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By Larry Hartwick

It seems like every year I am told that with the changing water clarity in the Great Lakes, things are much different than they were a couple years ago. Relic and out of touch are a few of the things that I have heard over the past few years, so in trying to keep a somewhat open mind, I took a serious look at some of the practices that we have used in the past. Here are a few of the things I explored again this year.


10# weights still continue to out fish heavier weights. Sway is not, repeat NOT, a bad thing. It helps define both currents and speed. Without sway on the downrigger wire, an angler is totally dependant on electronics, which sometimes can give false readings due to certain weather factors.


Short leads continue to produce more fish for me than long leads after the sun comes up. Short to me means 6-10 feet from the release. There is a period during pre dawn that there is a noticeable preference for slower moving baits, therefore longer leads. Refer to the ”Nothing is Engraved in Stone” theory. Otherwise, if the 40’ leads quit working about the same time the sun starts to peek out, SHORTEN the leads to INCREASE the action on the lure.


Lead core continues to be a hot topic both on and off the water. Anytime that a vessel needs 600 feet of clearance to maneuver, there is going to be conflict between vessels. A little courtesy goes a long way. There are times when boat traffic is not going to allow a vessel to claim 600 feet of territory. This game is supposed to be enjoyable so do your part.

I have heard a lot of theories on how much depth a full core achieves, so being somewhat a skeptic, I had to find out for myself. So, we put out a full core with a big nasty treble hook on the end of a spoon and proceeded to slide progressively shallower. We did not touch bottom until the digital depth found a little peak at 34 feet, after hitting all the way across the peak, it floated clear in 35 feet of water. The boat speed was a steady 2.4 mph straight line GPS speed with no waves or current present. The full core was set in the same manner that it would have been if it were actually fishing with regard to leader lengths. A half core would drop about half of that distance. 2.4 mph was used as the speed because it was in the middle of the normal speed range. Obviously it would drop deeper at a slower speed and be higher if the boat was moving faster. This varies tremendously from the claims I have heard previously, with some claiming to achieve 50’-75’ depths.


Downriggers continued to be the hot ticket once we did some homework; we found that we had been fishing below the majority of fish on some days. Higher spreads resulted in some phenomenal midday catches. Note that I said spreads, hodge podge set ups with no regard to a pattern were useless. A “V” pattern spread worked the best.


I am continuing to look into ways of getting a lure into lead core ranges without taking up a football field. Several things have shown promise when fished in conjunction with dual planer boards. The Snap Weights hold the most promise; however, I did not have time to test the drop of each at 2.4 MPH with 100 feet of line out.


Dodgers still work great for me, although I can see why the “rotators” (Hoochie, Coyote, Etc… ) gained so much favor in the last few years. They have a very wide speed range which makes them very forgiving. This is something that a dodger is not. A dodger is very speed sensitive. I would think this is the reason the “rotators” have gained so much popularity in the last several years. There are a couple of them that work very well in the right conditions.


I still adamantly dislike rubber bands; there are a lot better alternatives. Salmon anglers should be looking at the OR-8 Heavy releases. This is the right release for Great Lakes Salmon, especially if attracters are being used. It is the only release that I use attached to a downrigger weight for Salmon and using the OR-8 will increase hook ups on fish.


Less still continues to be more when the sun is up. A 2-3 downrigger set up with a couple divers will still light them up all day long, while the boat pulling everything but the kitchen sink usually is watching the action. It is hard to down size spreads, but give it a try.


Speed still kills during midday periods on the right day. If the fish are present, keep increasing the speed until they bite. I’ve caught both Walleye and Salmon at 5 + mph. While this certainly is not the norm, it does assure you that they can catch a lure at 4 mph. Choosing lures that will handle the speed is critical, the regular size Silver Streak is one that will.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Good Fishing.

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By Craig MacPhee, AKA Sick Time

In my short years of fishing the Great Lakes for Salmon and Trout, I have been adamantly opposed to this stuff we have all come to know as lead core. Before I realized the value of this great tool, I swore to all of my fishing buddies that there was no way I was going to resort to dragging lead core behind my boat. If the ole Silver Streak off the ball will not work, they just are not biting was my philosophy. It seemed like every time I went fishing on one of Michigan's Great Lakes, all I ever heard on the radio was, "Hey man, watch out, I have 2 miles of lead core behind me."

This all changed the day my friend Skip Berry called me from his boat (“The Terminator”) from Grand Haven, Michigan (while I was patrolling the freeways of Detroit) to let me hear the drag screaming from his third consecutive 20 pound King. And you guessed it...on lead core. I made up my mind on that day that I was going to figure out what all the hype was about.

After that fishing season, I spent the entire off-season doing my homework. I figured out that I was in the market for four Shimano TDR 1903 rods and four Penn 330 reels. Once acquiring these set-ups, I was faced with several choices on how to rig each with the lead core. I heard that some people prefer to use monofilament for backing while others use some form of super line. I originally went with the monofilament, but soon switched to a super line because I found I could get more line on the spool.


Once mounting the reels on the rods, I rigged each spool with 20-30 yards of 20# Ande monofilament. I never plan on letting a fish take me to the monofilament, but I use this as a backer to the super line so it has something to bite into. Next, using a blood knot, I connect the monofilament to 300 yards of 50# super line. Now, I take the end of the super line and dab it about a 3" length from the tip with super glue. As it begins to dry, I wet my fingers and pinch and twist the line a few times where I applied the glue until it begins to stiffen. Once it sets, I take either a half core (50 yards) or a full core Mason 27# lead core (100 yards), pull about 4-6" of the lead from the middle of the lead core and break it off. This leaves a 4-6" hollow spot at the start of the lead core. Using a Willis knot (designed by the great Charter Captain Willis Kerridge) I thread the stiffened super line into the hollow spot in the lead core until it bottoms out onto the lead that is 4-6" up. Now, you will not believe this until you try it, but a simple overhand knot about 3" into the now super line threaded lead core is all you will ever need to keep this from separating. After all that rigging, I tie a 20-50 foot piece of Ande leader from the lead core to a Sampo swivel then hook it to one of my favorite Silver Streak spoons. Leader weight will vary from 15-20# depending on the time of year and the size fish I am targeting.


