The Chairman Of The Boards

Bruce DeShano seems laid back enough — until he talks about his passion for speed. The founder of Off Shore Tackle likes to drag race a souped-up Mustang with 700 horses under the hood. He reaches speeds more than 140 mph in a quarter mile!

He has another passion — the tactics he uses to pinpoint the location of monster walleyes on the big water of the Great Lakes!

He has a lead foot in the boat, too. He trolls fast until he sees one of his Off Shore planer boards dart backward and throb signaling, “Fish on!” After that first catch, he slows down just enough to entice more strikes from the school. But he keeps the speed up to cover as much water as he can.

“When the water is warm, you can’t take a bait away from a fish,” said DeShano, who spent 20 years as a charter captain and competed on professional walleye circuits. “They get fat chasing minnows. If they want your bait, they sure as heck can chase it down.” 

DeShano’s approach to fishing is the same one he used in the early days of Off Shore Tackle when he could carry his company in a shirt pocket. He keeps things simple.

When he started Off Shore as a side business to his full-time job as a powerhouse mechanic with an electric company, his first product was a clip to hold weights to take baits down deep for salmon and lake trout. Unlike the downriggers on the market at that time, his clip release let fishermen see the rod load up when they had a hit. 

Ted Takasaki

He first thought he’d sell his clips to companies that were already making downriggers and planer boards. But when they weren’t interested, he went it alone. He made his own boards after walleye professionals, Gary Parsons, Keith Kavajecz and Mark Romanak, lent their expertise to the design. Al Lindner soon dubbed DeShano, “the chairman of the boards.”

Adds Weighting System To Boards
DeShano added weighting systems for trolling to his product line as well. Off Shore’s mission evolved to become the manufacturer of products to enable anglers to cover big water fast from top to bottom and side to side. These are the keys to finding fish fast. Off Shore Tackle arrived on the scene right on time. Anglers were hungry for the right tools and the information on how to use them. 

DeShano’s method to finding fish begins before he launches his boat. He starts the process by sitting at the dinner table with a chart. He uses his knowledge of seasonal walleye movements and information to get a general location of where fish might be. Fishing websites are another great source of information.

He then narrows his search by finding a reason for fish to be in a certain area, namely breaks and holes. Big waters such as Lake Erie or Lake Huron are different than your neighborhood lakes, which may have breaks of several feet. Drop-offs in the Great Lakes may be extremely subtle. Even a foot or two is enough to hold fish. Electronic mapping coupled with GPS is a great tool to find and follow breaks in the middle of nowhere far from shore.

Next, stop at bait shops on the way to the launch. Ask for the latest information on where fish are relative to shore and landmarks, such as islands. Ask how deep they are and what baits they’ve been hitting on. Popular baits give you start on what to try, but DeShano warned not to be limited by this information. Sometimes the “something different” will trigger more strikes than the old standbys.  

Find out what the main food source is for that body of water. If it’s shiners, they’ll be closer to the surface. Shad will be in the middle zone. Suckers and creek chubs will be on the bottom. The predators will be in the water column nearby.

Once on the water, DeShano spends more time looking for balls of forage fish than the hooks, which could be walleyes. Find the food, find the predators. Even more than nice would be to find tight round balls of baitfish. Then DeShano wants to find balls that have gaps in them or holes. Those are panicked bait and a sign walleyes are in the attack mode, he said.  

There is a need to be precise. What good does it do to catch a walleye if you don’t know how you did it? The two most important questions to answer after that first fish or two are the following: where was the bait in the water column and how fast was it moving?

“The biggest mistake the weekend fishermen make is they don’t know where they caught the fish. You have to be able to repeat it,” DeShano said. 

Weighting systems are critical. Thanks to Off Shore, you need just two kinds in the boat most days, namely Guppy Weights and bottom bouncers.

Guppy Weights can be used as snap weights and/or as in-line weights. Start with the snap weights. Put on your lure, let out 50 feet of line on the line-counter reel, snap on a weight, then let out 50 more feet, then add an Off Shore planer board and run it to the side. Repeat the process exactly that way changing only the size of the weight each time from 1 ounce, 1.5, 2 and 2.5 ounces. When you’re done, four baits are running at different depths in the water column. (Guppy weights also come in a half-ounce and up to 3 ounces. They’re made of zinc, a metal that allows Off Shore to be more exact about the weight than lead which tends to vary considerably.) 

Need To Repeat Successful Pattern
When DeShano gets a hit on one lure, he duplicates that weight on one of the other three lines. Two are now running at the depth that produced while two are running at other depths. If he gets another strike at the productive depth, a third line is changed up to run with the other two. He always reserves the fourth line to experiment. If strikes stop, weights are adjusted to run four different depths again until a productive depth is found again. For very deep fish, Off Shore’s Tadpole weights will get baits down 30 feet.

Change up colors, too, but lure action and speed are the two key factors. Once lines are set, DeShano puts the hammer down (not as fast as he does in that Mustang) but quick in trolling terms. In summer when the water is warm, he speeds along at 2.8 to 3.5 mph making “S” turns, which speeds up the outside boards and slow the inside ones until he gets a strike. When that strike comes, he’ll know what depth and speed produced the fish so he can repeat the process precisely. The GPS and electronic mapping systems allow anglers to mark exactly where fish were caught so the boat can be turned on active schools.

Snap weights are good when trolling spinners and ‘crawlers for suspended fish. Let the spinner back 5- to 50 feet behind the boat, then add a 2- or 3-ounce weight and let out a known length of line, say 30 or 50 feet. You can repeat the successful combination that way. Bottom bouncers take spinners all the way down. 

Spinner blades come in different styles, shapes and colors, too. Use big Colorado or Willow leaf blades. They have an erratic action that makes a minnow, leech or ‘crawler irresistible. Spinners work best down to 0.8 mph and up to 1.7 mph.

DeShano uses in-line weights when the fish are consistently at the same depth over a long period. But weather can change that. When it does, he returns to snap weights. In-line weights also are good when walleyes are shallow. The baits can be run 10- to 12 feet back from the boards, which allows for quicker turns.

The same concepts work on smaller lakes, too. Off Shore’s mini planer boards are perfect for local, small inland waters.

Big waters such as the Great Lakes can churn up fast when a storm blows in. Make sure you keep an ear to the weather radio and an eye to the sky. Don’t venture out without a GPS to show you the way back to the launch if fog obscures shoreline details. 

But don’t let big water scare you. A lot of fun and big fish are waiting Off Shore. 

Shop The Sportsman’s Guide for a fine assortment of Fishing Gear.

Ted Takasaki has many fishing achievements, including in March, 2010, when he was named a “Legendary Angler” in the “Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame” at Hayward, Wis. He had a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later.

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