Board with Salmon - Mike Gnatkowski

Board with Salmon - Mike Gnatkowski


Specialized in-line planer boards make it possible to pull long length of copper wire to target salmon when they go deep in the summer. 


The first in-line planer board I saw was after a group of Ludington, MI charter captains made a trip across Lake Michigan to fish a tournament in Wisconsin. They returned with a device called a Yellow Bird. It was the first commercially made planer that I could ever recall seeing. It was made by a couple of Sheboygan, WI entrepreneurs Ken Stegemeyer and Eddie Vasselos. Yellow Birds are still manufactured today although the company has changed hands several times.

The original Yellow Bird planers were made of hard Styrofoam and came in port and starboard versions. The planers worked well for pulling spoons and crankbaits and performed exactly as they were designed. Their function was to pull the lure out away from the boat to cover more water and get the lure in front of fish that weren’t spooked by the boat. The planers only required a rod holder and a rod and were much less complicated and trouble than full-sized planer boards. 

Ironically, about the same time the Yellow Birds hit the market was when anglers discovered the mother lode of steelhead in the middle of Lake Michigan. Curious anglers began to explore the extreme depths of Lake Michigan and found places current, temperature breaks and scum lines converged and where the entire lake’s population of rainbows spent the summer. 


Truth is, there’s no one in-line planer that can do it all when it comes to trout and salmon. 



The Yellow Bird side planers were ideally suited for presenting the smaller spoons and crankbaits to steelheads cruising the surface in hundreds of feet of water. The steelhead would crush lures trailing the Yellow Birds and I can remember having five recalcitrant rainbows cavorting across the surface at one time. Because of the Yellow Birds, the steelhead grounds in the center of Lake Michigan were referred to as “Bird Land” by charter captains. 

At the same time brown trout numbers were flourishing at ports around the Great Lakes. Fishing for brown trout was a ritual in the spring. Anglers would target the browns from break walls and small boats. The browns would cruise the shallows and in-line boards were perfect for tempting the trout. 

My favorite in-line planer for targeting brown trout was a Yeck in-line planer made by Yeck Lures (http://fishyecklures). The hard plastic board was lightweight, cut the waves unlike any other board, was reversible and came with a jettison release that produced sure hook-ups. For whatever reason, the spring brown trout fishing in Michigan has all but disappeared, but the Yeck boards still work great for a variety of applications including walleye. 

Eventually the salmon numbers on Lake Michigan rebounded and recreational anglers and charter boats stayed closer to shore working structure and shallower depths with more traditional tackle and saving on gas. Lead-core line experienced a resurgence. Captains rediscovered the action and sinking motion lead core imparted to a lure couldn’t be duplicated in any other way. 


How quickly you can get the line off an in-line planer is an important concern when fishing salmon. 


Initially, anglers would run a couple of core rods off the transom of the boat, but captains quickly figured out that if two were good, more would be even better. A great way of facilitating that was to use in-line planer boards, but it would take a new kind of board to accomplish the feat. 

Off Shore Tackle planer boards hit the market in 1993-94. “The PWT was just starting to hold tournaments on big-water destinations,” said Off Shore Tackle ( president Bruce DeShano. “It was a natural for us to come out with a board the pros could use for trolling.” Since then the iconic yellow boards have become a staple for walleye anglers. 

Off Shore’s OR-12 board would easily pull anything a walleye angler would want to use. The board has pinch-pad clips on each end and a unique flag system to detect bites. The OR-12 board would pull moderate lengths of lead core and snap weights, but a 10-color lead core caused the board pulled too far back. So DeShano went back to the drawing board. The result was the Off Shore Tackle OR37L SST Pro Mag Planer. 




“The Off Shore Tackle OR37 SST Pro Mag Planer is twice the size of the OR-12 and is thicker, deeper and more buoyant. The OR-37 will easily pull a 2-pound weight or 600 feet of copper,” claimed DeShano. “If you’re using a shorter cores or 150 to 200 feet of copper the OR-12 planer will work perfectly fine. When you start using longer lengths of copper the SST Pro Mag is the way to go.”

One big difference between a planer board used for walleye fishing and a board used for salmon is the release. “It’s ironic, but what we did with the release on the SSR OR37 was to cycle back to what we did years ago. The whole release thing has come full circle.” The SST OR37 uses one OR18 release on the arm of the board and one OR16 on the back. Unlike an indolent walleye, a rampaging king can cause trouble if you can’t quickly release the board. 

For more information on Off Shore Tackle’s complete line of boards and releases and the OR37 board go to 


In-line planers make it possible to use long lengths of lead core, wire and copper and get them out away from the boat. 


Church Tackle’s ( foray into the planer board market paralleled Off Shore Tackle in that they originally designed an in-line board intended for walleye and then modified the board for trout and salmon. Great Lakes anglers though found the Mr. Walleye board to be a huge improvement over other options because of the release and the pin at the back of the board. Rather than fumbling with tough pinch pads while you were battling a frolicking king you could simply pull the pin and compress the release and have the board off in a flash. 

