Using in-line side planer boards for the first time can be intimidating to someone who has never tried them before. I know it was for me, the first time I used them. I was lucky though I didn't have to learn them on my own. I had two great teachers, who taught me how to use these boards correctly, right out of the box. One of those men, was Bruce DeShano, the owner of Off Shore Tackle Company, L.L.C., and creator of the Off Shore Tackle Side Planer Board, and the other was PWT Champion and RCL Professional Walleye angler Rick LaCourse.
Not everyone has the opportunity to be shown how to use the boards by such talented tutors, so I'm going to share some tips with you that I learned, and hopefully it will help you put more fish in the boat!
There are several different brands of planer boards to choose from, and whichever brand you choose, the following tips will help you. I like to use the Off Shore Side Planers, because they run true in the water, even in big waves, and can be easily seen even at a long distance out. The Off Shore brand makes learning to read boards easier too, because of some of the options available, like the Tattle Flag kit.
Having the right equipment can make trolling with in-line boards much easier. The right rods and reels for your style of trolling will make a big difference in your success rate.
Rods are designed for many different applications. A good walleye trolling rod would be a rod that is at least 8-10 foot long with a medium / soft action tip.
Purchasing several of the same rods will make learning to read the boards easier. By watching the rod tips you can determine if a fish is on, even if you can't determine that by watching the board. If you have different makes and models of rods set out, it becomes more difficult to read the rod tips, since their actions will impart different results.
A line counter reel, or a reel with an attachable line counter device is a "must have" while trolling. In order to put your baits in the strike zone, it's important to have an accurate line counter to get your baits to the desired depth. There are several different manufacturers who make a quality line counter reel or attachable device. Talk to your local baitshop, or fishing merchandise retailer, for the reel that would best suit your needs.
The best "trollers" on the water will never leave the dock without a copy of the "Precision Trolling Book" in their boat. This book is what is often referred to as the "Trolling Bible". This unique book provides depth diving data for over 179 popular trolling lures. Each lure features an easy to read "dive curve" chart that shows anglers how to achieve target depths with crankbaits, diving planers, leadcore line, snap weights and other trolling aids. In addition, trolling tips for using planer boards, downriggers and other popular trolling methods are also outlined in this information packed guide.
The latest edition of this book (6th) can be ordered from www.precisiontrolling.com or by calling 800-353-6958. Several of the larger baitshops, and sports related retailers will carry this product also including the product section of Walleye Central.
The number one reason side planers are used is to cover a lot of water fast. Another reason is that they will move your baits out away from the boat to catch fish that are easily spooked. Clear water lakes are especially good lakes to use planer boards on. The boards can be used in deep water and in shallow water. It all depends on what baits your running and where the fish are.
When you're open water trolling, what you want to look for on the electronics is a cloud of baitfish, with some "hooks" (actively feeding fish) underneath it. Make a mental note as to what depth the hooks are suspended at. Take the boat back around to make a pass over the fish, but have your baits in the water by the time you pass over them again.
One tip to making trolling easier is to have the waves following you while you troll. This allows the boards to run smoother, and makes it easier to control the boat while you fight a fish.
If the active fish are feeding 27 feet down, then I know that I want my baits to run anywhere from 15-25 feet down. Since suspended walleye forage on the bait they see above them, it's important not to put the baits below the depth you're marking the fish at.
Since I know what depth I want to run my lures, all I need to do is pick out a lure, and look it up in the Precision Trolling Book. The depth curve chart will tell me how much line I need to let out before attaching the planer board.
This is where the line counters are invaluable. The accuracy of your lure depth is dependant on how accurate your line counter is. The diameter of the line you're using and the speed of the boat are determining factors too. If you didn't know how much line you had out, it would be impossible to know what depth your lures are running at.
The Precision Trolling Book was written by testing all the lures using a 10 pound test mono line. The book has a conversion chart that will tell you what a different diameter line will do to the depth ratio. This allows you to make adjustments in the amount of line out to achieve the target depth.
Boat speed is determined by lure action, and by what the fish tell you they want. If the speed is too fast, some lures will "spin" or "roll", making them useless, and more than likely cause them to tangle with other lines. Watch the action of the lure at the side of the boat before you let it out. When you're happy with the action, that's the speed you want to stay at. You can experiment with speed by making "S" turns while you're trolling. When you make turns, the boards will run faster on one side of the boat, while the boards on the other side will run slower. When a fish hits, make a note as to what side of the boat it hit on while in the turn. This will tell you what the fish want. They might want the lures faster, or they might want them slower. This is just a fast way to find out how fast you should be moving.