I have found that there really is not a guaranteed method that works every time on the water, but what is true is that lead core has its place, and when its working, it is an extremely effective method to take those very wary fish.

Through the help of some good friends, I was taught the basics of lead core and the general theory behind it. Persistence to always do my best on the water has driven me to find some little tricks that work when the typical half/full core methods are not working.

Generally, I have found that running a half core and a full core on each side of my spread seems to help keep my fish box heavy. Typically I will run each behind the new OR-31 Off Shore Side Planer SST Boards (Left and Right models available). Larry Hartwick and I experimented with these extensively (before their introduction) in between tournaments and found that they track true and do not take all of the life from the fish we are catching. The only modification we made was to add another orange, OR-19 release on both the back of the board in addition to the one being on the bracket. You can experiment on your own using either the supplied corkscrew or adding the additional release in its place. You have to trust these releases because they will hold your board without all of the other nonsense associated with the competitors’ models. With these boards, running 2 to 3 rigs off each side is not a problem. In my opinion, these are not only as good as the past models I have used but surpass the performance of them for less money.

Now when it comes time to letting out the lead core, you can’t just let them all go and pray they do not tangle. You have to have a system that works for you. What I have found is that the first thing you want in the water is a half core set-up. It sets up the fastest and will catch those fish in the 15-25 foot range off guard. Hold the first rod far off to the port side of the boat and begin to let your lead out. Once you get it all out, hook the port side (OR-31L) board ABOVE the lead core onto your super line approximately 2-5 feet. Now you have 150 of lead core plus 20-50 feet of leader behind the board. Let the board out a good distance from the boat (this depends on boat traffic and wave conditions) and set it in your highest rod holder. Next, I do the same thing on the starboard side of the boat (using the OR-31R). Now you are effectively running 2 half-core set-ups. I ALWAYS run them on the farthest outside of my spread so that when a fish strikes it more often than not will strip line and go over the top of the full cores we are about to set.

Now for the full-cores. These ALWAYS go on the inside of my spread. Setting these full cores, I hold the rod straight off the back of the boat and let the line out. Make sure you do not let it out too fast or you will end up with quite the rat nest. (Lead core really tightens when it tangles...) When you get all of the lead core out, you are effectively running 300 feet of lead core and a 20-50 foot leader behind the board. This should get you into the 35-45 feet range. Attach this in the same fashion to your Off Shore Side Planer SST boards as you did with the half cores. Now you slowly let the full core out until it is 10 to 20 feet ahead of and in front of your half core. Set it in the lower rod holder and you are good to go. Now do the same thing on the opposite side.

When they are running properly, your boards will look like a flock of geese behind your boat. Picture a "V" pattern with your boat being the lead goose. Set your drags so they click when line is pulled. You want them set tight enough that the boards alone will not take any line out but light enough so that the slightest bite from a fish will trigger a scream from the reel. Let the reel be your tattletale. DO NOT watch your rods tips because they will pulsate like a fish strike pretty much non- stop.

Sometimes you will get a head start and notice that one of your boards will take off south (when you are going north) and fall out of the "V" pattern before you hear your drag. This is a good thing! Treat this activity just like you would a strike. Now, when you DO get a hook-up, and your drag begins to whine, get to it as fast as you can and take it out of the rod holder. Do NOT start pumping and trying to set the hook. Lead core does not work well like that. What we found works for us is to lower your rod towards the water, tighten your drag, and reel up the slack until your board begins to straighten behind your boat. Once you get the slack out, you can lighten your drag again and start to work the fish. A constant pressure on the fish is what you are looking for.

During my first experiences with lead core I wanted to pump it like I would a downrigger fish. This resulted in lots of lost fish. There is just too much slack in the line behind the board if you do that. Concentrate on your board and not the fish. You have to get the board in before you can reel the fish in. If the board dives, let up, if it is moving across the top of the water freely, reel. Use patience and consistency in your reeling action to get your board to the back of the boat. When you get it close (within 15-20 feet) point your rod at the board keeping the tension tight. Slowly reel the board to within 5 feet and lift so either you or your partner can unhook the board from the super line.

What you DO NOT want the board to do is dive. If it does, you will not only be fighting the fish, but the board too. Once the board is released, reel like crazy bringing up the slack until you feel the tension on the fish again. Now, fight your trophy in a controlled manner without all of the pumping action you are probably accustomed to. Once you get to the leader, your forearms might be a bit pumped, but you now have to land your fish. Give and take with the fish bringing it to the back of the boat until your partner can get a net under it. If the fish cooperates and you do everything right, the trophy is yours!


Sometimes the fish are VERY wary and begin to get extremely boat and tackle shy. When this occurs, fish usually go deeper and stay away from just about anything you throw at them. This is where lead core can be your best friend.

I use a Raymarine L750 fish finder and trust that if it marks a fish, it is a fish. If I notice the fish on my graph are deeper than the 20-45 feet that the half and full cores are reaching, I utilize an OR-20 Snap Weight System to go deeper. A good rule of thumb to remember is the deeper/heavier line goes on the inside of the shallower/lighter set-ups. If you remember this, you will be happier with a lot fewer tangles.

To get deeper, I start off by adding 2-3 ounces of weight on my full core set-up directly above the lead core where it meets the super line. With super line you have to make sure you use the OR-16 red clip with the pin in the center that comes with the OR-20. Once you attach your weight, let out approximately 50 feet of super line, then attach your board. Keep the length of line between the weight and your board somewhat consistent and you will be able to reproduce the depth that you find is working. If you cannot judge 50 feet, count the passes that your level wind makes across your reel. The better you are at reproducing the set-up that works the more fish you will catch on purpose rather than just by chance. I have successfully run up to 4 additional ounces of weight on a full-core set-up behind the OR-31 Side Planer SST boards.


This article was not written to be a one style catch all on everyday. As you all may know, each day on the water can bring something new and exciting to the table that we have to overcome to be successful. I have full faith that each of the products mentioned above is a quality product that I have tested personally. Each product can be found on my boat if you look today.

