Not so long ago fishing with an in-line planer board was considered a novelty among serious Great Lakes anglers.
Back in the days when in-line boards were just starting to pop up on the Great Lakes scene, most open water anglers were already well versed in the art of board trolling.
With the help of a mast and retrieval reel system, a pair of dual boards, tether lines, and a truckload of line releases, anglers could literally saturate the water column with fishing baits!
The traditional planer board and mast set up is a fish harvesting system second to none in the hands of an angler who knows how to get the most from pulling big skis and fishing lots of lines. For certain applications, the “ski mast” system continues to be the preferred choice of charter captains and serious trolling enthusiasts.
The ski mast system will undoubtedly never become obsolete on the Great Lakes, but a growing number of recreational anglers, tournament professionals and even charter captains have come to the conclusion that in-line boards fill an important trolling niche that simply can’t be ignored.
In-line boards are small, affordable and they can be fished with a wide variety of trolling lures and gear. Using rod holder trees, the author is stacking three board lines out to the side of his boat leaving room at the back of the boat for other trolling gear.
KEEPING A TIGHT LINE
To the layman, both in-line boards and a ski mast system accomplish the same goal of getting baits out away from the boat. Both methods of trolling are successful because boards allow anglers to cover more water and contact more fish in the process.
What many trollers don’t understand is that in-line boards have a critical edge because fishing one line attached to one board guarantees that when a fish is hooked, that fish stays hooked. The key to landing any fish while trolling is keeping steady pressure on that fish until the landing net hits the floor of the boat. Used properly, in-line boards accomplish that simple—yet critical goal—of trolling.
When a fish strikes a lure or bait trolled behind an in-line board, the board also becomes a strike indicator. Trolling with two or three in-line boards per side of the boat, the boards line up nicely like a squadron of fighter jets wing-tip to wing-tip. The instant a fish is hooked, the weight of that struggling fish causes the board to sag backward and out of formation.
It’s actually very exciting when a fish is hooked on an in-line board because the experience is so visual. Everyone in the boat gets a chance to enjoy in the excitement of seeing a fish bite and get hooked!
In-line boards also enjoy another subtle advantage in that fishing with these mini-skis allows anglers to fish at any trolling speed. From the ultra-slow speeds commonly used by walleye anglers, to the super-fast trolling speeds favored by musky trollers in-line boards can be used for virtually all species of fish and trolling applications.
The ability to troll at slower speeds has made in-line boards very popular with walleye anglers who fish slow when using live-bait rigs and also when fishing crankbaits in cold water both early and late in the season.
Salmon and trout fishermen are just as enamored with in-line boards because they can use them to troll their favorite lures and hardware at 2.0 to 3.5 MPH.
FRIENDLY TO ALL LINE TYPES
Another reason so many anglers are using in-lines is because they can be fished effectively with a wide variety of line types. For general purpose trolling chores most anglers still use and recommend monofilament fishing line. Most in-line boards on the market come factory equipped with line releases designed for monofilament trolling applications.
When it’s necessary to fish a little deeper, low stretch and super thin fused lines and Spectra braids can also be used with in-line boards by simply rigging the board with specialized line clips designed to function with super lines. The Off Shore Tackle “Snapper Release” the the Silver Horde “Sams” release are two line clips designed especially for use with super lines.
A steadily growing niche of the in-line planer board is the ability to pull heavy loads in the form of sinking line types like lead core, copper line, weighted stainless steel wire, and the new 19 strand wire produced by Torpedo Divers. All of these sinking lines are in widespread use among trout, salmon, and walleye anglers who are faced with catching fish in clearer and clearer water conditions.
Combining sinking lines with in-line boards essentially creates a “stealth trolling” environment that allows anglers to target deeper fish and also spooky fish by fishing both down in the water column and out to the side of the boat.
