Story & photos by John N. Felsher
For decades, walleye and striped bass enthusiasts successfully employed planer boards to fish multiple baits at varied depths simultaneously in deep lakes. A few walleye anglers began competing in crappie tournaments, bringing their favorite techniques with them and adopting them to the new species. When they started making great catches, crappie anglers unfamiliar with this technique took notice.
“I was just trolling with crankbaits in a tournament when I came by these guys with planer boards out,” recalled Chris Bushart, a crappie pro from Halls, Tenn. “I had never seen anyone doing that for crappie before. At that time, not many crappie anglers even knew what planer boards were, especially in the South. When I started pulling them, people started coming up to me asking, ‘Why are you pulling mailboxes,’ because they look like small mailboxes, especially when the tattle flag goes up.”
Essentially, rigging planer boards to catch crappie uses the same basic principles as spider rigging or simple trolling — putting multiple baits out to cover wide tracts of water to find fish. Using planer boards just takes that concept, spreads it out and lengthens it.
“With planer boards, we can search so much more water than with other techniques,” explained Dan Dannenmueller, a professional crappie angler from Wetumpka, Ala. “We can use them to fish various depths and lures at the same time to find fish.”
With planer boats, anglers can run baits way off the side at any distance from the boat they want to fish. Many anglers run two lines without planers directly behind their boats and two to four lines with boards off each side. With the planers pulling baits off to the side, anglers don’t need to worry about the motor running over and spooking fish.
“We normally use eight rods when allowed by law, four on each side,” Dannenmueller advised. “We pull baits off the back of the boat with the rods in Driftmaster rod holders, which can be tailored to any boat.”
With planers, anglers can fish multiple depths and baits at the same time to see what works best that day. Once they determine the right combination of lure, speed, depth and color, they can zero in on the fish. Ideally, anglers want to pull baits just above the fish or cover.
“We rely heavily upon electronics to find fish,” remarked Garrett Steele of Nashville, Tenn., who joins with Dannenmueller to form Team Crappie Country. “Crappie feed out and up. They don’t usually look down. Always place baits a little out from them and above them.”
Lure style, line length and speed determine what depth baits run. In the past, figuring out the right depth required significant guessing and luck. However, a new smartphone app from Precision Trolling Data, LLC helps eliminate the guesswork from trolling. The app allows anglers to consult tables to figure out how their lures run under various trolling parameters. (Download the app at www.precisiontrollingdata.com).
“We check the Precision Trolling Data app to get precise trolling data for different baits and lines and see how much line we need to let out to get that bait at the right depth,” Dannenmueller detailed. “With a crankbait, the diving action doesn’t matter because we control the depth it runs with the board. Once we determine the depth, we adjust our baits accordingly.”
Under planer boards, anglers can run almost anything that might tempt a crappie. Some people pull live baits, but most prefer artificial enticements such as shad-colored crankbaits similar to those used for largemouth bass. Big crappie generally prey upon the same species that bass of similar size eat, namely threadfin shad and other baitfish.
“We like to pull crankbaits with Off Shore Tackle planer boards,” Dannenmueller recommended. “We use crankbaits and other hard plastics that most people think of only as bass baits. A 3-pound crappie will eat a lot of the same prey as a 3-pound bass and will hit many of the same lures.”
Pulling crankbaits and other hard plastics usually attracts larger crappie. Small jerkbaits also entice crappie. Anglers can also pull traditional jigs, spinners and many other offerings. For more numbers, anglers might want to downsize their offerings.
“People can pull unlimited different baits with planer boards, such jigs, hair jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits,” Dannenmueller advised. “Small jerkbaits can produce a lot of crappie. We also catch crappie on blade baits and spoons. We frequently pull Thin Fishers and 1/8-ounce Rat-L-Traps. Many people use small Road Runners or Bobby Garland baits with 1- to 3-inch plastic trailers. Sometimes, we’ll pull bigger grubs, about 2.5 to three inches long, when targeting larger crappie.”
To get small baits deeper, fishermen may need to add a little weight. Some people attach a diving weight or Tadpole to the board to keep light baits in the strike zone. With small baits, use a light fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon sinks and fish can’t see it very well.
“The line comes through the board to the Tadpole,” Dannenmueller said. “From the Tadpole, we put out about a 4-foot leader to the lure. The longer the leader, the longer a person must pull the fish up to the boat to net it. The weight will stop someone from reeling in the line any farther. I use line-counter bait-casting reels loaded with 10-pound test Gamma line for pulling with planer boards.”
Since anglers can vary the number of boards, depths fished and lines used, running planers for crappie could work just about anywhere at any time. This technique works particularly well for pulling baits through creek channels, around humps or over other bottom contours in major reservoirs. When fishing a drop-off, keep the boat directly over the edge whenever possible. Set some baits to run along the deep side of a drop, some to run on the shallow side and some over the edge to find where fish want to position themselves that day.
In rivers or streams, anglers could theoretically put out boards from one shoreline drop-off to the other shoreline drop and fish the entire channel. Anglers can also fish small streams and backwaters or other places simply by adjusting the line length and setup.
“When fishing river systems, getting out of the current is a major factor,” Steele said. “With most rivers, there’s some kind of movement all the time. When fishing a river, I’m always looking for eddies and places where the crappie can escape the current.”
Most professional crappie anglers specifically rig their tournament boats with fixed rod holders so they can put several rods on each side. However, many recreational anglers use the same boat for many different purposes. Fortunately, some companies sell rod holders that attach to the boat sides with clamps or by other means. Even without rod holders, anglers could hold rods and move forward slowly with gasoline or electric power. When fishing alone, an angler could secure a rod somehow and fish boards.
Whether fishing a professional tournament or just trying to put fresh fillets in the pan, crappie anglers who “get on board” might find more success just about anywhere they want to fish. Not only can anglers catch plenty fish, they can really enjoy a fun day doing it – and that’s the “planer” truth.