Small Boaters Advantage – Trophy Spring Browns!!

Stacking three or more OR12 Side Planers per side of the boat is no problem thanks to the standard factory rigging that makes it easy to release the board while keeping the board pinned in position on the line. Visit for more information and to subscribe to Offshore Release newsletter.

By Frank Geremski, Publisher Upstate NY Angler Magazine

I can’t think of another scenario that layman anglers with boats 20’ and below have a distinct advantage over professional charter and tourney fishermen than Spring brown trout fishing in the Great Lakes. Dynamics are stacked in the favor of smaller boats and it occurs right now in March and April. Early season brown trout on Lake Ontario can offer fun and simple fishing in shallow water that often reward small boaters with world class catches of browns.  We will give you easy, inexpensive rigging advise and gear essentials, answering the what, how, when, where and why questions through our experience. Mentioned will be reliable products that we have used to catch fish, scouting out best values to provide our readers direct options to rig their boat with 2-8 brown trout rigs and planer boards for a budget of $250-$950.

Caught aboard Irish Knots.

Two essential options to get you started are planer boards. Both smaller in-line boards and bigger mast systems are equally effective, and useful. Using planers is an art that is reasonably easy to master and is a very inexpensive way to rig for Great Lakes trout and salmon. What makes it a great value is these same boards can be utilized for all the species we fish for later in the season. Planer boards are deadly for trophy walleyes, pike, muskie, and recently many crappie fishermen have been crushing big crappie and pan fish with in-line boards. We will discuss salmon and steelhead applications in the 2nd part of this article in the April issue of The Angler Magazine, and planer tactics will be a recurring subject. Ultimately you can equip your craft with both, and keep the cost at a realistic amount or start off slowly and collect your gear in piece-meal. offers an outstanding value on FISH307 Double Planer Boards for $49.99, getting 2 for less than $100 will enable you to fish up to 8 brown trout rigs from a dual-mast line. The website features all the mast systems and releases you need to get started or bolster your current set-up. Simply mount a mast post on a high centered flat spot in the front of your boat and you are ready to fish (catch). Then buy 2-8 in-line planer boards, Off Shore Tackle has 2 sizes that are durable, the OR-12 or the OR-37. The offers great information on best utilizing in-line boards. Now you are set-up for all kinds of planer board options. You can mix and match these components based on preference, number of fishermen on your craft and budget. Many experienced Great Lakes fishermen use both and we are among them.

Off Shore TackleThe next thing you need is some sturdy, strongly installed and strategically placed rod holders. You can choose individual rod holders or a system of holders. You should install at least two based on your boat and intentions. I prefer the strength and reliability of Tite-Lok rod-holders If your intention is to completely rig your boat for this and other trolling and fishing applications, install as many holders on your boat that is practical between individual holders Tite-Lok 5710 and racks Tite-Lok Triple Deck Mount 5760. For mast systems, a Trickle Deck Mount on the rear side gunnel of each side are ideal. My 18 ft Alumacraft Trophy that I rigged for trolling is equipped with 20 rod holders counting the holders on my downriggers. This may seem excessive, but is extremely practical in use and keeps all my rigs geared and ready, away from the fish catching action and harm. With a smaller craft, the very minimum is 2 rods being flatlined 60-150 ft. behind your boat placed in easy to reach rod holders. Simply attach an in-line board if you want to get in closer to stream plumes and away from your craft, creating a very stealthy offering. Whether you are using mast boards or in-line, I will offer 3 trolled rigs to that shore/stream plume side, creating a realistic, attractive spread.

Next equipment to procure is your rods, reels and line. Riversider rods,, makes 2 excellent and inexpensive rods suited for this set-up. The Riversider Planer Board Rod 7 ft. ML retails @ $29.99 or The Riversider Brown Trout 9 ft. ML retails at $59.99, both are outstanding values. Having sets of rods that are the same length make this set-up more uniform and more effective. Pairing these rods with line-counter reels make a terrific planer board combo. Okuma and Dawai both offer several models, accurately knowing how much line is being trolled is essential, so collecting line counter reels should commence. Line strength is important, but keeping lines in the 6-12 lb. test will provide the correct strength, what is most important is line visibility. These waters can be very clear and when fishing in shallow water brown trout are very line shy, that’s why fluorocarbon line or at least leaders are highly recommended. Now I tie on a medium sized Torpedo barrel swivel with a 5-ft. leader of 8 lb. fluorocarbon and a Torpedo cross lock snap, this will minimize line twist and make lure change easy.

