How to use Copper and Leadcore Line while Salmon Fishing

I've had a few people ask me for my take on how to run both copper and leadcore line.   I have a fair amount of experience with both line types and will talk about the pros and cons of each.   I started running leadcore in the late 1990s and haven't looked back since.  Besides combat fishing for Kings in the fall, I do not believe I've fished without the aid of leadcore or copper line on a single outing in the last 10 years.   Both leadcore and copper line flat out catch fish, so it is a big mistake to not include them in your spread. Both line types have been around for a long time, but have been mostly forgotten until recently.  Leadcore saw a resurgence on the Great Lakes in the late 1990s / early 2000s and copper became popular a short time after.  This was right around the time our lakes were being filtered crystal clear by Zebra and Quagga mussels.  Enough history...on to how you fish this stuff!

LEADCORE LINE Leadcore line is the easier of the two to deal with and what you should concentrate on learning to fish with first.  I primarily use leadcore on planer boards off to the side of the boat.  The "leadcore" is encapsulated within a nylon sheath which provides the strength for the line not the leadcore.  In addition, the color of the nylon sheath changes every 10 yards so that you know exactly how much line you have out without the aid of a line counter.  Keep in mind that leadcore comes in a few different weights but 27# leadcore is the primary line strength used while salmon fishing. Depths, Speeds and More The amount of leadcore behind the boat, speed of the boat and type of lure will determine the depth of your lure.  Figure that the lead sinks the leadcore line at a rate of about 5ft per color segment at a speed around 2mph.  Flasher and flies on leadcore fish higher in the water column then spoons or plugs due to added drag.  Don't get too hung up on knowing the exact depth of your lures since it will be highly variable due to speed increases and turning, but that's the magic of this stuff!!  The pulsating action that leadcore creates is what triggers bites.  Leadcore does not remain at a static depth. It is constantly raising and lowering in the water column as well as surging with the waves.  To take advantage of the hypnotic effect leadcore gives your lure, make sure your mono leader attached to the leadcore is no more then 20-25ft long.  A longer leader dulls the effect and the productivity of the leadcore on the lure. Tying Leadcore Tying leadcore is easy!  Simply take the end you wish to tie and thread out 6-10" of the lead leaving only the nylon sheath.  Once you have the sheath without the lead you can use any termination knot you prefer.  I personally use a San Diego Jam knot and tie direct to a 30# SPRO swivel.  The swivel is used to join the leader to the leadcore.  A second swivel is used to join the leadcore to the backing.  The swivel is incredibly strong, yet small enough to slide through the rod guides and the reel levelwind.  Using a swivel allows a stronger overall connection and you have the ability to switch out leaders with ease.  Another method I use does not involve the swivel, simply tie the sheath (minus the lead) to the leader or backer line using a Uni to Uni knot.   Use this method if you have small rod guides or reel levelwind. Speed and Planer Boards Speed is the number one factor controlling the depth of the leadcore.  When you turn towards the leadcore it will sink as the planer board slows.  When you turn away, the leadcore will raise as the planer board speeds up.  For this reason make sure you give yourself a safety factor of at least 15 feet of depth.  You really do not want to snag mussels on the bottom and troll around for hours with mussels on the hook.  Worse yet is snagging the bottom itself!  I've had 10 colors of lead hit bottom in 60 feet of water even though most of the time it's running 45-50feet deep.  Speed dictates the depth, and your turns dictate the speed of the leadcore.  When attaching leadcore to a planer board release you want to attach to the backing line, not the leadcore itself.  Attaching directly to the leadcore will cause the nylon shell to weaken, and over time you will have break-offs.  So to properly use different lengths of leadcore you will need to have different reels pre-rigged with the amount of colors you want to fish.  I generally have two rods of the following colors rigged and ready to fish (2 Color, 5 Color, 7 Color and 10 Color.)  Now I know you are thinking.....8 rods and reels, that's a lot of money.  So if you are starting out just have one rod for each color, until you get the hang of it.  I know some guys that keep a bag of reels loaded with different lengths of leadcore and just switch the reels between 2 or 4 rods to cut down on costs.  Leadcore does not require a whole lot of special equipment.  You can get buy with your standard In-line planer board rod, (I use an Ugly Stick Model CAL1101 1-piece 7'6".)  This rod works awesome with leadcore and is a steal at under $40.  For reels you can use just about any standard great lakes reel when you are running 5 colors or less.  If you are running 7 or more colors look at using the Okuma Clarion 453LS or Shimano Tekota 800.  A line counter reel is not necessary since you know how many colors of lead you have out.  To keep track of which reel is which, I use a marked piece of tape on the side of each reel with the corresponding number of colors on it. Running Leadcore on Riggers Besides running leadcore on planer boards, I also run it on riggers from time to time.  Great Lakes slang is to call this a Secret Weapon Rod (SWR).  A SWR is simply two colors of leadcore tied onto one of your rigger rods with the same 20ft leader.  You let out the leader followed by the two colors of leadcore, and attach your rigger release to the backing.  From that point on it's just like a normal rigger rod except your lure is now running 8-10 feet below the downrigger ball.  The SWR is stealthy and it benefits from the hypnotic leadcore effect.  This makes a killer combo and often gets your riggers firing during the middle of the day when nothing else will.

