Updated: Mar 6
With the power of the internet these days you can jump on the confuser and learn new fishing tactics fast. With that said there doesn't seem to be a ton of good information floating around the interwebs about big boards. It could be that it's just not that popular of a system in many places other then the Great Lakes. In this article I will illustrate how we setup and run them on our boats. We don't claim to be the leading authority of big boards, however, we do spend a lot of time running them.
To put it simply, you have a planer board that you're attaching to a line. As you let out line the board planes out to the side of the boat as it's being towed along. Once the boards are out then you send out a lure to the desired lead length. You attach a release clip directly to your fishing line. The clip does not allow the line to pay out any farther. Once that's done you now clip the other side of the release clip to the tow line where it's allowed to slide freely up and down the tow line. Letting out more line at this point will only put the bait farther away from the boat, but will not change the depth or lead. The first line you continue paying out your fishing line until the clip is nearly at the board. From there you keep setting lines inside one another stopping them short of the last one, leaving enough space as to not tangle them up. You always want the first line out to be placed in the farthest forward rod holder pointed straight up at the sky and working your way back from there with each additional rod. Now you have the clips spaced out along the towline with the desired number of lines set. It's time to start catching. Once your hooked up and you see a rod bending over you need to release the line from the clip. Grab the rod from the holder take it straight up and over all the other lines towards the back of the boat, then point the rod at the clip and jerk the rod tip up. This will release the fishing line from the clip and allow you to reel the fish in. It is important to allow the fish to fall in behind the back of the boat before you start reeling, otherwise you risk dragging the fish across your entire spread causing a massive tangle. After you have the fish unhooked you then just slide all the other rods down one space. Then let line out to respace the clips and add the rod you just caught a fish on to the rear holder setting the new clip nearest the boat. Take note that the spent clip will still be attached to the tow line. You will collect all of your clips at the end of the troll, or hopefully the end of the day.
The components of your setup will not make or break your success. There are many very good boards, planer masts and reels on the market. Most of them will do the job just fine. As far as that goes it mostly just comes down to preference. We run the boards Amish Outfitters sells. In fact we also run the 800lb test tow line they sell. We use them out of convenience, they are sold nearly everywhere around Lake Erie. If we need a set in a pinch we can have them the same day. We have cisco fishing systems electric planer reels (No mast) on one (The Rachel Marie 2.0) boat. The other boat (Walleye Wagon) has a Big Jon electric mast.
The setup for us is key to efficiency. The point where the tow line comes away from the boat is one of many important parts of the setup. You want the tow line to be high and forward. Ideally you want the line to come away from the boat from no less then 3/4ths of the way to the bow. The farther forward you can get the tow line the better but it comes at a cost. Keep in mind you will need to have access to the tow line to clip your releases on. We use retractable dog leashes attached near the rod holders and clipped to the tow line so it acts at a tether to pull it in so you can reach it. If its all the way out on the bow it makes for more work pulling the line in. You will have to pull it into your reach to clip on the tow line from the back deck of the boat. One of the advantages is you can turn quite a bit sharper with the tow line at the front of the boat. As the boat turns the boards don't respond straight away. The tow line will swing in tight to the boat as the board falls back and can interfere with your rod tips. More distance from the point at which the tow line leaves the boat to where your rod holders are located helps keep this from happening. Another advantage of having the towline forward is it helps keep fishing line from tangling around spent clips. With rods near the back of the boat and the towline forward it makes for more space between the fishing line and the tow line. The spent clips will live on the tow line until you bring your boards in. As the waves and wind take effect on your boat and boards the spent clips will bounce around and spin on the tow line. If your fishing line is laying right along side the tow line the wind and waves will be sure to send it in to a knotted mess wrapping it around the clips and tow line. The more distance and harsher angle you have from the fishing line to the tow line the better.
The height of the tow line helps to keep the tow line out of the water, allowing you to send the boards out farther. This also comes at a cost. With the tow line being very high off the water it will change the depth of the baits. Assuming the same leads from the line nearest the board to the line closest the boat. Sounds terrible right? Its not really a big problem as long as your aware of it. In fact it can be a very effective way to dial in a program. The lines as they catch fish release from the clips, leaving a spent clip on the tow line. If after a bit of fishing you notice you have a pile of clips starting to form at the center of the tow line, lets say its halfway from the board to the boat you can then conclude that the higher lines are doing most of the catching. The opposite is also true if all the clips are out at the end of the line and there are few to no spent clips stuck between the other clips on the line. That also can be a good indicator that the majority of the lines are too far above the fish and don't take a strike until they get moved farther out on the tow line allowing to them run deeper. With that being said you also don't want the tow line up too high. As far as I can tell, you always want the tips of your rods above the height of the tow line. This helps reduce contact of the fishing line to the tow line and reduce tangles.