Challenger LuresLURES!! Early in the season, small stick bait plugs swung in and around shallow plumes avoid hanging bottom when fished in water less than 5 ft. Challenger Lures  design smaller lower profile baits perfect for this tactic. The Challenger Micro floating, TS Minnow, or Challenger Jr. are available in dozens of exciting, relevant color patterns. They have great action and troll well at many speeds.  I like to have at least 4 or more of each model in my favorite colors. I prefer black/silver, but will utilize other patterns like trout patterns, fire-tigers, perch, goby colors and others. I will try brighter colors since rainbows and salmon are also present or greens to find a preference also. Have a decent selection and we suggest you change up till you have developed a pattern of success. Starting the day with at least half my spread being black/silver is my staple, you will develop your own likings.  I pre-rig 6-12 rods with preferred baits and have them in their holders at the boat launch or dock, ready to fish. For early season browns, I will usually run 3 baits off each side of my boat with mast planer boards, 120 ft. of line out on each rod/reel combo before attaching your release to the mast line. Separate each line by 10-15 feet to minimalize tangle. Bay Rat Lures has a new model out this year designed for shallow water trolling, the S3 augments Bay Rat’s Short Shallow and Long Shallow that come in dozens of hand-painted colors, many fishermen like Bay Rat Lures due to their likeness to a goby.

Starting in early March, plumes of water created by run-off streams, rivers, power plants, bay and harbor entrances, have warmer temperatures and more colored waters than the main lake. These locations often coincide with boat launches and marinas. Start your trolling close to or right after leaving your launch site, and troll the shoreline towards any trib or influx of water that has created plumes of all varying sizes. Continuously monitor your temp gages. Subtle temp increases are magnets for early season bait and hungry trout. The off-color water will be several degrees warmer, and provides cover for trout that are waiting to ambush baitfish.

Often in March, trout will arrive to these shoreline spots several weeks or a month before large schools of baitfish, making your offerings highly attractive to aggressive feeding browns. Especially early in the season, getting into super close to the shoreline where small streams that only may have a football field sized plume are in less than 10 ft of water. Swinging your offering in an out of these off-colored then clear waters with your planer boards create a perfect presentation that is often rewarded with feeding trout and often double and triple-headers. Especially in early spring, my planer presented plugs may be only in 5 ft. of water or less, that’s why I use the smaller lures that will less likely snag bottom.

Quick growing browns from 2-10 lbs can be a day long bonanza when conditions are found. Rainbows, steelhead, coho, lakers and chinooks mix in, especially as the season matures. Optimally, a consistent mudline may form along a shoreline with frequent small streams and run-offs adding to the waters mix. Doubling back over hot spots are recommended when feasible, since these browns often feed in packs. Capt. Chris Yard of Irish Knots Charters is among the first boats that I have shared fishing waters with near Port Ontario early in the season. Booking an early season trip with may be a great way to learn tactics for your boat or to enjoy this early season world-class fishery with a familiar professional.

During March and April, many of the larger boats are still under cover or in storage, and when they do hit these waters, simply can’t fish as close as smaller crafts. These are the dynamic reasons why small boaters have this great advantage. Especially, a solid and rigged 16-20 ft trailer able boat designed for this type of fishing and water. Choosing a port to fish is equally as important. Allowing the weather forecast to dictate where you go in sensible. On our portion of Lake Ontario choosing between Sodus, Little Sodus, Oswego, Mexico/Port Ontario, Sandy Pond and Henderson Harbor offer us endless options for trophy browns.

Since I prefer to fish with the wind with planer boards, I align myself at the best launch/port for that wind direction and speed. If the seas are forecast or become too difficult, simply troll with-in a harbor or go to a smaller inland lake, I go to The Finger Lakes where the same tactics will score with similar results. These planer tactics work for any water or species, so your options are limitless. Having a trailer able sized boat will give you the flexibility and options to fish the best waters for that days forecast. The seasons are getting longer, so investing in this early shallow water planer equipment can add months to your boat fishing, and give you this effective option all year. We will discuss how to continue through the spring season in the 2nd part of this article next month in The Angler Magazine. For early spring browns, stay in close and focus on those plumes and position your spread in and out of these feeding zones, and you WILL be rewarded with many lunker Spring brown trout!