The next time you find yourself thinking that lead core is not any fun to catch fish on and that it is too hard to work for the average angler... think again! I bet that using Off Shore Tackle Company LLC products will make using lead core easier than you ever imagined.

NOTE: Mason now markets a product named Redi-Core that features either a half or full core with backing that is spliced and reel ready.

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By Mark Romanack

It is amazing how a little planer board roughly the size of an envelope can routinely produce fish that barely fit inside a 100 quart cooler! Also amazing is how a pair of in-line planer boards can double the amount of fish taken on each trip!

It is no secret that in-line boards like the new OR-31 Off Shore Tackle Company LLC Side Planer SST board are tearing up Salmon and Trout throughout the Great Lakes and beyond. As the Great Lakes and other top waters continue to clear up from the plankton filtering effects of the zebra mussel, planer board fishing has become more and more essential to angling success.

In-line planers have become so common in the trolling world that it is hard to imagine fishing without them. The key to catching more fish with the Side Planer SST boards is learning how to rig them so multiple lines can be fished without the necessity of clearing lines while fighting fish or fear of tangles.

When targeting large fish like Salmon, it is best to rig an OR-31 so the board can release at the strike and slide down the line. Rigged in this manner, two, three or more lines can be fished per side of the boat, leaving the back of the boat free to fish diving planers, downriggers, lead core or other lines.

This OR-31 Side Planer SST board is a Striper, Salmon and Trout slaying machine. In the package the board comes equipped with an OR-19 (orange) release mounted on the tow arm and a pigtail at the tail of the board. The OR-19 is designed to function with heavy line sizes favored by Trout and Salmon trollers along with providing the grip necessary to insure that fish are hooked solidly before the board releases from the line.

The OR-19 can be attached to the tow arm of the OR-31 as it comes in the package or the release can be mounted using a split ring. Both rigging methods work and each has some advantages.


Using the fixed tow arm method allows the OR-31 to achieve the greatest outward coverage or planing ability. This is especially important when running multiple lines.

The split ring rigging method allows the OR-19 to move freely on the tow arm. While the outward coverage of the board is slightly reduced, it becomes easier to trip the board for changing lures or if a small fish is hooked and the board does not release at the strike.


To insure the OR-31 runs properly and achieves the maximum amount of outward coverage, a second tow point at the back of the board is incorporated. The OR-31 comes factory equipped with a pigtail and is ready for action.


When rigging an OR-31 to release and slide down the line, it is important to incorporate an OR-29 Speed Bead (not included in the package of the OR-31) onto the line about three feet in front of the lure. The OR-29 stops the board from sliding all the way to the lure.

In a pinch a plastic bead can be threaded onto the line or a split shot added. The Speed Bead is a faster, stronger and more convenient board stop.


How the line is placed into the OR-19 on the tow arm also influences the performance of the OR-31. If the OR-19 is simply pinched open and the line placed between the rubber pads, it takes a considerable amount of pressure to pull the line free. When a fish is hooked, the angler may need to give the rod tip a quick jerk to free the line from the OR-19 and send the board sliding down the line.

Small fish pose a problem, because it can be difficult to trigger the line from the OR-19. An easy way to combat this problem is to wrap the line around your finger a few times to form a loop when setting lines. Place the wraps of line in the OR-19 release with the loop protruding. See Illustration.

This simple step allows the OR-19 to hold securely enough that the board runs properly, good hook sets are achieved, but the line can be triggered from the release with only a quick jerk of the rod tip.

Rigged properly the OR-31 is death to Striper, Salmon, and Trout and a great tool for presenting spoons, J-Plugs, body baits and other common Trout and Salmon lures. If a pair of these trolling aids can double your fishing success, imagine how many fish you will catch running 4, 6 or more Side Planer SST’s!

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By Mark Romanack

Everyone who fishes Salmon and Trout wants to stack the odds of success in their favor. Stacking lines is the key to putting more lures in the water and Off Shore Tackle Company LLC (OST) is the leader in stacker technology.

A stacked line is a means of adding a second fishing rod and line to a downrigger, effectively doubling the number of lines that can be fished from each downrigger.

OST’s OR-2 Medium Tension Stacker Downrigger Release is comprised of two OR-1 downrigger releases attached to a short and slightly longer length of steel leader material. The two lengths of leader material are joined with a heavy duty stainless snap that is designed to clip over the downrigger cable.

To use a stacker release you must first rig the main line onto the downrigger weight. An OR-1 medium tension downrigger release is the best choice for Trout and Salmon fishing. Let your lure the desired distance out behind the boat, (20-50 feet works good) pinch open the OR-1 release and place your line near the back of the rubber pads. Close the release and lower the downrigger weight five to 10 feet below the surface.

Take the OR-2 release and clip the stainless snap over the downrigger cable and close the snap. Take the release on the short lead, (it should be positioned on top of the longer lead) pinch open the release and bury the downrigger cable into the rubber pads. Next grasp a second fishing rod and let the desired lure 10-20 feet behind the boat. Take the stacker release on the longer lead and pinch it open. Bury the fishing line of the second rod deep into the rubber pads and close the release. See Illustration.

Now when the downrigger weight is lowered two lines will be deployed a fixed distance apart. Stacking helps not only to set a second line from a downrigger, but also helps in spreading out lures in a trolling pattern.

Two downriggers equipped with stackers will often out fish four downriggers that aren’t equipped with stackers. Stackers allow a second line to be added to your trolling pattern without adding the additional cost of another downrigger. Also keeping the number of downriggers to a minimum helps in reducing the amount of cable hum created when trolling. It is a good idea to keep the stacked line on a shorter lead than the main line to avoid tangles. Also, the stacked line should be a lure like a spoon or shallow diving crankbait that will not dive down and foul the main line. These simple tips help to reduce the chances of tangles and keep the stacker and main line fishing effectively.


When small fish are a problem, try using the OR-7 Light Tension Stacker Downrigger Release (white). Designed for Walleye, Brown Trout and smaller Steelhead and Salmon, the OR-7 functions the same as the OR-2. The lighter tension of the OR-7 is ideal for smaller fish.