The Church Tackle TX-22 Special is an improvement over the Mr. Walleye board for using lead core. “One reason a lot of guys prefer the TX-22 board is the TX-22 sits upright when at rest in the water,” said Bill Church, inventor of the Church planer board. “Once you attached the lead-core line to the board and drop it in the water it will sit upright so you can immediately begin letting the board out.” It’s a simple matter then to put the rod in a holder with a light drag and let the board pay out while you’re setting other lines. The TX-22 is reversible, too so there’s no need for port and starboard boards. 

The leading edge of the Mr. Walleye is a catamaran-style, which provides stability. The TX-22 planer has a sharper cut leading edge that lends itself to slicing the water and pulling its cargo out at a maximum angle. 


The requirements of boards used for walleye fishing are very dif-ferent from those used for trout and salmon. 


The original Board Clip on the TX-22 board does a good job of holding lead core and monofilament. It’s advised to not clip lead core directly to the Board Clip because if the lead core is pinched or bent repeatedly n one location it will eventually break so it’s advisable to clip the board to the mono or braid backing. The Board Clip is also reversible. If you don’t want the board to release simply turn the release around so the line is pulling into the Board Clip instead of out of it. Problem solved. 

An alternative to the Board Clip is the Adjustable Super Clip. The Adjustable Super Clip is made of stainless steel. The Super Clip will hold the ultra thin braids, lead core, and monofilament lines. The Adjustable Super Clip can be easily adjusted to any diameter line by tightening a setscrew. Replacement pads are available for the Adjustable Super Clip. 

One thing the TX-22 couldn’t do was pull long lengths of copper wire so Church came up with a bigger brother- the TX-44 Super Planer. “The TX-44 Super Planer is 14 inches long and a little over 4 inches wide and has more ballast to pull heavier loads,” claim Bill Church. “It’s a little thicker than the other boards and is 30% glass. Captains report the TX-44 Super Planer is a workhorse for pulling long lengths of copper.” 

The TX-44 Super Planer comes with the stand Board Clip that holds with mono or braid and can be reversed so it doesn’t release. An alternative is the TX-44 Tournament Series board that comes with a stainless steel pin and a Lock-Jaw Clip. The Lock-Jaw Clip functions like a pinch-pad type release with one exception. Instead of pinching the pad together to open it the Lock-Jaw uses a lever to open the release. I don’t know about you, but my arthritic fingers have a hard time opening super strong pinch pads. The lever on the Lock-Jaw makes it easy. The Lock-Jaw Clip holds mono, super braids, wire or copper without damaging the line. It’s adjustable for finer tweaking to change the clamping pressure. The Lock-Jaw Clip can be purchased separately in a Tournament Upgrade Kit for use on the Mr. Walleye Board, TX-22 and TX-44 Super Planer and there’s a min-version. 

When I asked Shan Ruboyianes of Dreamweaver Lures ( what he saw as the shortcomings of other in-line planer boards that prompted Dreamweaver to design their Ninja Board he said there were a couple of things. 


Wire and copper has required anglers to use bigger in-line planers to pull long lengths of the heavy metal.


“The other boards on the market do a great job of pulling 500 or 600 feet of copper, but if you want to use 100 or 200 feet of copper they’re overkill,” said Ruboyianes. “The other boards are bigger and heavier than our Ninja Board. The Ninja Board can pull everything from 100 to 600 feet of copper and is 3 inches longer than a standard Mr. Walleye board, but it’s similar in weight. You don’t want more board than what you need out there. The Ninja Board has been a great addition to our arsenal and its ability to tow is unsurpassed.” 

Another shortfall Roboyianes noticed was it requires two people, or at least two hands, to release the larger competitors boards. “It’s a two-step process versus a one-stop process with the Ninja board.” The Ninja Board uses a tab that when depressed releases both the clip release and the rear pin at the same time. It’s an ingenious design and eliminates a lot of problems and consternation. To set the board, simply press the tab and the clip and pin open to insert the line. You can wrap the line around a pin on the clip to make sure the board doesn’t release or simply put the line in the pad. 

Dreamweaver also has a 9.5-inch version of the Ninja Board that features an easy to use flag that’s prefect for walleye. The smaller board has the same simple tab release and easy to use clip. 

Just as a carpenter has more than one saw, trout and salmon anglers really need more than one in-line planer. Smaller boards excel when fishing shallow or when pulling clean crankbaits or shorter lengths of lead core. The smaller boards are the ticket when targeting steelhead on the surface over deep water, too. As near-shore waters warm and fish go deeper and longer lengths of lead core are required medium-sized boards, like the OR-12, TX-22 or Dreamweaver’s 9.5-inch version of the Ninja planer are preferred. More specialized in-line planers are required when it comes time to drag extremely long lengths of heavy copper core.

Truth is, there’s no one in-line planer that can do it all when it comes to trout and salmon.

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1 comment

Bob Shirley, from the family of Shirley Sporting Goods stores in Chicago, was an owner of Yellow Bird Products prior to selling the company to present owner, Rick Battalini. Unfortunately, Bob had to sell the company because of health issues. That was over seven years ago. Bob was well-liked and was highly regarded in the retail fishing business in the Midwest. Pete Rosko

capt Pete rosko

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