Selecting the right fishing rods for your setup. Unlike fishing with inline boards where you watch the boards to indicate a strike. In this system you're going to be watching the rod tips. The number one most important aspect of choosing the right rod is that they are all the same. You're going to have all your rods setup in a line pointed straight up at the sky while you're fishing. We will talk about why we want them straight up later on. once all the lines are set it's very easy to compare each rod against one another. When a fish is hooked it will stand out like a sore thumb and be very obviously bent more then the others. We typically use medium action rods regardless of the length. Lets talk about the length of the rods a bit or should I say the height of the rods. This is unique to each boat and setup. The height of the rod tip in comparison to the height of the tow line is something worth noting, especially if you're having trouble with the fishing line coming into contact with the tow line. I believe that having the rod tips as high as possible helps keep the fishing line from being blown by the wind into the tow line. It really turns into a balancing act of how high you want the tow line, and how long of a rod you want to deal with in order to combat the height of the tow line. For us we use different rods for different presentations, and we have to store the rods on the boat when not in use. So more shorter is more better. Luckily with the height of the tow lines in comparison to the height of the gunnels on either of our boats, it works out that we can run 7 ft. rods on both boats.
The reason we want the rods pointed straight up is because the angle of the line coming off the tip of the rod at as close to 90 degrees as possible. That allows the rod to bend with the least amount of effort. Imagine for a moment if you had a fish on and you pointed the rod straight at the fish. No matter how hard the fish pulled the rod wouldn't bend now take the rod tip and point it in any direction away from the fish making the line come off the tip of the rod at a 90 degree angle, it will bend right over. There are two reasons this is important. One is that is allows the rod to bend showing us when we are hooked up. The other is it offers more forgiveness to a really aggressive strike.
You heard me right. I did say we use different sets of rods for different presentations. We do this because we like to run mono for everything we can. There are times we need to run inline boards and we prefer mono for them as well. It's more forgiving for our clients and it holds in clips much better than braided lines. Sometimes we need to run jet divers with spoons or crawler harnesses and for that we run braid. Rather then trading out reels for reels with braid we keep a separate set of rods and reels pre rigged with jets and spoons at the ready. When you have clients on board you cant spend a bunch of their time rigging rods and not fishing. I understand there are other methods we could use for spoons and harnesses. Let's keep that topic for another article
Lets talk about the release clips as they are a very important part of the system. We have ran countless different styles of clips, and we have kind of settled into what we like by trial and error. We use a version of the pilgrim planer releases that we modify to our liking. The clips work fine as they are with the shower curtain rings but we find that they do tend to fall off the tow line if they don't get closed just right. After some use the shower curtain clips get bent and they just don't stick around long after that. We remove the shower curtain clips and replace it with a cable style key chain and a carabiner. Once we made this upgrade we very seldomly lose them. When we run braided lines we still use the clips but we half hitch a rubber band to the fishing line then put it behind the rubber pads on the clips so that the bands have to break in order to release the line. At that point it's not really necessary to use a release clip, you could just use a shower curtain clip or carabiner, it will serve the same purpose. It's really hard to see them when they are all the way out near the board, so we use the release clips for a little more bulk that way you can actually spot them out on the tow line.
We use big boards for the majority of the season. They are a very effective method for running a huge spread covering lots of water with a ton of lines. There are times they are just not the right tool for the job. We don't run them on smaller groups where we are limited to a small number of lines. Also, if we are in high winds and or waves exceeding 4-5 ft. we usually switch them out for inline boards. In order for the big boards to work well you need to have some amount of speed. At low speeds they just don't pull as hard as we need them to. We like to use them when we are moving around 1.8 to 2.0 mph or faster. In the early spring when we are fishing Oak Harbor and late fall running Fall Brawl and Walleye Slam Charters. We are slowing down our presentation we often fish speeds much less than that. They are also nearly impossible to use in the dark. It can also be difficult to run them with very short leads.
Long Time Captain Dave Fredericks : I've been making/running big boards for 30+ years. Charter capt. for 15 years(retired in 2006). My setup consists of an elec. reel that runs the tow line to a pulley on the front corner of my windshield, then out to the board. The pulley has a bungee between it and the windshield. I make my own bungees with silicon tubing, but any type bungee will work.
When I talked to Dave about this he said he liked to put the bungee on the pully at the boat as opposed to how we run them. We currently run board shockers at the board. His claim is that the shockers put to much drag on the board causing it not to run quite as well as it would without it. by adding the bungee to the pully he gets the same advantages without the drawbacks. Below is a few pictures of how he has his setup.
I hope you find this article helpful. Please feel free to comment and let us know what we could add to our setup to fine tune it just a little more.