Lead-Core Tactics For Suspended SmallmouthsLead-Core Tactics For Suspended Smallmouths Bass anglers may not look at trolling lead-core line as a preferred method for catching bass, but it's a viable alternative for locating suspended fall bass.
By Mike Gnatkowski
The one thing that’s never constant on reservoirs is water levels. They are constantly moving up and down. In the fall, the trend is mainly down. In the West, water levels are dropped to accommodate run-off from snowmelt the following spring. Smallmouth bass that have been living in rocks, boulders and patrolling ledges along the shoreline are suddenly force off shore to deeper water. There, the bass have the option of suspending below schools of baitfish or rooting out crayfish and minnows forced out into the reservoir, too. The problem with locating bass this time of year is they can be about anywhere from top to bottom.
Many bass anglers may have never heard or even know what lead-core line is. Lead-core line is line that had a lead center and a Dacron sheath around it. The line is designed for trolling and sinks down depending on how much line you let out. Lead core changes colors every 10 yards so you can tell how much line you have out and potentially how deep your lure is. Lure depth depends on the lure you have on and how fast you’re trolling.
Most bass anglers would think that lead core doesn’t have many applications when it comes to bass fishing. Most bass anglers would agree that they’d rather cast than troll when it comes to catching bass. But trolling lead core has some applications that most bass anglers wouldn’t think of. When reservoir levels are quickly dropped bass are forced to move almost on a daily basis. That can make them tough to find from one weekend to the next. As water temperatures cool in the fall bass change locations from shallow summer hunting grounds to deeper isolated winter haunts and can be anywhere in between depending on the season and water temperature. Finding them on any given day can be difficult.
Trolling with lead core can be a proven way to discover fall smallmouth patterns. One reason is you can run multiple lines at multiple depths to determine exactly where bass are lurking. Most states allow anglers to use multiple lines. While some bass anglers may not even have rod holders on their boats, it’s a simple matter of placing some rail-mount rod holders on the boat. Some boats have built-in, recessed holders that can be used. Lead-core line is relatively inexpensive. It comes in various pound tests, but 18-pound is the most used. It’s pretty easy to add lead core to any old bait casters you might have.
With four rods out anglers can cover multiple depths, cover water via trolling and present four different lures at one time. You can’t do that casting. If you want to increase your coverage area run the lead core off in-line planers boards. Doing so increases your coverage tenfold and lessens the chance for tangles.
I joined Brad Petersen a short time ago to pre-fish for a walleye tournament on a western reservoir. The water managers had been dropping the water levels on the reservoir approximately a foot per day for more than a month. The reservoir was down 48 feet and falling. Rocks and boulders that had once been the most productive areas were now high and dry.
Brad elected to troll with lead core to see if we could hit on a walleye pattern. Fishing had been slow; except for the occasional smallmouth that everyone had reported catching. Brad was running two lead-core lines in rod holders off each side of the boat. We’d trolled quite a ways before one of the rods out 110 feet started to jump. The next question was “What is it?” The rod was thumping pretty good for it to be a walleye. My bet was on a brown bass. Half way to the boat the fish came clear of the water confirming our suspicions. The smallie had jumped on a Rapala micro-crankbait in a baby bluegill color. Brad immediately put a similar-sized crankbait on the other side.
We hadn’t gone far when the same rod started banging again; another fat smallmouth. Soon, the other rods started hammering and before long we’d caught fish on all four rods we had out, all smallmouths. It was all we could do to let lines out, unhook fish and get the lures back out. The bass ranged from dinks to 14 or 15 inches, but Brad said he has caught smallies up to 17 or 18 inches from this reservoir. We never did catch a walleye, but the smallmouth sure made for a fun day.
You really don’t need much in the way of specialized equipment to run lead core. Petersen uses short, 6-foot rods. I prefer longer rods. Old bait-casting rods would work provided they’ll fit in a rod holder. Some anglers prefer longer rods to get lines farther away from the boat. Line-counter reels help keep track of how far lines are out, but because lead-core line is color-coded you count the colors to know how much line is out. You can run anything you’d like as far as lures go on lead core. Cranks, stick baits, spoons, even plastic. You can put out a smorgasbord and let the bass tell you what they want.
Bass anglers may not look at trolling lead-core line as a preferred method for catching bass, but the fact you can run multiple lines, cover lots of water and cover specific depths while presenting a smorgasbord of lures makes it a viable alternative for locating suspended fall bass.
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