Trolling Wire

How to Use Wire Line to Improve Results
by Brett Brown

In today's world of colorful electronics, fancy downriggers and high tech fishing it's easy to overlook wire line. That's a shame. For wire remains a budget choice for deep water trolling.

I still have a roller guide (bamboo!) rod and a large spool Penn reel filled with Gladding's Mark Five wire, and a newer solid fiberglass rod fitted out with rollers for monel solid wire. One summer we took this along on a couple of striper trips down to Lake Mendocino. I slow-trolled a Lucky 13® I've owned since 1955 off 20 feet of mono leader from my Scanoe® with a 1.2 H.P. 12 pound Cruise N' Carry® motor with the help of what must be the oldest Hummingbird® flasher unit in California. Annette caught two more fish than my buddy who owns a boat with more electronics than Silicon Valley. As usual when we troll, I only caught undersized stripers.

Years ago my uncle Frank and I took stripers trolling salmon-style plastic squids on wire 150 feet deep at the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. This system still works, but apparently not at the South Tower in today's scarcity of San Francisco striper. 

Such deep trolling suits lakers and buddy catches inLake Tahoe at up to 250 feet deep with copper line. In most states with decent warm weather, landlocked stripers, even black bass, hide deep in the summer months so you need to follow them down to do well. Fish that prefer cooler water, like lake trout or even kokanee, call out for wire.

It's often overlooked that wire also suits deep river trolling in strong currents that would otherwise require two or three pound sinkers and a release. Priced sinkers lately?

Granted, wire line is not for everyone. It does kink and can rust or stretch and let go when you least expect it. At times I hate the stuff. However, it gets deep. It even suits downriggers because you have less slack than with mono. Whether you use solid or stranded wire and materials such as monel, stainless or copper, or go with lead-core, you face challenges. Fortunately, the solution to wire line problems is a right choice of line and tackle, decent upkeep and proper technique. 

A roller-guide rod with a soft action stands up to the abrasion of wire best. I wrap my own on "refurbished" solid fiberglass or bamboo rods. Roller guides and wire tend to punch through today's thin wall rods under heavy tension, so an underwrap and solid bamboo or glass rods work well. Note: old bamboo rods sometimes have hidden rot so check them carefully.

If you buy a new rod, check those designed for saltwater and/or wire line. If you can't go all roller guides, at least invest in a roller top as that's the spot with the most potential to kink or wear line.

Soft rod action helps avoid line stretch if you use a long monofilament leader. Stretched wire doesn't recover well, so you need to avoid this. Soft rods also offer a bit of give that's handy with lively fish on rather inflexible line.

Traditionalists feel a conventional reel with a large diameter spool helps keep line from kinking and helps speed retrieves. Another school claims wide spools are easier to "unkink" and high-speed reels retrieve fast enough. I own and use both types.

I run 100 yards of wire in freshwater and 200 wards of wire in saltwater or when trolling for lakers 250 feet deep in Lake Tahoe. I spool wire on top of 100 or more yards of braided Dacron which forms a springy bed that helps the reel stand up to the pressure of tight wire. Backing line should be at least 40 to 50 percent heavier than the wire so you don't loose all that expensive metal on a snag.

Don't use wire on level-wind, spinning or any other reel with plastic spools. Wire tends to abrade and jam level-winds and eats pickups on spinning gear. It can burst plastic spools.

Line test need not be excessive. I use 25 and 30 pound test for most applications and have used 12 pound test trolling deep for trout and 50 pound test in saltwater.

Line choice depends on your use. Lead-core line uses nylon or dacron which may be braided or bonded over a lead core. The strength of line is strictly in the jacket. Dacron seems better than nylon coating as it stretches less. If the jacket stretches a lot more than the lead, the lead tends to break up. I prefer lines marked at regular intervals with color changes.

"Wire" lines come in stranded and solid. Stranded lines don't kink, fatigue or fail as easily as solid, but tend to fray, leaving wire "stickers" that eat up guides and fingers. You can get twisted wire in three and seven strand wire, cable-laid wire, 49 strand, and a number of other versions. Some of these come with vinyl coatings which inhibit abrasion until the coating wears out. Worn coatings can jam guides too.

I haven't used stranded wire much as it does not go as deep as solid wires, and deep is the name of the wire line game. You can find these lines in monel, stainless or copper.

Solid wire is just that, solid. Monel metal, a nickel-copper alloy, is my choice for solids in freshwater. It subjects other metals to galvanic corrosion in saltwater. This means that you must have a stainless or Monel or nickel-plated reel spool, swivels, etc. on monel line in salt. The disadvantages of monel are that it does not get quite as deep as stainless and it costs twice as much. I particularly like dark monel line.

Stainless steel is strong and thin for the test and very durable and rust resistant. It's a good choice if you are more careful than I with line. I've filled two reels with stainless and lost fish to failed kinks the first season.

A buddy used copper line he "reclaims" from old phone lines and loads on a wooden reel. Copper won't stand up to saltwater, and it's pretty thick for the test so does not sink much better than lead-cores. Can't say much about it; I've never used it, but it suited grandfather.

Whatever your line choice, do realize it's critical to properly connect wire to leaders and backing. Crimps sized to the line, figure eight knots and, with coated wires, a heated twist knot all work well. On really heavy line such as 49 strand wire, a big game loop works well. You can find directions on how to tie these in Gary Soucie's excellent Hook, Line and Sinker or any book on fishing knots.

Leaders should be long -- mine run 30 feet to 30 yards so they take most of the abrasion of snags and such and protect the wire against the stretch that eventually wears it out. I use Trilene XT® 30 percent or more lighter than the wire. I've thought about the new braided lines, but haven't looked at these. Make sure your leader/wire knot or fastener goes through the rollers! A buddy failed to do this and ended up handlining a 30 pound striper the last 45 feet!

All of these metal lines need careful rinsing and drying if used in saltwater -- I do this in freshwater too. In fact, I spool wire and lead core off the reel onto home-made holders made from five gallon ice cream containers. I do this twice to reverse the line each season and to better check for wear.

Wire Line Techniques

Once you are rigged, you need to consider a few special points to fish wire well. First, a glove on the left hand, if you are right handed, lets you lay line down evenly on the reel so it does not build up on one side or the other and jam. This can cause all sorts of major problems. Wise fishermen never touch wire lines with bare hands either.

Second, line must always be let out and reeled in under tension. If it goes on the reel slack and you hook a fish or snag on bottom, the line will cut down through the loose coils and jam. When this happens a pair of needle-nose pliers can help. If you do hang wire on bottom, hope your drag is lightly set so the line does not stretch too much as you back down on the problem.

Don't forget that wire lines do sink. So if you hook one fish trolling deep with multiple wire lines out, try to turn your boat to deeper water until the other lines are reeled in. This can be a problem if you are short handed. So I keep a half-gallon float on board that's attached to a snap. When Annette hooks a fish and I need to run the boat (Lou's Rule says, "Wives always hook the fish when trolling.") I snap the float on my line and the boat speed takes it back toward the lure so that's less likely to hang up. Given these points and some experience you should have the deep trolling situation "wired."