July 23 12:30 PM

Get in-line for more salmonids

August 01, 2007
Twenty years ago most Great Lakes anglers wouldn't have known what an in-line planer board was. Today, side planers have become one of the most important pieces of equipment in the big-lake angler's arsenal. But not all side planers are created equal. Some are better suited for pulling heavy lengths of lead core line, a hot tactic for summer kings. Others are perfect for targeting brown trout in shallow water or steelheads cruising near offshore scum lines. Truth is, no one in-line planer can do it all.

Credit for the first commercially-made side planer, called a Yellow Bird, dates back to 1975. Two Wisconsin-based charter captains, Ken Stegemeyer and Ed Vassetos, came up with the idea of making a smaller version of the traditional planers boards they were accustomed to using. The original prototypes were made of wood, but as the mini-board's usefulness became apparent, and the boards gained in popularity, the partners decided to begin making them out of injection-molded plastic. Although the company has been sold several times since its inception, Yellow Birds remain a fixture on the Great Lakes trolling scene and one of the more popular in-line planers on the market. You can get more information on them by contacting Yellow Bird Products at (888) 696-2473 or online at

Deploying a spread of in-line boards is easy. Many captains put out a spread of four or five in-line boards on each side of the boat. Mike Gnatkowski photo

In-line planer boards have numerous advantages over larger, more cumbersome conventional planer boards. One reason is their simplicity. Another is their size. Larger boards require a mast to run them and plenty of room. In-line boards are smaller, take up less storage area on the boat and require only a sturdy rod holder, a 7 1/2- to 8 1/2-foot medium-action trolling rod and a quality, level-wind reel to use them. There's no bulky mast or

unwieldy boards to store when you're not using them. In-line boards really shine in tight quarters like when fishing inside harbor walls, working near shore troughs, stitching the color line or maneuvering in traffic. Full-size boards require a lot of room to turn. Pulling lines in closer with standard planers requires cranking in the tether line on the mast and reeling in each individual line. With the in-line planers you can just reel the boards in tight when making a turn or bring them in and quickly reset them after you've completed your turn. In traffic you just need to reel them in closer to the boat and once the boat passes simply let them back out.

The smaller, in-line boards seem to catch more fish than the bigger boards, too. Full-sized boards tend to track smoothly, straight and in line and trailing lures do the same. In-line boards tend to dart, jump, hesitate, skate forward and drop back in even the slightest chop or on turn. This erratic action is imparted to the trailing lures. The stop-and-go cadence imparted by side planers triggers more strikes from following trout and salmon.

Once a fish strikes, in-line boards also produce more positive hookups. When a fish hits a line trailed off a traditional planer board the line snaps out of the release on the tether line. Even if the fish is hooked solidly, there is a lot of slack in the line that needs to be quickly taken up before the angler is tight to the fish. With the smaller in-line boards the instant a fish hits the lure and begins to drop back with the lure the board drops back with it, keeping constant tension on the fish. Hookups are more consistent and your landing rate will skyrocket when using in-line boards versus the larger planer boards.

About the only disadvantage of using in-line planer boards is the fact that they stay attached to your line while you're fighting a fish. But when a chrome steelhead is tail-walking across the surface or a husky king salmon streaks off on one of those patented one hundred yard runs, you hardly notice it. When running shorter 50- to 75-foot leads behind the smaller boards the trick is to let the board trip or release and slide down to a stop positioned on your line six to eight feet above the fish. Run a 10mm bead up your main line and then attach a barrel swivel before tying on a six to eight-foot leader to your lure. You can also use a stop called a Speedo Bead. When running long lengths of lead core behind larger in-line boards it's easy to reel in the board and take it off while fighting the fish because the fish is way behind the boat and isn't likely to get tangled in other lines.

In-line boards are ideal when targeting brown trout in the shallows in the spring. Brown trout naturally gravitate towards the shallower, near-shore water early in the spring because it is warmer and that's where baitfish are likely to congregate. The silvery trout will get into the troughs that parallel the shoreline and herd schools of baitfish. The browns will be in as little as three or four feet of water. They are very spooky in the shallows and using in-line boards to get lures away from the boat and into the shallow waters is a deadly technique for targeting spring browns.

