Fishing & Boating News

Planer Boards For Dummies

Tricks and tools for detecting bites (and weeds) when trolling crankbaits behind planer boards

by: Mark Strand,

(Monday, February 07,2000 - ) Nobody disputes the value of small in-line planer boards for crankbait trolling. Boards help you spread lures wide from side to side when searching for scattered fish. The fish might be suspended, or roaming flats. Boards also let you run crankbaits right in to shallow fish, without having to float your boat over their spooky little heads.

But a lot of people don't use planer boards, because they don’t know how to recognize when one of their lures has picked up a bit of weed, or a small fish has bit and is being dragged along. Even big fish that bite sometimes provide such subtle clues that the untrained eye remains clueless.

The use of planer boards adds a layer of complexity (at least perceived complexity) that many anglers decide they don’t want––so they miss out on a lot of fish.

As with many other areas of modern life, technology to the rescue. We aren't even going to go into the traditional way of ‘reading’ planer boards. Let’s skip right to the latest tricks, and a couple new gadgets, that have ushered in the era of "Planer Boards for Dummies."

Line 'em up
One trick the best planer board trollers are using is to fish four lines at once (you must, of course, have enough anglers in the boat to allow four lines). Rod holders, positioned two on each side of the boat, really help. The line coming from the forward-most rod holder will become the ‘outside’ line. Its planer board will be let out farther to the side than the line closer to the back of the boat, which is the 'inside' line. The forward-most (outside) line will also feature a shallower-running lure (even if it's only slightly so) than the inside line, in case a big fish bites the outside line and drags it over the inside line.

The key to success with this setup is to line the two planer boards up, so at a glance you can tell whether the 'formation' has been broken, even slightly. "When one of those little soldiers falls out of line,” says Rapala pro Ron Seelhoff, “you reel it in, because you know something is up."

That 'something' might be a bit of weed or moss on the hooks of your lure. It might be a small fish that got hooked. Or, it can even be a big fish that bit the lure, and is swimming along with the boat.

Set a clicker trap
For this next trick, your trolling reels have to have a clicker feature, with which you can set the reel to freespool and adjust the tension. Bruce DeShano, a pro fisherman and owner of Off-Shore Tackle (makers of planer boards), taught us this one.

"Get the board set out where you want it," says DeShano, "and then set the reel to the clicker mode. Adjust the tension on the freespool until the reel can just barely hold the planer board from pulling out line. It's about right if a few clicks come off the reel when you go over a big wave or gun the engine.

"Now, when you get any extra load on the boards (such as weeds on your lure, or even a small fish), you hear a click-click-click as the line goes out. I've gotten to the point where I can tell whether it's a walleye or a sheepshead by what the clicking sounds like."

This 'clicker trap' method works well when you have only one board out each side of the boat, at night, or anytime you have to face into the sun.

Use a Tattle Flag
As promised, technology to the rescue. Offered as an accessory and widely available, the 'Tattle Flag' looks about like the flag on your mailbox, and operates like a reverse tip-up to indicate strikes (or any increased tension) on a planer board.

Similar to the clicker trap example, you initially set the tension on the spring-loaded flag to match the tension placed on the line by your lure. Then, any time even the slightest change occurs in the amount of tension, the flag 'tattles,' letting you know that line may need attention.

"When you get a fish," says Rapala pro Scott Fairbairn, "the flag pulls down and disappears. There's no question about it any more. And another thing I've noticed that has really helped me in tournaments is that fish often hit the lure––really hard in some cases––but don’t get hooked. Then, a couple hundred yards down, you'll see another strike, and this time you got the fish. I think they keep following it after the initial hit a lot of times. Not only does it help me stay ready for the second strike, but it helps me know where the fish originally came from, which may be the location of a bigger school of fish."

Add a night light
Another accessory available is a blinking strobe light that clips to the board, or even the flag. The light makes night trolling with planer boards possible (although the clicker trap can also be an effective night weapon).

The days of long-winded descriptions of what a bite looks like on a 'naked' planer board may be over. No longer is it necessary to log hundreds of hours studying those little fluorescent ships, earning a degree in diagnosing the difference between 'just your lure' and any increased tension.

Put these tricks and tools to use this season. The advantages of in-line planer boards are obvious. And now the additional bites that come with their use can be obvious, too.

Note: These articles are provided by the Rapala Professional Advisory Team. Join the Rapala Fishing Club, and help shape future lures! You get a prototype lure and become a Field Evaluator! You also get 6 issues of "Profile," the Club publication, and two different decals. Cost is $12 in the U.S., $17 in Canada, and $25 in all other countries. Send membership dues to: Rapala Club, Dept. SC, POB 581126, Minneapolis, MN 55458.