Many anglers use sliders instead of stacker releases. A slider is simply a spoon or other lure rigged on a short length of monofilament with a heavy duty snap swivel on both ends. One snap swivel is attached to the lure and the other clipped over the main fishing line. When the lure is tossed into the water it slowly works its way down the line. How deep a slider fishes depends on how fast the boat is trolling. When a fish is hooked on a slider, the rig slides down the line to the downrigger weight. Because there is no tension on the slider rig, many fish that strike are not hooked securely.

Compared to a stacker rig that can be fished at any desired point along the downrigger cable, sliders are crude by design and function. A stacker also provides the necessary resistance to insure the fish that hit are hooked solidly. The cost of a stacker rig is well worth the investment when you consider how many more fish it will produce and how they can help anglers duplicate a productive trolling depth.

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By Mark Romanack

The sport of fishing is full of secrets. The sport of fishing is also full of short cuts and homemade products that are designed to save anglers money, but end up costing them fish. For every commercially designed and manufactured downrigger line release there are two homemade options available to anglers. All the homemade versions are inexpensive; unfortunately, all these homemade products will let you down at the worst possible moment.

“I am always amazed that an angler will spend hundreds of dollars on quality downriggers, then go fishing with a two cent rubber band as a line release,” says Off Shore Tackle Company LLC (OST) CEO, Bruce DeShano. “When it comes to homemade line releases I have seen them all. I have also seen a lot of fish lost needlessly because an angler got penny wise and dollar foolish.”


A downrigger is only as good as its weakest link. The downrigger line release has to function flawlessly or expensive downriggers can not do their job properly.

The secret to producing a quality downrigger release is understanding how important the tension setting on these releases is to fishing success. If the release tension is too light, fish that strike will pull the line of the release easily and not hook themselves in the process. If the downrigger release tension is too heavy, the angler will not be able to trip the release when a fish is hooked.


While the function of a downrigger release sounds simple, the fact is building a quality release is very difficult. Achieving the desired results is difficult because of a number of variables that must be taken into consideration. When OST manufacturers a line release they take into consideration line stretch, line diameter, trolling speed and lure type.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all downrigger release. OST produces three different downrigger style releases to insure optimum fishing success. The OR-1 Medium Tension Single Downrigger Release is designed for fishing Salmon, Trout and Steelhead. The OR-4 Light Tension Single Downrigger Release is designed for Walleye and fishing smaller Trout and Salmon. The OR-8 is a Heavy Tension Single Downrigger Release designed for salt water fishing and Muskie fishing situations.

The tension setting of each of these releases can further be adjusted by how deeply the line is placed between the rubber pads. The rule of thumb is to error on the heavy side when choosing line releases and setting the tension setting. It is also important to note that line releases are designed to function with monofilament line, not super braids (AKA super lines) or other braided lines.


Rubber pad style downrigger releases are designed to hold monofilament line securely without damaging the line. Over time however, the line will begin to cut into and wear out the rubber release pads. The rubber pads in all OST downrigger releases are inexpensive and can be easily replaced as needed.

Super braid lines are not designed to be used with rubber pad line releases. If these lines are used, the rubber pads will need to be replaced frequently and it may be necessary to use a higher than normal spring tension on your downrigger releases.

Commercial downrigger releases may seem expensive compared to rubber bands, alligator clips and other homemade releases but there is no substitute for quality and function in the world of downrigger release aids. The only way to guarantee you will hook and land the maximum number of fish, is to insure you are fishing a quality line release.

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By Mark Romanack

It is widely accepted that trolling is one of the best ways to catch Salmon, Trout and Walleye. Any time anglers are faced with the chore of finding and catching fish on large bodies of water, trolling is the obvious choice. Trolling can be just as effective on smaller bodies of water and equally deadly on a wealth of other species. Panfish, Pike, Muskie, Bass and even Catfish are fair game for trollers who know when and how to target these fish.


Crappie are classified as panfish throughout their range. The title comes from their size, not their feeding habits or behavior. Crappie may be small compared to other species, but these widespread fish are also aggressive predators. During the weeks prior to the spawning season, Crappie are especially active and readily caught using trolling tactics. During the pre-spawn period, Crappie often stage in deep water areas adjacent to the shallow flats where these fish spawn. Huge schools often suspend in open water where they are easy pickings for anglers who troll small crankbaits behind the Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer.

The same medium or light action trolling rods, reels and lines used for Walleye fishing can double as Crappie trolling equipment. The crankbaits selected however, should be Crappie sized models. A few examples of good baits for Crappie trolling include the No. 5 Shad Rap, Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow, Rebel Crayfish, Cotton Cordell CC Shad, Norman’s Baby N and Bandit 100 series, but just about any small sized crankbait will produce Crappie.

Fishing two in-line boards on each side of the boat makes a good Crappie trolling spread. Crappie often run small and it can be difficult to detect bites and hooked fish. To solve this problem equip the Side-Planer with a Tattle Flag kit. The spring loaded flag kit allows the flag to fold down from the weight of a hooked fish. Even small fish are readily detected on a board equipped with a Tattle Flag.

The Tattle Flag is sold only as a kit, not as boards equipped with Tattle Flags. Each kit comes complete with a flag, wire (linkage arm), spring, spacers and two OR-16 Snap Weight Clips. It takes about five minutes to convert an ordinary Side-Planer into a Tattle Flag board.

Start out trolling by varying the lead lengths on each crankbait to maximize the vertical spread of the lures. Experiment with lead lengths until a few fish are caught, then simply duplicate productive lead lengths and lures with other lines.

Pre-spawn Crappie sometime scatter in open water, but usually the best schools form along the deep water edge of breaks, weed lines and other cover. You will have the most success trolling areas adjacent to flats, emerging weeds, submerged brush and other cover that Crappie use when spawning. Early in the season water on the north and west ends of the lake receive the most exposure from the sun and warm first. Schools of pre-spawn fish will be attracted to these areas first, then other areas as the lake begins to warm.

