Practical Planer Board Tactics
By Tim Huffman
Crappie often move from shallow spawning areas out to flats and along mid-depth channels for their post-spawn pattern. When the fish suspend and chase shad it’s a great time to use trolling tactics to catch them. One tactic gaining popularity for crappie fishing is planer board longlining.
This article features going after suspended fish with planer boards so starting out by rigging right is important. The first piece of equipment is electronics. No surprise here because electronics can be an important tool for reducing search time. Ability to quickly learn fish depths, find schools of shad and the fish themselves, and time reduce wasted trolling unproductive water all lead to more caught fish.
An autopilot-style trolling motor is important so the boat will maintain a set course even when a fisherman get busy catching fish or handling boards. Loss of boat control for several seconds can lead to disastrous tangles. Some fishermen use a kicker motor or the big motor with a trolling plate giving all-day use without worry about batteries going down. The disadvantage of an outboard is added noise.
Heavy-duty trolling racks, strong poles, and planer boards complete the set-up and will be discussed more in detail.
Buying everything from scratch can be expensive. We will assume you’re using your current electronics and trolling motor. A very basic/econo four pole setup will start at $600 and include a set of poles, line-counter reels, a rack/holder setup, planer boards and a few crankbaits. An eight pole setup with quality products will likely be $1800-$2400. Any equipment already in use and that can double-duty for planer boarding will quickly reduce the costs.
“Trolling planer boards is basically longlining on steroids,” says Dan Dannenmueller. He is CrappieNow’s publisher and a regular on the Crappie Masters National Tournament Trail. He and partner Garrett Steele have been experimenting with planer boards for a couple of years and plan to be using them a lot this year.
“The boards have many advantages,” says Dannenmueller. “One is covering up to 400 feet on one pass. This helps to find fish but also to catch fish when they are really scattered. Another is the speed. For example, a fisherman can move boards at a comfortable 1.2 mph allowing a lot more water to be covered compared to slow trolling. A variety of baits can be used making it more versatile.”
Steele says, “Maybe the best advantage of the boards is when fish are spooky. Getting baits out away from the boat is a huge advantage and leads to more crappie. Another advantage is that boards are good in windy weather when slow tactics like slow trolling is a problem due to boat control and bouncing baits. The boards are stable.”
Note that fishing with boards is not without disadvantages. It takes practice and work to put boards on, put them out and remove them when retrieving a fish. They can be a pain. Also, running the boat and handling them after a fish hits requires knowing what to do. Turning requires a lot of room making sure there is not slack in any of the lines.
“The boat driver,” says Steele, “has the job of keeping the lines taut. That’s critical. He has to watch lines, pay attention to the locator and watch ahead of the boat. A two-man team makes the technique easier but one fisherman can do it.”
Typical holder setups will work but Dannenmueller wanted better access to the back of the boat. “We’ve learned we can work better out of the back of the boat with two racks verses a rod across the back of the boat. The pole across the back just gets in the way a lot. By working with David Baynard with Driftmaster, we designed custom racks that wrap around the back corners of the boat so we get a good setup but also racks that are very strong. That’s important when fishing boards. Also, the opening between the racks makes netting a fish much easier.”
The team says rigging a board and getting it out the side of the boat is easier to do than explain. A newcomer can check out Youtube videos to see how the line is connected to the boards.
“We use Off-Shore Tackle planer boards with flags,” says Steele. “The OR12 boards are durable and the flag provides a good strike indicator.”
In the spring, the team focuses a lot on large flats between spawning areas and main channels. Fish get in the flats and suspend. Schools of shad are the main food source and since the baitfish roams around so do the crappie. Trolling allows a fisherman to go to the fish and the boards are great for catching active or spooky crappie.
Dannenmueller says, “Jigs have been our best baits in the spring. A lot of jigs work when placed in front of a crappie but our best performer by far is the Bobby Garland Stroll’R. The jig has a longer length and a great tail action. MoGlo heads work great but sometimes we add Road Runner heads to half the jigs and let the fish show us if they want a spinner. It’s a matter of playing around with different color combinations, jigs and heads to find what works best on a particular day. But for us, the Stroll’R has been the best trolling jig.”
Getting any bait to the strike zone and keeping it there is critical no matter which bait is being used. A Tadpole is a diving weight that gets a bait down and keeps it down. With a Tadpole, a bait can be set to 10 feet by using 12 feet of line under the planer board, where without a Tadpole, 50 or 60 feet might be required. Therefore, depth can be set more accurately especially when speeds change a lot.
“Poles are 8-foot BnM Silver Cats with 5500 line counter Abu-Garcia reels, and Gamma 10-pound line,” says Dannemueller. “Heavier rods are important because there is a lot of resistance when using a board. Pole sensitivity is not an issue.”
“So the process,” says Steele, “is to have the bait about three feet behind the Tadpole sinker, set the depth we want and clip the line to the board. We determine how far the boards will be then let them out. They will run in-line like little soldiers marching along. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.”
Steele says, “The Cat rod’s stiffness is an advantage because when you reel a fish the board turns over and goes behind the boat. There can be a significant amount of pressure on the line. The key is to clear the other lines and boards but that is a matter of experience but it’s easy to learn.”
The team works the area when fish are found. Additional trolling runs will continue in the same path if necessary. However, once the right depth and general area is found, the team usually find fish scattered and they are not restricted to one specific spot.
Early Summer/ Summer
As the water warms fish may move to deeper flats and along deeper channels. A percentage of crappie will get tight to cover but many will suspend up over cover, a drop or other structure/cover. Move out to deeper water until the right areas are found where crappie are suspended and trolling runs can be made.
“The great thing about the boards,” says Dannenmueller, “is that they can be fished at any depth. A board can be in 5 feet of water with baits at 2 feet, or, they can be run in water 40 or 50 feet deep with baits at 20 feet. They are versatile and give trollers a big edge.”
“In the summer the best bite will likely switch to crankbaits. We use Johnson Crappie Buster Shad Cranks. The Shad Cranks have an excellent action and come in a variety of good crappie colors.”
A new wildcard bait the team uses is the Johnson ThinFisher. The blade bait has been extremely successful drawing bites when the jigs and crankbaits wouldn’t.
The team says trolling boards are open water tools. You can’t be in stumps because a hang-up includes breaking off, loosing a bait and Tadpole, reeling all poles in and going to get the board. It’s not practical.
“This is a great way to fish when it’s windy out in the open waters,” says Dannemueller. “The boards cut through the waves and allow fishing to continue when slow trolling can’t be done.”
“Heavy fishing pressure or boat traffic is a problem. The boards cover a wide path. It can be done but the logistics of keeping boards closer to the boat, watching lines and watching for other boats becomes a disadvantage.”
He says it’s versatile because either crankbaits or jigs can be used. They can also be used in combinations.
“There are a number of boards on the market that can be used. We prefer Off-Shore because they are tough and stable. They don’t wobble. A new Off-Shore board is coming out very soon that is a little smaller and will be great for crappie fishing.”
BnM Pole Co. www.bnmpoles.com
Bobby Garland www.bobbygarlandcrappie.com
Off-Shore Tackle www.offshoretackle.com
Gamma Line www.gammafishing.com
Johnson Fishing www.johnsonfishing.com
Road Runner www.ttiblakemore.com