What makes better sense: Leadcore line or snap weights for open water trolling at reasonable, repeatable depths? Depends.
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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Leadcore Versus Snapweights (cont.)
If you see the fish rise five feet in the water column, however, it's easier to adjust snapweights (using lighter weights or shortening the distance trolled behind the planer board) than to switch out reels with different segment lengths of leadcore, or snipping some off and retying. Something to consider.
With leadcore, what's the best way to place a lure at the walleyes' level? Certainly, to first see them on electronics, then figure five feet of additional diving depth per color of leadcore, and let out the appropriate amount of line. If you don't get bites right away, start working your way up the ladder by reeling in small amounts of line, eventually positioning your lures higher than the fishes' level on electronics. (Five feet of sink depth per color of leadcore is one of those guidelines, although the diving depth changes according to your speed -- the faster you troll, the higher your lure runs, due to water resistance against the line; the slower, the lower, because of the weight of the lead.)
To figure out the fishes' level and to avoid laboriously segmenting reel after reel with a given number of colors of leadcore (say, three, four, or six) tied to 10-pound FireLine backing, Kavajecz initially clips a planer board wherever he wants on his leadcore line. (OK, all that weight makes it hard to read a board when there's a fish on, but it's not impossible.) When Kavajecz establishes a depth level that produces fish, he can then segment the leadcore to the proper length (and therefore, weight). After that, he's able to clip his planer boards right to the FireLine just ahead of the leadcore, and is better able to detect and interpret subtleties in board movements that indicate proper lure action, small hooked fish, or lures fouled with weeds.
Kavajecz is also able to make his lures run deeper by letting out more backing. The way he figures it, if you're trolling with three colors of leadcore and want to get your baits five feet deeper, it takes an extra 50 or 100 feet of FireLine backing before clipping on the board.
A few more of Kavajecz's, um, guidelines. For pulling crankbaits behind snapweights, he likes 3-ounce weights because of the speed involved and his desire to keep the lines on a relatively flat plane for better hookups. (A great guideline Kavajecz invokes is a new stat from Mark Romanack's Precision Trolling book -- that a crankbait gains a third more in diving depth with the same amount of line out and a 1-ounce snapweight positioned 20 feet in front of it. That way, 15 feet of diving depth is boosted to 20 by adding a 1-ounce snapweight to the line ahead of the lure.) For spinners trolled at slower speeds, he leans toward 2-ounce snapweights but lightens them up if the angle behind his board gets too steep; Kavajecz likes to run them flatter, as well, for better hookups with spinners.
Guidelines are all good and well. After all, where would we be without them? Neither snapweights nor leadcore is perfect, but set either of them up properly, and one of them will probably produce.