Getting the Lead Out

Modern Day Techniques for Using Lead Core Fishing Lines

LeadCore_Core.jpg (15480 bytes)  LeadCore_Spool.jpg (87735 bytes)
Trim Inner Lead Core           Spool of 27 lb. Test

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Open the Door, for Mr. Lead Core!

First off, lead core fishing line is a antediluvian (very old) invention pre-dating the downrigger.  Lead core helps solves the age old problem of getting your lure into the vision, or strike zone of the fish, once the upper strata's are no longer attractive to your quarry.  Meaning, the temperature of the upper water columns have become to warm to hold the species of Trout and Salmon you're trying to take prisoner.

It's a no brainer to incorporate the use "cores" into your munitions store of Great Lakes weaponry.  Take it from me, it's not brain surgery, or rocket science to rig and be successful using this technique.  It's just another method of putting the fish in the box.  This technique will provide action on slow times, or when the fish are both scarce and skittish.  You'll come to appreciate the advantages of your lead core rods.  Although, it can deadly, it should only be used under the right set of circumstances.

What is Lead Core?

Lead core is a line constructed a inner core of real lead, sheathed by an outer layer of braided Dacron line.  Hence, the name lead core comes about.  The lead innards cause the line to sink on it's own, without the use of additional weight, divers or downriggers.  

An interesting thing concerning lead core is; that no matter what pound test you buy the inner diameter varies a little and it all reaches about the same depth, or at least that's been my experience with it.  The line tests that I'm familiar with are 18lb, 27lb and 36lb.  This line was manufactured well before the advent of modern day line counter reels and in order to keep track of how much line was let out, it changes colors every 10 yards, or 30 feet.  

Tackling the Reel Problem

27 pound test lead core is the accepted standard for the Great Lakes fishery and it has the thickness of about 1/32nd of an inch, or 60 pound test monofilament.  Now, that's a large diameter line and it needs a large reel to accommodate storage of what's referred to as, a single core.  A "single core" is a 300 feet, or a 100 yards and requires a large capacity reels like Penn 330 GTI.  The 330 is the bear minimum needed and you'll still be skimpy on the amount of backing you'll be able to run underneath it.

Larger reels like the Penn 340 GTI and 345 GTI, with the latter being my ultimate choice, especially is you're foolish enough to fish double cores a 1/8 of a mile behind the boat.
The 340 and 345's are costly and get ready to shell out somewheres around a 150 bucks per reel, but they're the largest capacity levelwind reel that can be purchased.  Half cores (50 yards or 150 feet) will fit on Diawa 47's and 320 GTI's just fine.   Some other reels could include Shimano's TLD 20 and Okuma's T180L and T190L, but I don't have personal knowledge of the Okuma and Shimano brands. 

The rod choice that works for me is a regular 7 foot, one piece fiberglass downrigger stick.  It will handle up to a core and a half without any problems.  Incidentally, I've found that for the most part, graphite composite downrigger rods don't stand up to the rigors of everyday use aboard my boat.  I've broke several over the years and they've fell out of my favor.

Getting All Knotted Up?

    Blood Knot                             Surgeons Knot                        Albright Knot 

In order to rig lead core properly, first you'll have to remove about 4 feet of the soft lead center to tie on as much backing as possible and that will depend on your reel.   This will afford extra line when it needs to be retied.  Now, what you've done is; it turns into a regular piece of braided string, so it can accept a leader and a backing.  Knots recommended are: the Blood Knot (my favorite) , Albright and Surgeons knot.
    After spooling on the desired amount of core, you'll have to remove the above same stated piece of soft lead center again and tie on a 50 to 100 foot leader.  Make sure your spool if filled close to the top of the reel and the closer the better.  Full spools wind with less turns of the handle due to their spools larger diameter.   This is of paramount importance when it come to reeling in your lead core rigs.
    Here's a note worth tip: First try winding the lead core on a empty reel capable of handling the amount you're getting ready to install.  That way if the reel you're working on is to full, or could use more backing, it's a easy job to wind it back on the empty reel with no backing and adjust the amount on the reel with backing.   
        Click here for a step by step diagram of how to tie the above featured knots

That Sinking Feeling

Much can be said about attainable depths with lead core fishing lines, but this I know for a reel fact, it all depends on your trolling speed.  Why? Because is has to too!  Now, I know that's to simple statement, so let's comprehend the multipart factors that come into vogue.  The density of cold vs. warm water, the water resistance of the Dacron braid causing drag, line pound test and type of the lure (or lure combo) you're pulling, all effect the depth.

