Planer Board Buyer's Guide

Planer boards and in-line planers are ingenious devises that help anglers cover more water and get lures away from the boat and in front of fish that aren’t spooked.

Full-sized planer boards are ideally suited to big, wide-open waters where you have plenty of room to maneuver. One big advantage of larger planer boards is that you can run multiple lines off of one board. The big boards also track fairly well in rough seas. The one draw back is that you need a mast in order to run the boards and in high-traffic situations maneuvering around other anglers and boats can be difficult.

Once a troll is set up, the boards are attached to the end of a tether line attached to a planer board mast reel. The board is eased over the side of the boat and allowed to pull out along side the boat. The boards are cut at an angle so that they plane off to the side, port or starboard; hence the name planer board. Make sure you have the proper board on the proper side. The board is then let out gradually using the reel on the planer-board mast. Planer mast reels come in manual and electric models. The distance you let the board out depends on traffic conditions; wave conditions and how many lines you want to run off the board.

Lures are then let out a fixed distance behind the boat, generally 50 to 100 feet and the lure is attached to the tether line using a release. Pinch-pad releases are the most popular type of release for use with planer boards. The release has a loop or ring on one end that is placed around the tether line, which allows it to slide down the line. The first line is let out the farthest, closest to the board. Subsequent lines are spaced along the tether line. As each rod is set it's placed in rod holders along the side of the boat, with the first the closest to the bow and at slight angles to prevent the rods from touching and to facilitate grabbing them once a fish strikes. Once a fish grabs one of the trailing lures, the line snaps out of the release and the result is "Fish On!" Lines are shuttled down the tether line depending on which line had the strike. The line that caught the fish is then reset closest to the boat.

Releases are allowed to pile up along the tether line until you're out of releases or they accumulate too much in one spot. Lines then need to be reeled in and the boards retrieved to collect the releases. One drawback with the big boards is that once a fish strikes the lure and releases the line, there is usually quite a bit of slack in the line. The slack needs to be quickly taken up before the angler makes solid contact with the fish. If your hooks are sharp and the fish are aggressive, hookups are usually consistent. But when fish are striking short, you'll miss lot of the bites with the bigger boards or lose lightly hooked fish during the fight.

The full-sized boards are ideally suited for places where trolling for walleyes is a proven tactic or for targeting shallow-water trout and salmon or anywhere fish can be found close to the surface. You'll find a selection of planer boards and planer-board masts made by Cannon, Riviera, Big Jon and others at and in Cabela's retail stores.

In-line planers are just a smaller version of the bigger planer boards, but they have several advantages. For one thing, they are simpler. They don't require a mast to run them. All you need is a sturdy rod holder to put a rod and reel in. Like the bigger boards, most varieties of in-line boards come in port and starboard versions.

In-line boards generally impart more action to the trailing lures than full-sized boards. In-line boards jump and dart in the waves and pull back and scoot forward when making turns imparting an erratic action to following baits. Movement like that triggers more strikes. On the strike, in-line planers pull back under the weight of the fish, cutting down on the angle between the boat and the fish. This constant tension results in surer, more positive hookups and higher landing ratios. One of the few drawbacks of in-line boards is that you have to fight the fish with the board on the line. You can also only run one line per board when using in-line planers.

While full-size planer boards are standard in size and design, in-line boards come in various sizes for different applications. The exception to standard planer boards is Big Jon-s Otter® Boat. The Otter Boat is a revolutionary planer design that tracks straight and performs well in rough seas. The unique design creates minimal water resistance allowing the planer to pull farther from the boat. The Otter Boat can also be switched from port to starboard use in seconds.

In-line boards vary by size and weight. Yellow Bird Side Planers are considered the first side planers on the market and are still a favorite among trollers who are pulling lighter, clean baits behind boards. Yellow Birds can be rigged to remain on the line so you can take them of manually when fighting a fish or allow them to trip and stay on the line offering less resistance during the fight. To rig them so they trip, simply add a faceted bead above a barrel swivel and then a short, 4- or 5-ft. leader and snap swivel or a Speed-O-Bead about six feet up the main line. Let out the line 50 to 100 feet as normal and then attach the board. Once a fish strikes, it will pull the line out of the release and allow the planer to slide down to the stop. The board doesn't interfere with the fight that way and doesn't slide all the way down to the fish and potentially knock the lure out of the fish's mouth.

Church Tackle makes a variety of in-line boards from their for applications from pulling small spoons to dragging long lengths of heavy lead-core line. Match the board's size and abilities to the type of fishing you're doing. The largest Church board is a favorite for Great Lakes applications when fishing with lead core. One great design feature of the Church boards is the spring-loaded release pin at the back of the board, which makes taking the board off easy and quick. That's important when you're got a big king salmon yankin' on the other end.

Off Shore boards have been the standard among walleye fishermen for years. Off Shore was the first to incorporate a Tattle Flag that telegraphs light strikes from fish like walleyes. They also have a board designed for trout and salmon anglers.

Releases on planer boards are usually the pinch-pad type. The exception is Church's Super Clip release, which incorporates a space-age material that holds lines securely, yet is easy to release.

There nothing too complicated about planer boards or in-line planers. Give them a try this season. There's a good chance they'll become an essential component of your fishing arsenal.