COPPER LINE There are many similarities between leadcore and copper line.  The basics of how you fish the line are the same but there are a few differences to note.  Just like leadcore I primarily run copper line on planer boards off to the side of the boat.  45# Copper is the line weight you want and is at its best when the fish are deep.  Copper gets deeper faster then leadcore, achieving 7-9ft of depth per 30ft of line.  So, 300ft of copper line fishes 70-90ft down assuming a trolling speed of 2mph.  Like leadcore the depth copper line achieves is dependent on the amount of copper behind the boat, speed of the boat and type of lure.  Remember copper will sink like a rock when you slow down or turn, and it's very possible to hit bottom with a 300ft copper in 90-100fow. Setting Copper Lines As is the case with leadcore, you want to attach your planer board release to the backing line, not the copper line.  My pre-rigged lengths of copper lines are 150ft, 200ft and 300ft.  This covers the 45-90ft range that leadcore is not effective for.  Terminating copper is actually really easy.  I use the same small 30# SPRO swivel that I use with leadcore.  All you need to do is thread the copper through the swivel and wrap the copper back around itself about 8 times (Haywire Twist.)  Before tying your mono leader onto the swivel slide a piece of shrink tube over the Haywire twist.  Now you have a connection that will not fail, and easily travel through your rods eyelets.  The business end should consist of 20-25 feet of 20# mono.  One nice thing about copper is it's very easy to mend which is a good thing since copper is expensive and tangles are inevitable. Due to the weight of copper line, you must use a heavy duty planer board to get the lines spread out away from the back of the boat. See my post on how to properly use in-line planer boards for more information. When setting copper line the first 30 feet or so is the most difficult, because copper has a tendency to coil. Tension on the spool will make setting the first 30 feet of line a lot easier, so keep your clicker on!  After you get 30 or so feet out the copper will pull nicely from the spool. Specialized Gear Unfortunately, copper requires some specialized gear.  For starters you need to have a reel with a large capacity, and a rod with large enough eyelets so the copper knots do not catch.   For rods I recommend the Shimano Talora TLA80MC2 (8ft) or the TLA90MC2 (9ft), both rods are designed to work with copper and have the right eyelets and action for the job.   For reels you can't go wrong with a Penn 345GT2, or if you want a reel with lots of line pick up per revolution look at the Okuma Clarion 553LS and Shimano Tekota 800.

BAITS & SETUPS Due to ease of use, I forgo using copper and only run leadcore when targeting the top 40 feet of water.  For the most part I use no more then 2 planers per side.  Anymore than two lines per side and  turning becomes a real pain and tangling becomes a real possibility.  The planer board set furthest away from the boat should run the shallowest (least amount of colors).  This is to allow the leadcore to slide over the deeper running line closest to the boat. A typical set for me when fish are down 20-50ft would use a 2 and 7 color on one side of the boat.  The other side would have a 5 and 10 color.  If the 5 color were to get hot, and the 2 color is dead I'd pull the 2 color and replace it with my other 5 color.  I use this same idea no matter how many colors are hot to key in on the bite.  Just remember, keep your shallowest running leadcore furthest away from the boat! If the fish are 50+ feet down, I'll run a 10 color on the outside board and a 300ft copper on the inside.  The other side of the boat will have a 10 color on the outside and a 250ft copper on the inside.  If the fish are 70+ feet down, I'll most likely only run one 300ft copper per side.  Some guys run up to 600ft of copper to get really deep, but that's not fun fishing to me.  A practical way to increase the depth of leadcore or copper line is to add a Michigan Stinger Dive Bomb to the line.  A 4oz dive bomb can gain you an extra 24ft of depth allowing a 10 color to fish up to 70ft down with no added line!   

LURES Lure choice changes everyday, but here is a good starting point.  Most days I start out with 2 flasher fly rigs and 2 spoons or plugs on my 4 leadcore/copper rods.  Last season we cleaned up on Kings using a 10 color with a Chartreuse Protroll flasher paired with a Milwaukee Minnow fly.  That combo was pretty much welded on to one of my ten colors at all times.   The 7 colors seemed to work really well with either a Fishlander Electric Koolaid Spoon or a Michigan Stinger Kevorkian spoon, both in magnum size.  The other 7 color was hot day in and day out with a MI Stinger "Double Pearl FishScale". paired with a Naughty Leprechaun or UV LBB.  Up high on the 2 or 5 color a magnum size Michigan Stinger Craig's Christmas did well.  That's obviously just a starting point and lures changed on a daily basis. Bottom line - Leadcore and Copper catch fish!  It can be a pain to fish them at times but their productivity far outweighs their nuisances. If you'd like to read more about fishing inline planer boards with Copper and Leadcore check out the below post. Using In-Line Planer Boards with Leadcore and Copper Poseidon


  • poseidonflies09

    Luke, I typically use a 22-26" leader measured from the back hook to the end of the mono loop. Spin Dr’s seem to work better with a shorter 22-24" lead and Protroll better with a 23-26" lead.

  • Luke

    Whats your typical fly leader length when using “8 inch spindoctors or other 8 inch flashers”?

  • Using In-Line Planer Boards with Leadcore and Copper | Poseidon Flies

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  • ron

    Can you run dipsy`s and copper or lead core together. If so how do you set a cppoer line out from the boat without tangling into a dipsy line?

  • kevin

    thank you, ive never really tied anything like this before and the san diego jam knot looks easy enough to do

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