Planer Board Tactics for Lake Erie’s Central Basin

Lake Erie walleye fishing has changed dramatically from the mid 1970’s and 1980’s drift and cast fishing techniques. Most walleye fishing 20-30 years ago was concentrated on Lake Erie’s shallow Western Basin. Walleye populations peeked in the mid 1980’s with an estimated popula- tion of 8 million. Today’s walleye population is estimated at around 20 million.

Lake Erie’s Central Basin extends from Kelley’s Island, located in western Ohio, to Erie, Pennsylvania. The Central Basin wall- eye fishing has evolved over the past 20 years and more efficient trolling techniques have been developed to take advantage of the lower walleye population that is now avail- able. Today, most anglers who troll use in- line planer board or mast planer board systems.

Boat size usually dictates which type of planer board system is most practical. In-line and mast systems both accomplish the same goal of getting lures out and away from the boat. Most boats less than 20 feet in length utilize in-line boards, larger boats usually utilize mast planer board systems. Planer boards offer many advantages. First, they are stealth in presentation and allow the angler to cover a wide trolling path.

When walleye are high in the water column they tend to spook easily by boat noise and motion. Planer boards take the lures out to the sides of the boat and away from motor noise. The other major advantage of planer boards is the ability to spread out the lures in a wide pattern to cover more water. When considering which type of planer board system to use, you need to know how many anglers will be fishing. Mast planer boards can handle more anglers than in-line planer boards.

Boat Setup and Equipment
An in-line sys- tem will usually fish a maximum of six trolling rods and the system is relatively inexpensive. Mast planer board systems can fish up to 16 trolling rods and can be a costly startup.

In-line Boards
Most in-line planer boards measure 10-12 inches in length and have a beveled nose that propel them and the fishing line, luring them away from the boat. In-line
planer board setups attach directly onto the fishing line which may be monofilament, fluorocarbon or braided line.

To set an in-line planer board you first let out the lure in the water behind the boat to the desired distance then attach the in- line planer board to the fishing line and let out more line to the selected distance. When setting out multiple boards on each side you want to stager them so that they do not get tangled. When a fish is hooked the fish and board are reeled in together until the board is at the boat. At this time the in-line board must be physically removed from the line and the fight is continued. Most in-line boards are trolled with the wind simplifying boat control and giving the best lure action.

Mast Planer Board System
Mast planer board systems consist of a commercial made aluminum mast assembly. The assembly consists of a mast, pulleys, planer reel and tow lines. Most charter boats on Lake Erie run a system that utilizes elec- tric planer reels. Spectra fiber 500-pound test tow lines used with a snubber have become popular in the past few years. Snubbers are essentially a bungee that helps prevent the planer board from surging and jumping. Planer boards used with a mast system are double or triple board set-ups and are usually made of wood or polymer synthetic plastics. Planer boards should be easy to see for other boaters.

Bright colored boards with bright col- ored flags are recommended when fishing with mast planer board systems. Bicycle flags or fiberglass driveway markers mounted vertically with a hole drilled on top of the planer board work well. Trolling in a tight pack is not recommended when fishing Lake Erie with a mast system planer board.
To run this system you first attach your planer boards to the snubber then attach the snubber to the tow line. Put the planer boards in the water and let the tow line out roughly 100 feet. Then let your fishing lure and line out to the desired distance and attach the fishing line to the planer board tow line using a release. Let the fishing line run out until it is at the desired distance away from the boat. This is how you are able to stagger your fishing lines without getting them tangled.

Planer Board Releases
There are numerous types of planer board releases available for mast system planer board setups. The release is what attaches the fishing line to the tow line. The planer board release is usually used in con- junction with a rubber band. I use a number 16 rubber band as they seem to be strong enough to not break prematurely but weak enough to break when you want them to. The rubber band is attached to the fishing line then attached to the release. I prefer to use a basic plastic round shower curtain ring. After the release is attached to the fish- ing line it is then attached to the planer board tow line. When a fish is hooked, the rod snaps back and the rubber band breaks releasing it from the planer board. After it is released, allow the fish to swing behind the boat before reeling in to prevent tangles.

Rods, Reels, Rod Holders and Types of Line
When selecting the type of rod to use for planer board trolling, matching rods are preferred. The reason for matching rods is because it allows anglers to read the rod tip when small walleye or junk fish are hooked but do not release from the planer board. I favor seven foot, medium action, fiberglass composite rods. Durability is important because planer board rods take a great deal of abuse.

Rod holders should be placed along the gunwales and spaced closely together
vertically. Line counter reels are a must when using planer boards. This allows anglers to put lines out at specific distances and duplicate productive trolling depths. Daiwa and Okuma reels are the preferred choice on Lake Erie.

When considering which type of line to use it depends on which type of system you are running. For mast systems braided line made of synthetic fibers is preferred. The low stretch characteristics of braid make it easier to release from the planer board when a fish is detected. Both monofilament and braided line are used with an in-line system. Some anglers prefer monofilament over braid when trolling with crankbaits with an in-line system, especially in rough water. The extra stretch of monofilament is some- times an advantage in rough water. The stop and go erratic action often triggers walleye strikes.

Planer Board Etiquette
When trolling near packs of boats allow ample distance between them. The best fish- ing is often away from the pack. Planer board collisions need to be avoided as fish- ing is supposed to be fun, not a confrontation.

Captain Bob Kresse
Bandit Fishing Charters

TAM Cleveland
The Angler Magazine: Cleveland Edition is a free publication for Anglers and Outdoor enthusiasts throughout our region. 10,000 Copies are distributed throughout the Cleveland area each month.

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