Planer boards have literally and figuratively expanded fishing horizons for anglers for many years, but until recently, not everyone has taken full advantage of this fishing tool.
While fishermen targeting striped bass have long used planer boards to significantly improve their catches, many anglers have decided that planer boards were too complicated to use properly, requiring acute attention to detail.
But that thought process is changing, and an interesting pattern has developed in the mindset of fishermen: if it works so well on stripers, why not use it on other species? And why not expand the uses on stripers while you’re at it?
Planer boards — thin rectangles of plastic or metal and foam, arrayed with a variety of swivels and clips that enable a fishermen to “pull” a spread of baits at different distances from the boat — are not only popular with striper fishermen throughout the Carolinas; they’re becoming a “go-to” tactic for anglers targeting trophy catfish and other species.
Guide Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro, N.C., said planer boards have become a key component to his highly successful tactic of drift-fishing for outlandish-sized catfish on Lake Gaston. A past owner of the North Carolina state record for blue catfish, Royce has two triple-digit sized catfish to his credit and is now addicted to the use of planer boards.
“It’s an overused phrase but ‘I won’t leave home with them,’ is a completely accurate description of my dependence on planer boards for big catfish,” said Royce, who runs Blues Brothers Guide Service (919-724-2474). “When I started experimenting with boards, they immediately added a new dimension to my trophy catfishing. Planer boards enable me to cover more water and deploy more bait, but that’s of no advantage without having complete control of where and how they’re used.
“The advantage of using planer boards is they’re easy to use and enable me to place my baits on very specific targets. I’m always targeting a specific place when catfishing, whether it’s a creek or river-channel ledge, working the middle of a tributary bed, deep holes, points, humps or any underwater topography target where catfish hold.
“To be most effective, the use of planer boards is not a technique to just get more baits in the water; it’s a great technique to specifically fish a target in the most effective manner,” he said. “When I’m fishing the right place having more bait in the water is a real advantage. It is not a random effort.”
Royce said a major advantage of planer boards is they also get the bait well away from the boat. He’s found that’s crucial, especially for really big catfish.
“I’m catching more huge catfish on the planer boards than the standard drift fishing tactics used in the past,” he said. “I certainly still catch big fish with traditional drift-fishing, but I keep meticulous records, and planer boards have improved my big-fish catch rate, and I believe it’s due to getting the boat away from the target while still getting the bait precisely on target.”
Catfishermen are rapidly expanding their use of planer
boards, and striper anglers are doing the same, learning more about how versatile this tool can be to fishing success.
Mike Glover, who guides for stripers on South Carolina’s Lake Murray, said the uses of planer boards are limited only by imagination, and he can combine them with other, traditional methods to improve his catch rate. He said stripers get into a pattern of clustering in localized areas where forage is concentrated, but not always holding on specific hard targets such as points or humps.
“For Lake Murray stripers in this type pattern — which is not unusual — I’ll pull as many as three Water Bugz planer boards off each side of the boat, along with two down-rods under the boat and two free-lines behind the boat. This enables me to effectively cover as much as a 50-yard (wide) swath of water,” said Glover (803-609-0066). “June and July are prime times when forage gathers in a localized area and stripers congregate and suspend in relation to this forage, (which) is the drawing card, not underwater topography. Forage is a moving target that’s subject to quick and frequent changes.
“The planer boards actually help me pick up on changing fish movements. If I begin a troll using my electric motor and we’re catching stripers on both sides of the boat, I know I’m on course. If the pattern shifts to all the fish being on one side of the boat and then we catch nothing, I’ll change course and check in the direction stripers seem to be moving. This information, along with what my (depth finder) depicts, helps me quickly get back on fish. My planer boards can give me a clue of where the fish are moving, and my graph confirms the exact place.”
Glover said multi-tasking is a striper fisherman’s forte, and any or all techniques can be productive on given days, but sometimes one trumps all and it’s frequently planer boards.
Chip Hamilton, a long-time guide on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, said planer boards are a great tool to improve striper success, but anglers need a plan, and it should focus on specific patterns.
“By controlling the amount of line out, rod angle and the speed I move the boat, I pinpoint my bait presentation with planer boards to a specific target a long distance away,” he said. “One good example is (that) big stripers sometimes get on isolated points in shallow water on Hartwell. In this pattern, I’ll often use the boards only on one side of the boat to work those small but highly productive areas. Boards should not be deployed on both sides unless you have a specific reason.”
Hamilton (864-304-9011) said when fishing in a clear lake such as Hartwell — especially when big stripers are fairly shallow — he‘ll often free-line herring behind a planer board or use a very small weight to work the bait just a bit deeper.
“Planer boards do two crucial things in this scenario,” he said. “They enable me to keep the boat well away from where fish are located and thus avoid spooking them. Plus, I fish small hot spots effectively. This is one of my favorite tools for taking finicky stripers in clear water.
“Getting the boat close to the target in shallow, clear water would be a detriment, but a small planer board has no impact,” he said. “It enables me to effectively present the bait right on top of the fish, even in very clear, shallow water. When the fish are in a shallow pattern like this, it’s by far the most effective method.”
Hamilton said to only use the number of planer boards necessary to get the job done. He often uses two at a time for efficiency reasons. When he hits a hot spot, the action can be very fast-paced, and he can keep two boards fishing, where using four might cause chaos.
“I’ve experimented, (and) we’ll put more fish in the boat when I have two boards when fishing a numbers situation,” he said. “But if we’re only targeting a few big fish bites on a given day, then I will certainly pull more boards to get more baits out.”
“I’ll stagger the planer boards at different intervals behind the boat, even if fishing just on one side to work a specific area; 50 and 75 feet behind the boat is a good spacing rule of thumb.”
Another who is guide big on planer boards is Justin Whiteside, who fishes for catfish and stripers at lakes in both states.
Whiteside (803-417-0070) said planer boards are crucial to his bait presentation, and with the right set-up, he can double-dip for two species.
“With planer boards, I can suspend baits at exactly the right depth for suspended stripers, and I can also target fish on or near the bottom and do both effectively on the same drift,” he said. “Last fall and winter at (South Carolina’s) Lake Wateree, we enjoyed great striper fishing working ledges near deep water where big pods of shad were marked on the graph. But the forage was found at random depths, so I staggered the depths of the bait, enabling us to catch lots of stripers and also some big catfish. The cats were also orienting to the big pods of shad, so we often caught multiple fish of both species. That’s the ‘two-fer’ we all enjoy. ”
As Royce said, it’s time to get in on the planer board movement to expand your fishing horizons. Doing so will open up new dimensions in fishing for multiple species of fish.
“Regardless of species, the key for using planer boards to put the bait in the right place for the species you’re after,” he said. “If you stay true to this strategy, planer boards will become one of the most-productive tools you’ll have.”