Other panfish such as White Bass readily fall victim to this same trolling strategy. White Bass are especially aggressive and noted for traveling in huge schools.


Northern Pike and Muskie are also especially vulnerable to trolling. These fish will strike at trolled lures most any time of year. During April, May and June these fish are most apt to be found in shallow water near flats with emerging weed beds. Later in the summer, adult Pike and Muskie abandon the shallows and head for open water where they often suspend in the water column and target Whitefish, Ciscoes and other pelagic baitfish.

Trolling crankbaits in cooperation with Side-Planer boards can make short work of these toothy critters in both spring and summer. Early in the season it is tough to beat a trolling pattern of stickbaits, worked over the tops of emerging weed growth. Most stickbaits only dive from six to eight feet, making them ideal for fishing over the tops of emerging weeds growing in six to 10 feet of water.

Some of the top Pike producing baits in this category include the Reef Runner RipStick, Rapala Husky Jerk, Rebel Minnow, Storm ThunderStick, Mann’s Loud Mouth, Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue and Bomber Long A. In clear water select natural finishes and reserve brighter colors for fishing water that is stained or dirty.

Set these lures from 40-80 feet behind the boat and attach a Side-Planer to the line using both the front and rear mounted OR-14 line releases. Squeeze open the pinch pads and place the line near the back of the rubber pads. To insure the board stays securely on the line, check to be sure the spring in the OR-14 is slid into the forward (toward the pads) or heavy tension setting.

Pike and Muskie living in shallow water can be very spooky. For the best results, let the Side-Planers out to the side at least 75 to 100 feet. Stacking two boards per side of the boat makes an effective and manageable trolling pattern.

Pike and Muskie strike hard and then immediately make a short, but powerful run. The Side-Planer will telegraph this strike by dragging backwards sharply in the water from the weight of the struggling fish. When trolling Side-Planers there is no need to set the hook. Instead, keep the boat trolling forward while reeling the fish towards the boat slowly. Adjust the drag tension on the reel so the line slips a little while the angler is fighting the struggling fish. Fight the fish by keeping steady pressure on the fish and reeling slow and steady. Stop reeling only when the fish makes a run.

As the angler begins to win the battle, the board will be reeled within reach of the boat. Remove the board from the line by pinching open the two releases. Once the board has been removed from the line, you can slow down the boat or put the motor in neutral for the remainder of the fight.

A similar approach works when these fish suspend over open water. Instead of using only shallow diving stickbaits, mix in some deeper diving crankbaits into the pattern. Pike and Muskie like high action crankbaits. Some good choices for open water trolling include the Storm Hot n Tot, Bomber 25A, Reef Runner Deep Diver, Storm Deep ThunderStick, Rapala Deep Husky Jerk, and Luhr Jensen Power Dive.

When setting up a trolling pattern, vary the lead lengths and lure running depths to cover as much water as possible. Often Pike/Muskie will suspend just above a thermocline where the water is cool and well oxygenated. The book Precision Trolling is a trolling guide that shows the running depths of hundreds of popular crankbaits. The data provided is based on lead length and line diameters, making this handy reference the final word in crankbait running depths. Currently in it’s 7th edition, Precision Trolling is $29.95 and can be ordered by calling Precision Angling Specialists at 1-800-353-6958.


When most anglers think of Catfish, they see images of bottom fishing with live bait. Many species of cats, especially channel Catfish, are aggressive predators that can be readily caught using board trolling tactics. In many bodies of water such as Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, Catfish travel among packs of suspended Walleye because they prefer the same roaming schools of minnows.

Cats can be caught using the same trolling techniques used for Walleye. Crankbaits, spoons, weight-forward spinners and crawler harnesses are all good lures for Catfish trolling.

Adding a touch of live bait to a crankbait trolling program can help target a few more Catfish bites. There is no doubt these fish feed by smell as well as sight. Simply adding a small piece of nightcrawler to the back hook of a crankbait is an easy trick that interests both cats and Walleye.

Another trolling technique that is deadly on cats is crawler harnesses trolled behind Off Shore Tackle Snap Weight in-line weights. As with other species, Snap Weight trolling works best when combined with Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer boards.

Like suspended Walleye, Catfish can be anywhere in the water column when they are hungry. The best approach is to vary lead lengths on crankbaits and the size Snap Weights used with live bait rigs to achieve a number of different depth levels. Change lead lengths often and let the fish communicate which lures, weights and depth ranges they prefer.

Cats taken from the Great Lakes often average eight to 10 pounds. Few fish pull any harder than a channel cat hooked in open water.


The words Bass and trolling are seldom found in the same sentence. Tradition dictates that Bass are one of those species that anglers normally cast for. Ironically, both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are easy targets for trolling tactics.

Early in the year slow trolling over the top of flats with emerging weed beds is a good way to target Bass that are cruising the shallows looking for an easy meal. Shallow diving stickbaits are the key to fishing this shallow water environment.

As the weather and water warms, Bass will begin to use deeper water. Trolling diving crankbaits along weed edges, meandering breaklines and even in open water often produces amazing catches of both Large and Smallmouth Bass.

The trick is to keep moving and fish tight to cover including weed edges, rocky shorelines, sunken islands, reefs, the tips of long points and other places where Bass can find both food and cover. The Side-Planer is a great tool for searching out bass and other alternative species. Salmon, Steelhead, Trout and Walleye are the most popular species targeted by trollers, but they are not the only way to get your string stretched. Panfish, Pike, Muskie, Catfish and even Bass are waiting to be taken. When you start trolling, you never know what you will catch.

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By Mark Romanack

Have you ever had an in-line planer board pop off the line and drift away? Sure, anyone who has spent much time trolling these boards has experienced this problem at one time or another.

Often the board pops off the line because the angler did not get the line into the release mechanism correctly. Sometimes the board pops off because the line is jerked out by heavy seas or trolling at high speeds. If the line snags, the board can also be pulled from the line; however, the most common reason in-line boards pop off the line is because an increasing number of anglers use super braid lines.

Most line releases are designed to work with monofilament, not super braids. The thin diameter and low stretch properties of super braids make them great trolling lines, but they simply do not work well with most planer board releases.

