Skip to main content

Why Go Lead Core?

Why Go Lead Core?

If you haven't tapped into lead core for your big-river trolling, you're out of control!

The Missouri River brings several premier opportunities for anglers pursuing walleye. The fish that live in this environment are extremely nomadic, here today and gone tomorrow as river flows fluctuate and change. As a result, tactics that cover water are often extremely effective for finding these moving schools of fish.

Author Jason Mitchell with a walleye caught trolling with lead core line. Lead core gives you more control over the depth of the lure where there are contours and structure.
Photo courtesy of Jason Mitchell.

Traditionally, spring on the Missouri River meant targeting structure with slow, methodical presentations, like vertically jigging river channels or pitching jigs up onto shallow structure. Walleye anglers long believed that early season walleyes would be reluctant to chase crankbaits or other presentations that were worked at faster speeds.

Over the past 10 years however, anglers have embraced trolling as an extremely effective tactic early in the season.

Several tournaments held on the Missouri River opened up many anglers' eyes as to the effectiveness of trolling crankbaits when commonly held beliefs dictated crawling at tedious slow speeds with a jig. If there is one craze to hit the Missouri River in the past few years that has changed trolling dramatically, it would have to be trolling crankbaits with lead core line.

The reason for the popularity of lead core stems from the fact that lead core line is an easy-to-use system that lets anglers put a lure or crankbait at almost any depth.

  • Most lead core line is coded with a different color every 10 yards. Anglers often refer to "colors of lead" when describing the amount of line out behind the boat. Because of the color code, anglers can become quite proficient at trolling without a line-counter reel, which, of course, saves them even more expense.
  • While lead core line is a cheap way to fish lures deep, don't discount its effectiveness at catching fish. Lures track differently when pulled behind lead core. Instead of lead core, there are several ways to get a crankbaits to run deeper: downriggers, snap weights and trolling weights come to mind. But none of these methods follow contours, or can be adjusted, with speed like lead core line.
  • Lead core line also imparts a fluid and natural action to the lure that is impossible to duplicate but incredibly effective, particularly early in the year before the water temperature warms above 60 degrees.

Most walleye anglers seldom have to fish deeper than 40 feet early in the year, in fact the most common application where walleye anglers use lead core line early in the season is not to get lures down through extremely deep water, but rather to get smaller profile, subtle or shallow-running lures down to moderate depths.

Spreading out and staggering lines is crucial to avoiding tangles. Lead core line will often snag or bog down inline planer boards. Anglers often use extra long trolling rods out the side of the boat and extremely short rods off the transom to prevent tangles. It also allows you to make sharper turns, which helps you stay on structure.

A handful of rod companies manufacture trolling rods specifically designed for lead core. Two well-known companies are Scheel's All Sports ( and my personal favorite, for obvious reasons, Jason Mitchell Elite Series Rods (

Both offer 14-foot and 5-foot trolling rods that allow anglers to spread out lines while trolling lead core line.

Guide Cory Jueneman runs two 14-foot trolling rods out the sides and two 5-foot rods from the stern. "we cover more water because the two outside rods are essentially spread out over 30 feet apart from rod tip to rod tip," said Jueneman. -- Jason Mitchell

According to river guide Cory Jueneman, who is renowned for his abilities to catch walleye on Lake Oahe by trolling crankbaits, most anglers could spool up about six colors of lead core line and have ample amounts of line for most trolling applications early in the season.

"What we are doing with lead core line is using this trolling system to put lures that might dive to 10 or 12 feet with traditional braid or mono and putting these same lures in 20 feet or more of water," said Jueneman. "Lead core line gives the angler much more versatility."

Jueneman usually uses 27-pound test lead core line, sometimes spooling up with as many as 10 colors. To the end of the lead core line, Jueneman attaches a 12-foot leader of no-stretch braided line, like Vicious Braid, for better sensitivity. With the braid, it's easier to feel if the lure is working properly.

If you're looking for guidance on basic lead core trolling rigging, check out

According to Jueneman, some of the most effective lures on the Missouri River System early in the season include both stickbaits and shad-profiled crankbaits. Stick- or minnow-shaped baits, like Rapala's Husky Jerk, the Rattling Rogue, Salmo Sting and the Rapala X Rap, are popular. Shad-profiled crankbaits include the Salmo Hornet, Jointed Shad Rap and Berkley's Frenzies.

Jueneman prefers using lures that are tuned extremely well and put out a distinct vibration because fouled hooks are a common plague early in the season as there is typically a lot of debris floating in the water.

Last season, Jueneman said the Salmo BD6SDR Bullhead in the luminescent color was one of his favorite lures. "Often, we work these lures at slow speeds, trolling at speeds of 1.5 to 2.0 miles per hour. Trolling at speeds less than 2 mph is often critical early in the season," according to Jueneman.

Here are a few effective shad-profiled crankbaits for lead core line trolling. From left, Rapala's Shad Rap in Gold Fish, Salmo's Frisky in silver-blue-orange and Rapala's Jointed Shad Rap in pearl.
Photo by Jason Mitchell.

On the reservoirs, waves and strong wind might make boat control difficult. Many anglers have difficulties trolling at some of these slower sp

eeds with their outboard motor.

Jueneman offers these tips for anglers who don't have a smaller kicker motor:

  • Use the GPS ground speed to get an accurate reading of your speed.
  • To slow the boat down, especially in wind, put your bow-mount trolling motor down into the water. The resistance on the trolling motor will typically shave off a few tenths of a mile.
  • Use a small drift socks or sea anchor tied off the bow cleats to get more control of speed.

On both the reservoirs and the river, trolling speeds typically increase as the water warms up later into the season.

