections will work, but I’ve found that metallic pinks and purples, transparent purples and chrome clown colors work best. I also like to experiment with tipping baits with nightcrawlers to change their action and profile.

Sufix 832 Advanced leadcore sinks a little deeper than other leadcore lines. (Credit: Rapala)

Sufix 832 Advanced leadcore sinks a little deeper than other leadcore lines. (Credit: Rapala)

The standard rule for depth achieved is about 5 feet of depth per color of lead at 2 mph. Using shallow diving stickbaits simplifies the equation because the diving property of the lure isn’t adding much, if any, to the depth. Your speed and the amount of lead out will determine your lure’s diving depth. Newer leadcore lines that use thin braided sheaths achieve 6 to 7 feet per color due to the smaller diameter. It’s best to load all of your reels with the same brand and size of leadcore so that you can quickly determine which setup is giving you the right depth so you can repeat that setup on your other rods. Most walleye anglers use 18 pound test leadcore. I personally use Sufix 832 Advanced leadcore. The package claims up to 30 percent additional depth compared to traditional leadcore, and I’ve found that to be accurate. You always want to run as little leadcore as possible, because every additional color of lead is 30 more feet of line that you have to reel in.

When fishing leadcore in open water I usually run from 1.8 to 2.2 mph. If the waves are 2 to 4 feet or bigger, I will start up-wind of the school and troll straight with the wind through the fish. The waves will impart all the action necessary, and I’ve found that the uncomfortably rough days can be extremely good for leadcore fishing. With calmer conditions the leadcore line depends on the boat to impart action. Trolling in an S-curve pattern or making drastic speed changes will accomplish some of the same rising and falling action in the absence of waves. Experiment with different combinations of curves and speed changes to see what the fish prefer on that day.

Leadcore trolling can be intimidating if you’ve never tried it before. The thought of having up to 360 feet of line out (50-foot leader, 7 colors of lead, 100 feet of braid from the planer board to the boat) isn’t exactly anyone’s dream setup when they consider what they are going to have to reel in to catch fish. The benefits, however, greatly outweigh the drawbacks. As an added benefit, you will also land a few big steelhead trout each trip. My longest walleye to date was a lean 32-inch fish that was just over 11 pounds off of Ashtabula in the summer. If you’re a big fish hunter like I am, set up a few reels with leadcore line and try them out in Lake Erie’s central basin in the summer when schools of large walleye are ripe for the picking.

Top image: A hooked walleye in the clear waters of Lake Erie’s central basin. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

About Travis Hartman

FishSens pro Travis Hartman is a two-time WBSA Lake Erie Walleye Trail points champion and 2015 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship qualifier. He has 21 top 10 finishes and is also a licensed charter captain.

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