Off Shore Tackle Company LLC’s OR-18 Snapper solves the problem of in-line boards popping off the line forever. This unique line holding device is both a line release and line holding device in one. Instead of using spring tension to hold the line between rubber pads, the Snapper uses a cam action lever that can be used two ways.

To use the Snapper as a line release, adjust the single set screw to set the desired release tension, then place the line between the rubber pads and close the cam action lever backwards. When using the Snapper as a line release monofilament lines from 10-30 pound test may be used.

To use the Snapper as a line holding device, adjust the set screw for a heavy tension. Place the line between the rubber pads and close the cam action lever forward. A pin in the cam lever fits into a hole at the front of the release, making it impossible for the line to pop free of the Snapper’s grip.

As a line holding device, the Snapper can be used with super braids, monofilaments and other line types. Ideal for anglers who troll with super braids, this easy to use product can be opened and closed with only one hand. The set screw adjustment on the Snapper allows this line clip to be adjusted to securely hold any diameter or type of super braid line.

When using the Snapper there is no need to wrap the line around the jaws. Simply open the jaws, place the line between the rubber pads and close the jaws using the cam action lever in the forward position. That is it, the line is secure and there is no danger of line abrasion.

The Snapper is sold as an after market item for the Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer board. To install the Snapper, simply remove the bolt and nut that holds the standard release in place. Replace the release with the Snapper and you are ready to go fishing.

Off Shore Tackle recommends using a Snapper on the tow arm and an OR-14 as the rear tow point attachment when rigging the board to stay on the fishing line. The Snapper also works well in combination with OR-12TF Tattle Flag kits.

Keeping the Side-Planer on the line and fishing is a snap with the Off Shore Tackle Snapper.

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By Larry Hartwick

Although I am very comfortable fishing planer boards, divers, or lead core lines, my number one method for putting fish on the lines is downrigger fishing. This statement will probably surprise some people, but the first lines that get set on my side of the boat are the downriggers. It does not matter whether we are targeting Salmonoids or Walleye the downriggers remain my first go to method. Why? Because they produce results!

Twenty years ago, articles on downrigger fishing were very prevalant in the outdoor magazines. The problem lay in the fact that the material in the articles was the same old stuff with different authors slant applied to the story. Some bordered on plagiarism as writers struggled to be experts in fields that they were not qualified to write about. People got really tired of reading a gaggle of words that said nothing of use to an angler of any experience level.

With this in mind, we have probably neglected the people who are starting to learn downrigger fishing or would like to if they were armed with the proper knowledge. This article is designed to cure that problem.

Downrigger fishing is also called Depth Control fishing for good reason. It is really the only trolling method that can be repeated with a high degree of precision. It offers day after day of repeatability no matter what boat you are on.

What you will need to get started are downriggers, trolling weights (AKA cannonballs), line releases, rods, reels, line, and terminal tackle (i.e. lures).

Either manual or electric downriggers work great. Choose the one that fit your budget and needs. Our manual downriggers can also be converted to electric down the road. If you choose a manual downrigger, make sure that one turn of the crank handle raises the weight 2 feet instead of 1 foot. This obviously equals half of the effort required to retrieve the weight.

Downrigger weights need to be at least 8# in weight to offer the proper resistance required setting the hook on a strike. 10# weights are the right choice for the Great Lakes angler and should not exceed 10#. There is a lot of bad information being handed out to beginning anglers. The worst being the use of extremely heavy weights, remember downriggers are not boat winches. With proper care and use they should last as long as the boat. The theory behind using very heavy weights is they hope to eliminate or lessen the amount of sway that occurs from the weight to the downrigger. A downrigger normally set at 100' is actually between 85-90' deep at normal speeds.

While reducing sway initially may seem like a good idea, cannonball sway is not only necessary but also vital. Cannonball sway is a TOOL that we use to monitor speed changes and currents.

With a little practice, you will be able to read the boat speed and tell changes in speed before the person looking at the digital speed indicator notices. You will also see how prevailing lake currents affect your boat speed. Boat speed is a critical part of the trolling equation so why eliminate part of the tools available to you?

The release is one of the most overlooked but probably as important as the lure selection. The job of the release is to hold the line securely without doing any harm to the line. It also cannot release prematurely while being able to set the hook upon a fish strike. That is a pretty tall order to fill! Luckily, Great Lakes anglers have a couple options that fill the bill known as Off Shore Tackle Company LLC’s OR-1 and OR-8 releases.

The OR-1 Medium Tension Single Downrigger Release is the proper release to start with. It is a very good and simple to use release that does it all. The OR-8 Heavy Tension Single Downrigger Release is a heavy tension release that we use when fishing attractors, mainly dodgers and flies, or the newer rotating attractors and flies. These rigs create more drag and therefore need a release with more tension. The OR-8 is not a wimpy release and should not be used on line lighter than 20# test. Rubber bands have their following and I have experimented with them over the years. The next statement reflects TENS of THOUSANDS of hours on the water. If you are using rubber bands, they are costing you fish in the boat! Period. The percentage of solid hookups using the OR-1 or OR-8 releases is significantly higher. To those of you that I fish tournaments against, please keep using rubber bands.

Great Lakes anglers are blessed with a huge variety of rods and reels to choose from. Suitable rod lengths for downrigger fishing range from 7' to 8 1/2' in length. Consider the available room in the cockpit area of the boat, tight quarters call for shorter rods. The longer rods will give the angler a better leverage advantage and are slightly easier to use when maneuvering a fish to net. My favorite rods are made by St. Croix, but I'm pretty picky. Reels should be level winds WITH a good clicker. Why anyone would design a level wind trolling reel without a clicker is beyond me but they have. The first time that you let down a lure on a downrigger without the reel clicker engaged it will become self-explanatory why they are essential. There are a lot of good quality reels on the market so look them over and pick out the one that fits your budget.