Because in-line planer boards can be rigged using a wealth of different line releases and line clips, anglers have at their disposal the ability to rig their boards fixed on the line, rigged to release and slide down the line and also to release and pin the board on the line.
Keeping a board fixed on the line is a method of rigging used most often when fishing only one or perhaps two boards per side of the boat. Rigged in this fashion, the board must be reeled in and removed from the line before the fish can be landed. If a fish is hooked on an outside line, the inside line must also be cleared to make room for landing the fish on the outside board.
This in-line board is being fished in combination with segmented lead core line to “stealth troll” in clear water conditions. The line has tripped from the release on the tow arm and is being held in place on the line via a line clip at the back of the board. Rigged in this manner multiple boards can be stacked per side of the boat and fish reeled in without having to clear other board lines.
To avoid having to clear lines to fight fish, some anglers rig their boards to release and then slide down the line via a slot at the back of the board or a snap swivel mounted to the back of the board. Normally a bead or swivel is added about three feet ahead of the lure to prevent the board from sliding all the way to the fish.
This rigging method allows anglers to stack two, three or even four in-line boards per side of the boat. The release and slide method also allows an angler to fight fish without clearing lines or simply to switch out a lure that’s not producing for another one.
The latest technology for rigging and releasing in-line boards is a system pioneered by Off Shore Tackle. The popular OR12 Side-Planer comes standard with a line release mounted on the tow arm of the board and a line clip mounted at the back of the board.
When a fish is hooked the angler can release the board by simply giving the rod tip a little snap, popping the line free from the tow arm release. Meanwhile the board spins around in the water, but remains fixed on the line thanks to the line clip mounted at the back of the board.
Releasing the board, but keeping it pinned to the line is a big advantage because it allows anglers to stack multiple boards per side of the boat without having to clear any lines to fight fish or switch out lures. Also, because the board in this rigging option is floating on the surface and not biting once released, the fish has no leverage to pull against. The percentage of fish hooked and landed using this unique rigging method is much higher than other more traditional means of rigging and fishing an in-line board.
Watching an in-line board pull out of formation when a fish is hooked is one of the most cool things that can happen on a fishing boat. The problem is that modern in-line boards plane so well, a small fish can be hooked and pulled along without realizing it.
After market articulating flag systems designed to telegraph light strikes hit the market some years ago. Over the years these flag systems have been refined to flawlessness.
Charter captain Terry Kunnen rigs his in-line boards with after market releases designed to function with hard to hold fused lines and super braids. The advancements of new and unique line releases and clips has allowed anglers to use in-line boards for an ever growing number of Great Lakes trolling niches.
For any angler who trolls slowly or with live bait, articulating flag kits are “must have” items! Not only do these flag kits make it possible to detect when a small fish has been hooked, they are sensitive enough to also telegraph when a piece of weed or other debris in the water has been snagged.
Articulating flag kits help make trolling a more efficient means of fishing. Anglers even use these flag kits to judge the activity level of fish while trolling.
It’s very common to see the flag fold down and then almost instantly pop but to the upright position. This is an indication that a fish struck at the bait, but was not hooked.
Immediately open the bail on the trolling reel and stall the board for a few seconds while continuing to troll forward. Then put the reel back in gear and let the line to the board pull tight. Often the second the line pulls tight the flag snaps down and that fish is hooked to stay hooked.
Teasing fish into biting using articulating flags on in-line boards is something that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Over the years in-line boards have been refined and new products have hit the market. Anglers interested in fishing these boards have many sizes to choose from including pint-sized models ideal for targeting crappie and other smaller fish, standard-sized boards for mainstream trolling chores, and even super-sized models designed for handling long leads of sinking line.
The simple fact that in-line boards are hugely popular and used to target so many different species of fish says it all. The traditional “ski mast” system will never be obsolete, but in-line boards have carved out a well-deserved niche on the Great Lakes and waters everywhere that avid anglers troll for their fish.
- written by Mark Romanack (Fishing 411)