This I do know, under normal trolling speeds of 1.8-2.2 (dodger speed) to 2.5-3.0 (spoon speed) you can expect some where between 1 foot of sink rate for every 6 feet of line let out.  In other words that's about 5 feet of depth per color (30 feet or 10 yards), so 10 colors would produce a "supposed" about the 40 foot depth range.  I'm not a mathematician, so I'll let you figure out the in-between
distances downward.  Please remember, the faster speeds, the shallower depths will be.  That's no big deal, because the clearing of the Great Lakes by the Zebra Mussels and fish can see a lure presentation from at least 25 below it.  So, if Mr. Fish is interested, he will attack from a good distance away and dropping your lead core offering right on his noodle isn't all that important.  The way that I see this is, it's a lone wolf, single presentation at safe distance from your normal spread.   Cores are for fish that are spooked by pressure, or boat noise. 

I know of many who will add drop weights to their cores for additional depth, but myself I don't.  If  the fish are much deeper than 60 foot, I'll store the core. 

Time Delayed Fuse

The idea I'm trying to stress here is, that once your boat has passed thru the water and the riggers, drop weights or divers didn't go off, there's a tail gunning, sniper hanging out far behind called Mr. Lead Core.  One thing's for sure, if a fish can't see a bait common sense says he can't strike it.  While I haven't timed the exact time it takes my vessel to go a 100 yards, I'm sure it allows a safety margin for additional fish filter through the path of your trolling course.  So, the way that I see it, the delayed fuse action of towing cores will increase the odds of having a successful trip.

Lead core comes into it's own when the pressure has driven the fish off the bite.   Another realistic "reel case" scenario is, that the fish is just plain "stuffed to the gills" and done with the dinner table.  Using "SBD" (silent, but deadly) approach can wing the stragglers and help add to your fish box tally at the end of the day.  The core fishes alone, without being encumbered by lead balls. or a large chunk of plastic aka, the dipsey-slide diver thingy.  

What makes a fish
smack a some kind of lure swimming along we put in the drink?  Who knows?  This I say with confidence, presentation is the key ingredient when it comes to winning your struggle with the fish!  

While this doesn't have much to do with anything, but angling generalities, fish don't have much of a brain, so don't try to figure out something who's thought process is beyond our comprehension.  It's a plain waste of time!


If you live and die and run full cores (100 yards of line out) all the time, it will hurt you in the long run during the peak of the Salmon run in the more hectic Salmon ports like Ludington, or Manistee.  Why?.........because that much line out behind your boat, protecting the long lines starts dictating the course you drive trying to keep other fishermen from chopping off your cores.  Maneuverability is easily lost and you'll soon find yourself where the fish ain't!

For the early first light bite I don't recommend setting your lead core rods.  The outer sheath of Dacron will slice mono like a hot knife through butter.  Wait until the easy pickings of morning action has slowed then go for the lead stuff.

Let's keep it in simple terms, lead cores can be a disaster just waiting to cause you serious grief.  Kings seldom run directly straight away from your vessel and when they start the business of right angles to your course be prepared to move and clear rods as necessary.


(1.)  A bird-core is 3 colors leadcore line (90 feet), used in place of a lead weight and installs your lure about 10 to 15 feet below the surface, if you're not trolling at warp speed.

(2.)  Leader should test at least 20 pounds for the months of May thru early July, then it's wise to switch to 25 or 30 pound test for the hog Kings of July thru early September. 

(3.)  Lead can be deadly, because it's been said it won't sink (because of thicker line diameter), or  penetrate much further than the thermocline and it lays right there.

(4.)  If you leave the core at the sharp bend of a regular rod tip a fraying action can occur as the lead crystallizes and saws through the Dacron. 

(5.)  Leaving your cores for extended periods of time in your rocket launcher, or rod holders will weaken the line form UV damage.

(6.)  Put them on regular, or dual planer boards if you want to run a multiple core set up.  Inlines from my experience cause more grief than they're worth.

(7.)  Experience tells me that a 50 foot, or longer leaders mean more fish in my box.

(8.)  Spend extra time when blood knotting to monofilament, and hank-test before using.

(9.)  Important Tip:  Don't pump the lead when doing battle with a fish, I leave the rod in the holder and wind in until the last of the lead is on the reel. 

(10.)  Load up your older reels with half cores and just change reels when conditions warrant, meaning the lake has rolled and the temp break is around 20 feet.    

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