Great Lakes trollers should pick a quality line that is low stretch with good abrasion properties. A good choice for a casting line is NOT normally a good trolling line. Casting line needs to be limp, while trolling line should be pretty stiff stuff. My favorites are Mason T-Line and Ande Premium lines in at least 20# test. I usually use 25# because I fish a lot of dodgers and flies, and dodgers are hard on line when they get wrapped around a fish. There is no difference in the amount of strikes you will receive using 17# test or 25# test line. There will be a difference in how often you need to replace tackle however. Remember that gill net is made from heavy monofilament line and thousands of WARY fish stick their heads in it every year. So that kind of shoots holes on the LINE SHY THEORY.

Terminal Tackle is really the fun part of trolling. Anglers can have a ball experimenting with various colors, tape combinations, and patterns. We refer to this as arts and crafts days when it is too rough to fish. Great Lakes anglers will need a variety of spoons, dodgers, rotators, flies and plugs depending on the time of year. Buy quality tackle and it will last. A good bet is to check with some veteran anglers in the area you intend to fish before filling the tackle box and finding out that your color preferences don't match those of the fish.

Spring fishing shows are a good avenue to research the good color patterns. Tackle manufacturers want you to catch fish on their products so they really aren't going to sell you a bunch of color combos that won't work. There are a lot of good spoons out there but my go to spoon is usually a Magnum Silver Streak. Richey's Flies, Purple Taco Flies and Salty Dog Flies also see a lot of action. There are many more good flies out there that I haven't had the time to use.

All the dodgers and attractors work, so choose the ones that best fit you needs. J-Plugs and various body baits (minnow imitators) also work well at the right time of year so don't ignore them.

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1. Let the lure out behind the boat to the desired distance (usually 6-30').

2. Attach the line to the weight by putting the line into the release pads of the release that is attached to the weight.

3. Lower the weight to the desired depth (remember to add 10 percent to the depth for sway).

4. Place the rod in a rod holder and reel in enough slack line to put a bend in the rod.

5. Relax and wait for a strike, sometimes changing depth or lure colors.

6. When a fish strikes, line releases from the line release and the rod pops straight up.

7. Remove rod from the rod holder and reel in slack line until the fish is felt.

8. Fight and land fish.

9. Grin ear to ear.

10. Take pictures of the fish so you can brag to friends and co-workers.

11. Repeat Sequence.

12. Pretty easy huh?

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By Bruce DeShano

With the forming of the National Striped Bass Association (NSBA) and their 73 tournament format, Off Shore Tackle has become a participant in their events.

Off Shore Side Planer SST's are now on the market in a bright orange color, without a flag and with the heavy tension adjustable OR-19 adjustable release. It has the pigtail (AKA corkscrew) for the slide back method of fishing the board. This is the method of choice for the Striper angler and now they will not have to hunt for extra parts. Once rigged this way, the board will release from the front clip and slide down to the stop or the weight ahead of the hook. By putting the screw eye and corkscrew on the end of the board, it will pull through the water easier when fighting the Stripers.

The NSBA (www.fishNSBA.com) will have many of the events televised on the Outdoor Channel, giving added exposure to Off Shore products throughout the South. Striper teams are being added this year to go along with the extensive walleye, trout and salmon programs for anglers fishing competitively or guiding.

The NSBA format is family orientated and when I fished one of their events last year with Guide Tim Tarter at Lake Cumberland, KY everyone had a great time. There are a lot of husband & wife and parent & children fishing these events. It is a great way to introduce youths into the fun of fishing. Big fish are possible at every event with the sight of a 40# fish bringing a big smile to any anglers face. NSBA will have several categories this year for anglers of different skill levels. Check their website (www.fishNSBA.com) for all the possibilities. It is going to be a lot of fun fishing for stripers.

Striper are very common in the southern lakes and the tournament trail will go from Pennsylvania to Kansas. They are a great fighting and excellent eating fish and their population is maintained by stocking. They do not reproduce to any great extent in fresh water impoundments. Striper can be caught with a variety of methods. Casting, trolling, fishing jigs in deep water and with live bait. Many of the fish are caught with boards and very slowly trolling live shad. It is almost as much fun throwing a cast net for the bait as it is fishing for the Striper.

For those of you (me included) that do not care to sit on a bucket in the winter looking into a hole in the ice, Striper are the answer. From KY to the Carolinas these fish are biting all winter. Guides are available everywhere and the weather at its worst is usually better than anything we have up north at that time! Give this fishery a look and I think you will be surprised. I know I was and I will be found several more times during the year fishing for these beautiful fish.

Maybe we will have to organize a "Northern Invasion" next winter and have a striper outing for snowbirds. What do you think? Let me know.

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By Mark Romanack

The tradition of walleye fishing is alive and well. Each spring tens of thousands of anglers head to their favorite river with the sole purpose of boating a mess of walleye, then later sharing the sweet harvest with friends and family. Traditions like this have become so interwoven in the fabric of our lives, it is hard to imagine the arrival of spring without a walleye trip or two.

The various ways walleye are targeted is steeped in some long standing beliefs that these popular fish bite certain presentations better than others. Overwhelmingly the most popular way to fish for early season walleye involves casting or vertically jigging jigs tipped with minnows. These long standing fishing methods have proven themselves effective for generations and for many anglers there is little reason to try anything else.

Anglers all have their favorite fishing methods and I am certainly no different. Vertical jigging has put hundreds of walleye in my livewell over the years and convinced me that no other angling method can compare when fishing flowing water. I was wrong.

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting Doc Murray, one of our most colorful and enthusiastic river anglers. A retired general practitioner, Doc spends virtually every free minute fishing the Detroit River from late March when the first spawning fish enter the river until early June when the final waves of fish make their way back to Lake Erie.

His preferred method of fishing; the unlikely technique known as hand lining.

I had spent some time watching Doc fish and had a good idea what hand lining was all about, but nothing is a substitute for actual on the water experience. Doc invited me to join him in his boat and proceeded to explain the wonders of hand lining. Thanks to his patience and willingness to share, I soon found myself beginning to understand why so many anglers swear by unusual fishing strategy.

