We are wrapping up tradeshow season, and one of the many benefits for us as a company is the ability to interact with new and existing customers. It is always great to hear some success stories, a firm handshake and "thanks" from a guy who had a successful prior season and whacked fish on a copper or stainless wire program.
Probably one of the most rewarding moments are spending time with a guy who just got bit by the bug, and is looking for some input on how to incorporate some of these techniques into his program.
Invariably the topic of leadcore versus copper comes up. Not so much with the salmon crowd anymore, as copper has solidified it's place as the "standby" presentation for most guys under any situation. Love it or hate it, it goes and goes. But the walleye guys are a different breed. For most, leadcore is all they have known, and most have only recently adopted leadcore in the past few years.
So we take a step back and try to walk guys through the been-there-done-that discussion to build a foundation for why we do what we do today. Back in the day..ten plus years ago, leadcore was on the scene as THE way to get baits down deep. We know today that it was really never that deep, but back then it was a way to target deeper fish outside of our downrigger and diver program.
When stranded copper came around and it's style of fishing matured, we spent more and more time trying to figuring out why it does what it does. Without getting too far into the weeds about presentation signatures, let's just leave it that every method of depth attainment in a trolling program has a "signature" in the water. Downriggers, diving planers, copper, leadcore, etc. It is those signatures, in addition to the actual running depth, that results in their success. Too many guys get caught in the trap of just "getting a lure to a certain depth". It very much has to also do with the "signature" of that presentation in the water which makes each of those successful at certain times.
When we get to the copper versus leadcore discussion, outside of the fact that copper is heavier than lead and sinks significantly deeper, we focus on two things. Signature of those presentations, and precision depth control.
Again mentioned above, signatures of the wire or leadcore itself has plenty to do with each of their success....almost to a mind-boggling degree. Case in point, last spring we had crazy cold water for much of the season, particularly in the spring. Knowing this, we fished high in the water column pretty much from ice out through the end of June. Anyone knows that keys to success in fishing a high program, particularly in clear-water high-sun situations is to get spread out with inline planer boards away from the boat, and some method of depth attainment for your lures.
Personally our standard go-to super high water program are inline-weights with bead stoppers. Those...along with 1-2 colors of lead and short coppers are standby's. Until last season, we really never ran many shorter coppers than 50', which at mid range speeds is running pretty shallow. But the water was so cold that anything other than a shallow running flatline stickbait required something to get our mini-spoon program down in that 3-6 foot range under the surface. So out came our standard inline-weight program.
It was okay, here and there, nothing crazy. We tried the 50 coppers, they wouldn't go...just a touch too deep. We tried the 1-2 color leadcore program, that was okay, but nothing crazy either. We knew fish were there, kings were rolling, browns were jumping, coho were buggin. A good buddy of ours gave us a shout early April and said he was wailing on fish on a 35' copper. We laughed, and then clipped 15' copper off our 50' rigs and put them out. They were the hottest rods on the planet for us last spring even well into June....even all the way out over 200 feet of water.
Magnum silver streaks, regular sized Stingers, Thin Fin's...didn't matter. How ridiculous was that? We are not even sure where a 35' section of 32lb copper runs in the water column other than to say it is probably somewhere under the surface to 5 feet down. We tried the same spoons, stickbaits, everything on our inline weights and short leadcores to try and get them to produce like the 35' copper. They were okay, but the 35' copper was going 2 to 1 and 3 to 1 with the exact same baits all the time. That is when we truly began to respect the "signature" component of our presentation, not just the running depth. We still do not have a reasonable explanation as to why, but it doesn't really matter...we have 6 of those 35' copper setups ready to go at a moments notice. Signature is key, and we learned that if you don't have what the fish really want in the water, your program will not be as successful nor as consistent as it should be.
The next piece of the puzzle is precision depth control. Since the beginning, downriggers are the best method for putting lures right back into the "right depth" time after time after time. When we were kids in the 70's, we ran 6 downriggers "stacked" and thought we were gods. When "Dipsey Divers" came out, it was even better...a great way to add more lines to an almost exact depth over and over again for precision depth control. We eventually cut down to only 3 downriggers and a couple of "divers" a side. When we started the leadcore thing, they worked good, sometimes, but not all the time. Even when we got our high divers and shallow riggers going, the lead would produce, but often not at the same pace. There were definitely days that leadcore stood on it's head, but then again most of the program was on fire those days as well.
When we started cutting over to coppers we noticed something. Given our crude understanding of general running depths at that time, we would run one side of the boat with leadcore and the other with copper all in the same relative depth in the water column. Often times, when fishing was tough, copper out performed leadcore. We wrote it off, did not think much of it. Ten years later, it is all we think about. Copper has undeniably outperformed leadcore particularly in tough fishing conditions, and outside of its own unique "signature", for one very specific reason....precision depth control.
When we did our extensive depth testing analyses two years ago, one of the things we noticed was the rise and fall and sweeping of leadcore versus the almost always stable copper. Copper seemed to cut right down to a certain depth and pretty much stayed there as long as you were not turning or playing with the throttle. Leadcore however had more variability in it's depth, apparently swaying and snaking behind the boat, moving throughout a wider range of the water column. Leadcore is significantly impacted by under water currents! That's great when fish are all over in that part of the water column, but when they want it only in a certain depth, that is not so great at all.
Copper fishing wire's success, aside from it's unique "signature" in the water, is it's ability to stay at a very specific spot in the water column at all times whereas leadcore moves in an out of the productive strike zone quite frequently. Would you rather have your bait at the optimum depth nearly 100% of the time, or less than 50% of the time? This is particularly critical when targeting walleye, who are notorious for only wanting presentations at a very specific depth. We see this now too with salmon, particularly when targeting a certain class of fish for a tournament you have to keep your presentation in the optimum location in the water column for as long as you possibly can in order to maximize your success. 50% or less of the time via leadcore just will not cut it. And any savvy angler knows that repeatability is key, and putting your presentation right back to the exact same depth that just took a fish is a huge advantage no longer reserved for downriggers or wire divers. How many times have you had a downrigger go at a specific number, or a diver go at a specific number...and any deviation a foot or more higher or lower and that rod won't move? Believe it, that is no B.S. right there....and copper is the "long game" presentation that can get you that same consistent depth attainment.
We will get guys who swear copper has some kind of electrical conductivity in the water that attracts fish...we are not so sure, and it would be a very tough thing to prove. But when your lures stay at the most productive depth of the water column for that given day more often than not, then you just increased your odds at success. We can certainly stand behind that.