Planer Board Basics

Planer Board Basics

In the early part of the year, trout and salmon are concentrated in shallow water near the surface.  This makes them easy to get to with conventional gear, but it presents several problems.  First, because the fish are in shallow water, they are much more aware of boat noise.  This makes them much less likely the hit a bait directly behind the boat.  Stealth is essential in these shallow water fish.  Additionally, without special gear, the number of lines that you can safely run behind the boat is limited.  For these reasons, planer boards are a must in the first few months of the year.

The basic concept of Planer board fishing
There are 2 basic way of getting multiple lines away from the boat- inline planers (which I don’t use and will not cover) or fixed planer boards.  The basic concept with a fixed planer is as follows.  A large planer reel lets out heavy dacron or braided line, which connects to a planer board.  A planer board can be run variable distances from the boat,  from 10-100+ feet out.  Off of the planer board lines are releases; this is where you attach your fishing line.  Planer boards allow you to use multiple flat lined lures, usually 3-4 lines from each side. The main line is “clipped” into the release; when a fish hits, it pops it off the release.  My process in clean water is to let out 100-120 ft of line, twist the line and clip it to the release, then let out more line until it reaches the desired distance from the boat. 

Steelhead fishing in May- Orange planer board in the background and 3 top lines attached- and my brother dropping a steelhead…
There are several options for planer reels.  The cheapest and simplest version is a manual planer board reel.  Big Jons are the most common manual reel.  The basic components are a clutch and a reel, that can be let out and reeled in by hand.

A Big Jon Manual planer reel
Fortunately, there are now several mechanical options.  The new mechanical reels release and retrieve the line automatically.  Big Jon and Cisco both have great options.

A cisco planer reel- highly recommended
As far as planer boards are concerned, there are also several options.  Big Jon Makes an Otterboat, which is a great option (it is what we use).  Many people also make hand made wooden planer boards; instructions and plans can be found online.

A planer board
There are plenty of options for releases as well.  My favorite is a “clipper” release.  It slides down the release and has an adjustable tension screw.  I can use these release for brown trout with light line, as well as a 500 copper in the middle of the summer.  The “clipper” is fixed on the planer board line and cannot easily be removed.  When attaching my mainline to these, I will twist the line 7 times to fix the distance before sliding it down the line.

Clipper release- my favorite
Other releases to consider are Laurvick or Scotty.  These are both “pinch pad” releases.   Tension cannot be set on these releases.  They can be taken off the planer board line easily if you want to.

Various releases. Laurvick on top, scotty in the middle, clipper on bottom
 A rigging trick- always place your “furthest” rod closest to the bow.  Each rod that is closer the the boat goes further towards the transom.  This prevents tangles when you get a release.  You can always rotate rods forward and further out as the hits happen.

Here is a video of planer board fishing in July