For those of you who are not familiar with hand lining, it is one of the most unique and unorthodox river trolling techniques ever developed. Except for some isolated exceptions handline fishing is primarily limited to a pair of rivers located along the eastern border of Michigan. The St. Clair and Detroit Rivers are collectively two of the most important spawning areas in the Great Lakes for walleye. Countless fish from Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and as far away as Saginaw Bay migrate to these rivers each spring to spawn.

Handlining got its start on these Michigan rivers, but it works anywhere anglers fish for walleye in flowing water. Tournament anglers have carried this technique far and wide with impressive success. Still, the average weekend angler knows little about hand lining or how it can help anglers catch more walleye.

Handline fishing is exactly what the name implies. The angler doesn't use a traditional rod or reel to fight the fish, but instead pulls the fish in hand over hand until it can be netted or simply flipped into the boat. A spring loaded reel loaded with braided wire is mounted to the boat and used to manage the main line.

Attached to the end of this wire is a lure spreader locally referred to as a shank. The shank is actually another piece of wire with two or more clevices attached at key points along the shank that accept trolling leads made from heavy monofilament line. At the bottom of the shank a heavy snap accepts a lead weight that ranges in size from 12 ounces to two pounds.

Depending on water depth and current speed, just enough weight is selected so when the wire, shank, leaders and lures are all lowered the angler can easily feel the weight tunk bottom.

Currently the most popular reel for hand lining is produced by Riviera Downrigger Corporation (Model # RCWIRE). The Riviera reel comes pre-spooled with braided wire, a rail clamp mount, and rod holder adapter to conveniently fit the reel to the boat, trolling shank and a lead weight. The angler only needs to add his own leaders and lures to get started hand lining.

The object of hand lining is to use the weight to maintain contact with the many contours of the river bottom, while taking every caution not to drag the weight or snag bottom. The trailing harnesses are staggered in length so that two lures can be fished near bottom without fear of the lures tangling one another. Normally the bottom clevice is located about two feet above the weight and a 20 foot leader of 20# test monofilament is attached to this clevice. Further up the shank another 18-24 inches a second clevice is secured that accepts a longer 40 foot leader.

This two line configuration is the most common used by handliners because it allows two lures to be fished tight to bottom where walleye strikes are most likely to occur with little fear of snagging or loosing the lures. Most anglers favor small stickbaits when hand lining such as the famous No. 11 Rapala floating minnow, but a wealth of other stickbaits and even spinner concoctions are often used by handliners.

To set a handline and begin fishing the angler begins slowly trolling upstream and pulls out enough wire to lower his weight a couple feet into the water. The leader attached to the bottom clevice is then set by threading it out into the water by hand. Once this bait is set and swimming properly the shank is lowered a couple more feet into the water and the second leader is let out. The second leader is longer to allow the bait an opportunity to dive deep enough to be positioned tight to bottom.

Spare leaders are pre-tied, marked for length and stored on a leader wheel to prevent them from getting tangled. Once both leaders are set and swimming freely, the weight is lowered the rest of the way to the bottom and the angler grasps the wire lightly using the index finger of his right hand if he is fishing on the starboard side or left hand if he is fishing on the port side.

A typical handliner will control the boat using a tiller outboard and fish himself on the starboard side, while a buddy fishes the port side of the boat. Some more sophisticated handliners rig special foot pedal in their boats so they can steer with their feet and leave both hands free to fish!

As the boat trolls along upstream, the angler can easily lift and drop the weight while keeping track of changing water depth. Meanwhile the trailing stickbaits are positioned near bottom 100% of the time. Unlike jigging that allows the bait to constantly enter and leave the strike zone, hand lining keeps the lure where fish are most likely to see and strike it all the time. It is no wonder this unusual trolling technique is so effective.

When a fish strikes, the bite is rather easy to detect through the wire line. When the strike occurs the angler can1t determine if the fish is hooked on the top or bottom leader. By simply allowing the spring loaded reel to collect the wire, the angler gently pulls the fish to the surface until the shank comes into view. At this point the angler checks each leader to determine which one has hooked a fish. Without slowing his forward motion, the angler then pulls the fish in hand over hand until it can netted or if the fish is small flipped over the side of the boat.

Once landed, the leader is returned to the water and the shank lowered again to bottom. Slick!


Hand lining has been practiced and refined for generations. There are very few ways to improve on the basic hand lining presentation, but the way anglers approach the river bed can make a huge difference on how many fish are contacted and ultimately caught.

The bottom of a walleye river is rarely flat and featureless. Instead the bottom composition changes from soft mud to scattered rock or a combination of rock, sand and gravel substrate. In addition deeper waters such as the river channel wind around features such as points, islands, etc., creating a convenient navigation route for walleye moving both up and downstream. Walleye prefer to travel along and rest near these meandering edges whenever possible.

Because a handline angler is in constant contact with bottom, it is easy to identify areas that feature hard bottoms, drop offs, depressions in the bottom or other structural features that walleye prefer. In short, a handliner is learning the intimate details of his fishing area in a way that jig angler can not match.

To the casual observer, it appears that hand lining is mostly about aimlessly trolling upstream. In reality there is some aimless trolling involved in getting to know productive stretches of the river bottom.

However, once a handline fisherman has found a 3spot on the spot 2 that is holding fish, it becomes second nature to make repeated passes over the structure that is holding fish. By quartering into the current, the angler can present his trailing lures to fish that the boat has not passed over.

It is even possible to troll downstream while positioning the boat for another upstream pass over prime real estate.

The longer an angler uses the handline to explore his river environment, the more intimate his knowledge of the river bottom and places where walleye hang out becomes. Over time this angler develops a mental list of spots that typically hold fish and each day on the water simply becomes a milk run of sorts.

Few anglers understand the rivers they fish like a handliner. This often misunderstood trolling technique is without question one of the most efficient ways to fish flowing water.

Hand lining may not be for everyone, but I learned first hand not to knock it until I tried it. Frankly, it is hard to imagine a river fishing technique that could do a better job of keeping lures in the strike zone.

Effective in clear or stained waters, the hard core handliners ply their craft after dark, but for beginners fishing in the daylight is the best way to develop confidence in this game.

The tradition of fishing spring walleye in rivers is alive and well. Maybe with the help of hand lining it is time to start a new tradition?

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