Changes in speed or direction often trigger walleyes, and this is exactly where lead core line excels. Lead core has a tendency to snake through the water as the boat follows the contour. Changes in direction are often exaggerated with lead core line. Lead core line is very speed-sensitive and will troll much deeper on slow trolling speeds, rising through the water column as trolling speed is increased.

Speed is a responsive method many anglers use to adjust their depth. Anglers can follow the contour down deeper by slowing the boat and letting the lead core line sink. Or anglers can speed up to lift the lead core line off the bottom to avoid snagging on a shallow reef.

For anglers attempting to keep lures on a specific contour, this snaking characteristic of lead core line makes following structure very effective. Because of the weight and resistance in the water, lead core line can follow contours much better than snap weights or down riggers. Because the lure depth can be adjusted by both the amount of lead core behind the boat and also boat speed, lead core is effective at following up and down break lines.

"Most of the fish are relating to the bottom, and if they are higher, we will see them on our electronics," said Jueneman. "With that being said, just let out line until you feel the lure periodically tick bottom ... if you can feel the lead core slap the bottom, you have too much line out."

Lake Oahe fishing guide Cory Jueneman used lead core trolling techniques to boat this walleye.
Photo by Jason Mitchell.

Lead core line also works extremely well in current. Strong current will sometimes have a tendency to blow trolled crankbaits up away from the bottom. Lead core seems to pin lures next to the bottom where most of the fish seem to be located in strong current.

Lead core doesn't take much in regards to specialized equipment, although some rod manufacturers do build trolling rods designed specifically for lead core. Because of the large diameter of lead core, use a level-wind reel with a large capacity.

Many anglers put on a few hundred feet of monofilament backing before spooling the lead core line. Depending on how deep you plan on fishing, some anglers spool anywhere from four to 10 colors of lead core line. Eighteen- to 27-pound test seems to be the most popular diameter for walleye anglers. A leader -- either mono or braid -- is then tied to the end of the lead core line.

Lead core is very stiff when new, but quickly softens and gets easier to work with after use. One trick to soften up the lead core is to dip the reel into water at the beginning of the day: it softens and pulls off the reel easier when wet.

Line-counter reels are helpful and give the angler the advantage of fine-tuning trolling patterns.

Rods should have a good backbone for handling the additional weight and strain of lead core. Still, they should offer some flex and cushion in the tip because lead core has little stretch and doesn't always pull off the drag smoothly.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

RIO Slickcast Fly Lines

RIO Slickcast Fly Lines

Chris Walker, with RIO Products, talks with Editor/Publisher Ross Purnell of Fly Fisherman magazine about the new SlickCast lineup of fly lines for 2020.

Daiwa Dark Water Rods

Daiwa Dark Water Rods

From barracuda to wahoo to kingfish to sailfish and beyond, these new Daiwa saltwater rods rely on HVG technology (that makes them 50% lighter), soft tips to protect leaders as big fish make strong runs, and strong backbones to help anglers crank up hard-fighting species from below.

Strike King KVD J-100 Jerkbait & KVD 1.5 Hard Knock

Strike King KVD J-100 Jerkbait & KVD 1.5 Hard Knock

Strike King introduces two, new exciting baits to their already stellar lineup this 2020: the KVD J-100 Jerkbait, and the KVD 1.5 Hard Knock. KVD sits down with In-Fisherman Associate Publisher Todd Ceisner to explain how these two baits are going to help catch you more fish.

Berkley Hit Stick & PowerBait Pre-Rigged Swim Shad

Berkley Hit Stick & PowerBait Pre-Rigged Swim Shad

The Berkley lineup for 2020 includes a new multi-species lure, the Hit Stick which is available in six different sizes ranging from 1 3/8” to 6” in length along with a variety of color patterns.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Now's the time to finalize plans for the perfect deer season opener.10 Expert Deer Hunting Preparation Tips for Opening Day Whitetail

10 Expert Deer Hunting Preparation Tips for Opening Day

M.D. Johnson - August 26, 2020

Now's the time to finalize plans for the perfect deer season opener.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation provides places to start.Are You a New Hunter Looking for Help? Hunting How-To

Are You a New Hunter Looking for Help?

Adam Heggenstaller - August 19, 2020

The National Shooting Sports Foundation provides places to start.

Here's how to get your rig ready for archery deer season.19 Ways to Get Your Crossbow, Compound Ready for Opening Day Bows

19 Ways to Get Your Crossbow, Compound Ready for Opening Day

Bob Robb - August 21, 2020

Here's how to get your rig ready for archery deer season.

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

See More Trending Articles

More Walleye

Winter walleyes gather in deep river pools and eddies. Here's how to put them in the livewell.Deep Secrets for Cold-Weather Walleyes Walleye

Deep Secrets for Cold-Weather Walleyes

Jeff Knapp - March 11, 2020

Winter walleyes gather in deep river pools and eddies. Here's how to put them in the livewell.

The bite at night turns on in late summer in the Midwest. Go get your limit now.Night Stalking Late-Summer Walleyes Playbook

Night Stalking Late-Summer Walleyes

Mike Pehanich - August 14, 2020

The bite at night turns on in late summer in the Midwest. Go get your limit now.

Walleyes are shallower now than at most other times of the year. Go light and think simple.The Skinny on Shallow Walleyes Walleye

The Skinny on Shallow Walleyes

Matt Straw

Walleyes are shallower now than at most other times of the year. Go light and think simple.

Sound and action that convinces even sluggish walleyes to bite.SPRO's New MadEye Series Walleye Baits Walleye

SPRO's New MadEye Series Walleye Baits

Game & Fish Staff - May 27, 2020

Sound and action that convinces even sluggish walleyes to bite.

See More Walleye

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now