Off Shore Tackle Side Planers are designed to run on either the port side or the starboard side of the boat. The port side board is marked "left", and the starboard side board is marked "right". To attach the board to the line, simply squeeze the releases on the board and slip the line in between the two pads. There are several different releases that can be used on the Off Shore boards, so it's important to get the best one for your fishing application.
For anglers who like to use the super braided lines, the OR-18 release is the best one to use. Although it's expensive, it was specifically designed for this type of line.
The Off Shore boards come with two black releases, the OR-14's, but they have a lower tension rate than some of the upgrade releases available, and are usually replaced by serious trolling anglers. The black releases will work fine on smaller bodies of water with less waves, and on calm days on the big waters. However, I don't recommend them for someone who plans on using a superbraided line.
The OR-16 release, which is red, has a pin in the center of it. It is the most popular choice when it comes to upgrading the releases. New for 2002 is the OR-19. It's basically the OR-16 without a pin in the center of it, and is colored orange.
The Off Shore Side Planers come with a stationary flag. This flag allows the angler to see the boards better while fishing in big waves. The Tattle Flag is an upgrade from the stationary flag to a flag that has the ability to tell you when you're dragging a small fish around, or if your baits are junked up with weeds or other floating matter.
The Tattle Flags are designed to move up and down, by setting a tension spring, and is triggered when a fish hits the lure. When a fish bites, the flag will drop down towards the board, telling you that there is something there.
Tattle Flags can help an angler learn to read the boards faster too. They also help keep your "clean" baits in the strike zone longer. If a lure is junked up, or you're pulling a small fish around, then that bait is no longer able to catch a fish for you. The Tattle Flags prevent time wasted.
If you're using the Tattle Flags, it's important to remember that in order for the flag to work properly, some slack must be left between the two releases.
Once the board is attached to the line, drop it over the side and let it float back. Once the board is back as far as you want it, engage the reel, to stop the freespool. The board will then plane out to the side of the boat. Set the rod in the rod holder furthest forward and proceed to set your other lines. Keep the boards running a good distance apart, until you become comfortable using them, and it will help you keep your lines from tangling.
Once a person gets used to running boards, they usually come up with their own routines for setting and retrieving lines. A very common way to cover a lot of water, is to run the baits on the outside boards higher in the water column while running deeper baits on the inside boards.
Even if you're not marking fish high, it's a good idea to set some lures high. Reason being, if there are fish high in the water column and the locator isn't recognizing them, you will still have a chance to catch them. The fish caught that aren't shown on the screen are often referred to as "ghost" fish, and 8 out of 10 times an angler will catch a few of these.
"A very common mistake anglers often make with in-line boards is the methods they use to reel in a hooked fish", says Off Shore Tackle's Bruce DeShano. "When a fish such as a walleye is hooked on an in-line board, the weight of the struggling fish causes the board to be dragged backwards in the water. Don't set the hook when you see the board jerking backwards. Jerking on the rod at this point is only going to pull the board out of the water and not pull against the fish. What often happens is the angler jerks the board, giving the fish slack line that allows the fish to escape." Instead of jerking on the rod when a fish is hooked, simply reel in the fish and board together using a slow and steady retrieve. "Set your drag so you can just gain line on the fish as you're reeling," advises DeShano. "If you set the drag too tight and the fish runs, the board may be pulled under water. The line may break or the fish may simply pull the hooks free."
"Here's another way to avoid problems when fishing with in-line boards", says DeShano. "When the board is getting close to the boat it will pull out of the water and become suspended on the line between the rod tip and the fish. If the rod tip is suddenly lowered, the board will splash down into the water and can dive in much the same way as a diving planer digs. Once the board clears the water, keep the rod tip up and don't let it touch the water again".
If you have a partner in the boat it makes it easier to reel fish in. While one person reels the fish in, the other will take the board off the line. The person who is taking the board off the line needs to make sure not to snap the line, as he/she lets go of it. This will cause a fish to become unhooked. Once the board is off, keep the line pinched between your fingers and follow the line up to the rod guide as your partner reels in the fish, then let go.
With practice and patience anyone can learn to use in-line planer boards. I only touched on a few basics, but that should get any first timer going in the right direction. There is a lot to learn, but it's well worth it. Trolling with boards is a fun and fast way to put more fish in your boat!
For more information, please visit Off Shore Tackle's website at www.offshoretackle.com and order the free newsletter, "The Off Shore Release". This publication is packed full of helpful tips and tactics for the beginner to the professional!
If you have questions and no one to answer them, post your questions at www.walleyecentral.com and someone is sure to give you some great advice!
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org