Big Board Basics for Western Lake Erie Walleyes
Written by Mike Curreri - Educated Angler Field Staff   
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 18:13

This article is intended as a primer to fishing big planer boards.  While the article is specifically aimed at the shallow waters of the Western Lake Erie and the fabulous walleye fishery there, most of the concepts can be applied to other waters and species.  Anglers who have not used this method or anglers that may have tried it and had problems should find it useful.

What are planer boards?
Planer boards or trolling boards are a method of getting trolled baits away from the back of the boat and off to the sides.  There are two basic types of boards.  The first type are generally referred to as Inline Boards.  They attach to the fishing line between the rod tip and the bait.  The second type of boards are often referred to Big Boards.  These are towed by the boat and fishing lines are attached to the tow line by a release device.  Both are considered stealth presentations.  A versatile angler would be wise to consider both approaches depending on the situation.  There is overlap in application of these devices, but big boards are what will be discussed in this article.

Why use big boards?
There are several reasons to employ big boards for fishing the shallow waters of Western Lake Erie for Walleyes.  Probably the best reason for choosing big boards is that fish can be played unencumbered by extra tackle between the angler and the fish, since the fishing line is released from the tow line.

Most anglers agree that many fish will spook from an oncoming boat in shallow water.  These fish are thought to move off to the sides of the path of the boat.  Lures trolled behind boards end up passing directly through these pods of fish increasing the likelihood of strikes.

Fishing planer boards allows anglers to get more lines in the water.  With big boards run off to the sides of the boat 80 or 100 feet and releases spaced every  10 or 15 feet on the tow line, anglers can easily run 4, 5 or even 6 lines per side without tangles.  This approach also covers a wide swath of water.

Finally, big boards are easier for other boaters to see than the inline variety, especially if you have bright colored flags on your boards.  This can save major headaches on the water when fishing in the pack..

Briefly, inline boards have a couple advantages.  If you’re fishing solo or with one other angler, it is simpler to run inline boards.  Also, when working a small pod of fish on a breezy day on a downwind troll, it is easier to pull and redeploy a small spread of inline boards to run back upwind and set up another pass. 

Boat Equipment and Setup
Equipment needed to efficiently employ big boards is pretty basic.  Specific manufacturers of the equipment discussed will not be mentioned because I don’t want inadvertently miss any.  First you need a set of boards.  These can be either purchased or home made.  Plans for making a set of boards can be easily found on the Internet.  You also need some method of deploying and recovering your boards.  Ready-made commercial mast assemblies which consist of a mast, planer reels, pulleys, and tow line are a good solution for those with open boats.  Bigger boats with T-tops or hard tops generally do not use a mast.   These style boats present many mounting options for your planer reels and pulleys, including mounting to the supports of the top and rail mounts.  The pulleys are used to move the tow point to a higher/further forward position.  These items are commercially available as well.

You will also need releases, lots of releases.  Two guys fishing a small boat should have at least a dozen.  I regularly use over 50 and it is not unheard of to use many more.  If you run out of releases you must reel in your boards to recover them.  Then re-deploy the boards and re-use your releases.  So the more releases you have, the more time you spend fishing.  There is also a product available now that catches releases in the event your tow line should ever break.

When setting up your boat, keep the following general principals in mind.  Big boards exert a lot of force.  Use backing plates or big fender washers and thru bolt the hardware if you are mounting a mast to your boat.  Board snubbers are available to help absorb the shock of wave action that would otherwise be transmitted to your mast or mounting hardware. 

There are two basic things you deal with when fishing big boards.  First you deploy & retrieve your boards using the planer board reels.  Second, you will be attaching line releases to the tow line.  If you are fishing from a boat with a cockpit, it’s real nice not to have to leave the cockpit to do these operations.  In general, you want your tow point (top of the mast or pulley location) to be as high and far forward as possible and still be able to reach the tow line to attach your releases..  Your planer board reels should be mounted about waist to shoulder high to allow for easy operation with chest high probably being ideal.

Rods, Rod Holders, Reels, and Line
You can really maximize your efficiency by using matching rods.  This allows subtle variations in the rod tip action to be easily detected.  These variations can be caused by something fouling the lure such as a weed the size of a blade of grass.  They can also be caused by small fish of the “by-catch” variety (either spike walleye or “junk” fish) that are hooked, but just swimming along with the boat.  The advantages of matched rods really become apparent as you start running 3 or more rods on one side of the boat.  Suitable rods generally run 6 to 7 feet with a medium or medium light action.

Using matching rods doesn’t do any good unless they are placed in holders in such a way as to allow easy comparisons.  Typically, rod holders are placed along the gunwale and spaced closely together, with just enough room for the reels.  The holders are adjusted to be vertical or angled slightly away from the boat and parallel to each other, see Figure 1.

Figure 1. Rod holder orientation, the bow of the boat is to the right. The far right rod
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