In case you appreciate hard-and-fast rules — make that guidelines, for indeed there are exceptions to every one — we’ll outline those first. Leadcore is better for trolling crankbaits at speeds of 1.8 to 2.0 mph. Snapweights are better for pulling spinners at least 0.5 mph slower than cranking speeds, and sometimes much slower than that. Beyond these guidelines, personal preference comes into play. Basically, you should use whatever system gets the job done.
“Neither one is perfect,” says Keith Kavajecz, a veteran In-Fisherman PWT pro and trolling academician. “But both systems can be perfect under the right circumstances, as long as you get them set up right. The important thing is to get the bait in the zone, whether it’s with leadcore, snapweights, even Rubbercor or Bead Chain sinkers.”
While all of the above can get your bait into the fish zone, opting for one over another can boil down to a matter of pragmatics. Leadcore line, for example, can be somewhat ponderous and equipment-intensive. Reel in six or eight colors of leadcore at 10 yards apiece, plus a 50-foot leader typically used in the clear water of the Great Lakes, and you can wind up winching in a football field of line every time you need to check your lure or land a fish.
And to cover all applications, you theoretically need different trolling reels spooled not only with backing, but with different lengths of leadcore (20 yards, 40 yards, etc.) spliced into the line between your backing and your leader, functioning much like inline sinkers of different weights. Dozens of reels might be required to hold up to ten colors of segmented leadcore for a full trolling arsenal of four rods. Otherwise, you need to snip and tie on the fly — shortening, say, eight colors to six, or six to three, as needed. (A gigantic pain even in calm conditions, and ever-so-much fun in four-footers!)
Snapweights, by comparison, are quite simple from a setup standpoint. Four rods and line-counter reels spooled with 10-pound Trilene XT, plus a box of clip-on weights, and you’re in business. Unless, of course, you opt to troll with FireLine, which requires four more trolling reels prespooled for action. In the end, the size of both your rod storage compartments and credit card limits may help determine your approach.
For all the talk of diving depths, trolling a bait within inches of a given level is less important than repeating a productive pattern. Kavajecz offers this example: You see fish at 20 feet on your electronics and, working at their level and above, you first approximate their level, then raise your baits to 15 feet, then to 10. You don’t have to be trolling precisely at 19 feet, 6 inches when a productive level emerges and you can repeat it. It could be with three colors of leadcore and your leader; or with a 30-foot lead, a two-ounce snapweight clipped to your line, and an additional 20 feet of line to the planer board.
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