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Mastering Metal

Mastering Metal

Successful tournament captains are hooked on lead core and copper. You can't blame them. They're catching more salmon and walleyes, faster. Here's how...

Whether you're chasing salmon or walleye, you need to learn how to use lead core and copper line. They might be a little tricky and intimidating, but these technologies are great tools to put fish in the boat, especially when you're in a tournament and the midday fishing is tough.

To attach a leader to copper, tie an overhand knot in your wire. Thread the line through that knot and tie a cinch knot or a uni-type knot around the standing wire. Cinch it up like a blood knot, and you're ready to go.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

In the past decade, tournament fishing has become very popular on the Great Lakes. One of the most successful boats on the tournament circuit is Best Chance Too.

Captains Dave Engle and Bill Bale combine state-of-the-art technology with their knowledge of salmon fishing. The result is, they win tournaments.

"Today there is lots of competition on the water," said Bale. "To win consistently, anglers must be on the forefront of technology. We are always looking for ways to put more fish in the boat and state-of-the-art technology to help us catch more fish."

While lead core or copper will increase your catch rates, Engle and Bale rely heavily on topnotch electronics and copper wire in particular. For years, lead core was the standard for trolling deep waters but recently copper has caught on among many serious anglers.

Copper is gaining in popularity because it's more fun to catch fish on copper than lead core. "With copper you can feel the fish fight even when you have several hundred feet of wire out. With lead core, you can't really feel the fish. It just feels like you are reeling in a log," Bale said.


The other advantage of using copper is its weight. An angler could use half as much copper wire to achieve the same depth compared to lead core. Copper wire is almost twice as heavy as lead core.

"It takes about 175 feet of copper wire to achieve the same depth as 300 feet of 27-pound test lead core," Bale said.

Often it doesn't take as long to reel in fish because only half of the wire is in water. But copper does require more of an investment. The wire costs more and anglers need a special rod designed specifically for copper wire.

And many anglers shy away from using lead core or copper because it's easy to get tangled up. It's true that you have to be more alert and watch for problems when trolling, especially if there is a lot of line out. Taking sharp turns and being in a hurry when letting line out can be disastrous.

Capt. Chip Klein of Hit Man Charters said anglers need to give copper or lead core another chance. The benefits are enormous.

"With lead core or copper, anglers can really get deep in the middle of the day when fish are deeper," said Klein. "Lead core and copper can go beyond 100 feet deep and allow more water to be covered because the lure rises and falls in the water column as anglers speed up and slow down."

If you cover more water, chances are you'll be putting your lure in front of more fish.

Capt. Bill Bale spends more time trolling for salmon on the lakes each summer than some guys do in a lifetime. He chooses copper line because it's heavier and you can feel the fish fight.
Photo by Tracy Breen.

Klein trolls at 2.7 miles per hour or a bit faster. "By going fast, I put the presentation in front of even more fish."

Bale, Klein and other anglers rely on heavy metal when the bite slows down in the middle of the day.

"Many anglers go home midmorning when the bite slows down in the shallow water," Bale said. "When we are fishing tournaments, we need every fish we can get. Mid-afternoon is when we try lead core or copper and cover lots of water. The bite isn't as consistent, but we often catch an extra fish or two."

As far as bait goes, captains use many things to catch fish. "Sometimes it's spoons or plugs that catch fish. Other times it's flies. In the middle of the day when we troll deepest, flies work well," Bale said.

Rig flies behind an attractor, like a flasher, three times the length of it. If the attractor is 8 inches long, put the fly 24 inches behind it.

When using deeper divers, Bale puts the fly 6 feet behind the diver. Lead core and copper works great for king salmon, which are often in 200 feet of water or less. But these lines are also perfect for walleye.

Ernie Miller from Last Cast Charters uses lead core when the walleyes are suspended.

"I have to cover lots of water to find them, and the lead core allows me to cover the distance," Miller said.

When asked why it's not more popular for walleye, Miller said most angler don't use it because they don't completely understand how it works, or only use it when salmon fishing.

"When fishing for walleye, anglers don't need as much lead core, so it's much easier to work with," said Miller of Muskegon. "The amount needed depends on the depth anglers are fishing in."

A simple way to remember it is for every 30 feet of lead core out, a non-diving lure drops about 5 feet.

Miller prefers lead core if he starts getting hits because he can quickly duplicate the depth and action of the lure.

Sometimes Miller will have two colors of lead core on one setup and 2 1/2 colors on

another. The two-colors start getting hit while the other rod just sits there. Since he knows how much lead core he has out, he can quickly change the idle rod to the productive depth.

"When I do this repeatedly, I start getting hits on both rods," he said. "It allows me to find the magic depth that produces lots of fish. Color-coded lead core makes this possible."

When fishing is slow in the mid

-afternoon when salmon are deeper or the walleye are suspended, give lead core or copper a try. It's worth the extra effort.

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