Mini-boards also excel when searching for steelheads and other salmonids far off shore over deep water during the summer months. The nomadic rainbows are known for searching out scum lines created by temperature breaks over deep water. The trout are usually within a fathom of the surface though, and are extremely skittish in the ultra clear water. In-line boards make it possible to get lures in front of the edgy rainbows without spooking them and help increase your coverage area when searching for active trout in the vast expanses of the Great Lakes.

An ideal in-line board for shallow water applications is Tru Trac Industries' Tru Tracker side planer. The Tru Tracker has several features that make it the preferred board for trout and salmon. The Tru Tracker is constructed of hard, durable plastic, is reversible, so you don't have to buy separate boards for starboard and port applications, they're lightweight and their bright red color makes them highly visible. The Tru Tracker comes equipped with a Big Jon Jettison Release, which is quick and easy to set, produces consistent releases that result in good, solid hook-sets and the release doesn't wear out like pinch pad releases. The sharp, beveled front edge of the Tru Tracker also helps it cut through the waves, which helps it track way out to the sides and makes it fishable in up to five foot waves. (If the boards start to dive under because the waves are too big it's time to go in!) To get more information on Tru Tracker in-line boards contact Tru Trac Industries at (231) 845-7844 or toll free (800) 801-4203.

Deploying a spread of in-line boards is easy. Many captains put out a spread of four or five in-line boards on each side of the boat. Simply let out 50 to 100 feet of line behind the boat, attach the line to the snap swivel at rear of the board and then up to the release. Drop the board over the side of the boat and make sure that the planer begins to angle away form the boat. The first board you let out should be the farthest from the boat and should be placed in the rod holder closest to the bow. When running multiple boards, place the rod holder farthest forward almost straight up and then angle each rod holder slightly outward as you move back towards the stern of the boat. The angle of the holder will help keep rods from getting tangled and allow you to clear a rod without catching an adjacent rod and flipping it overboard. (It still happens so be careful!)

Once the outside board is set, you can set a second board to run just inside your farthest board. It's a good practice to keep the boards approximately 10 to 15 feet apart. Once you get three or four boards out they should all be tracking in a relatively straight line or formation. This of course depends on the types of lures you're running on each rod. Body baits or crankbaits will dive harder and deeper than spoons and will pull the board back slightly farther. Strikes become very obvious when a board suddenly skates backward out of formation, a reel starts chirping or a silvery trout salmon is cartwheeling behind the board. If you catch a fish or miss a strike, it's a simple matter to let the inside board out to take the place of the tripped board and then rotate them.

In-line boards don't work just for shallow salmonids or when trout and salmon are near the surface. Later in the summer, in-line boards can be a very useful tool when pulling heavy lengths of lead core to reach fish positioned near the thermocline. For my money, Church Tackle's TX-24 side planer is the only in-line board that will effectively pull lead core. The TX-24 planer features an adjustable clip that holds super lines and monofilament securely and releases with one hand, a spring-loaded rear pin that makes setting lines easy and prevents you from losing your board, an adjustable keel weight that allows you to adjust the attitude of the boards when pulling heavy lead core and weights and its catamaran-style minimizes the chances of the board diving or flying out of the water. To get more information on Church Tackle's TX-24 planers contact them at (269) 934-8528 or online at

Varying the amount of lead core you pull behind in-line boards can help target salmonids when they go deeper during the summer months. Adding various lead weights using Church's Super Clips will even enable you to reach trout and salmon when the thermocline drops to 80 or 90 feet during late summer. Lead core pulled behind boards is especially effective on jittery kings.

Many anglers are discovering that it pays to get in line for trout and salmon.

Outdoor writer/photographer and charter boat captain Mike Gnatkowski won several awards in the 2007 Michigan Outdoor Writers Craft Awards contest. The awards were presented at MOWA's summer meeting held last weekend in Rogers City. An outdoor writer and photographer for more than 30 years, Mike's image of a Sturgeon River steelhead and the tackle used to catch it garnered first place in the Gil Clark Award category for "Best Color Photo." Gnatkowski received two awards in the Cliff Ketcham Award category, which recognizes excellence in outdoor feature writing. Mike has won an award in the MOWA contest every year since 1998. His new cookbook, Wild Game Simple, is available at

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