by Chris Walker
Have you ever felt intimidated while fishing a large “super clear” body of water? I’m talking about bodies of water like the Great Lakes, Georgian Bay or Lake St. Clair. You may ask yourself, “Where do I start, What should I use, How will I ever cover all of this water? These questions have only one simple answer. Troll 10” Jointed Believers on planer boards in the section of the lake that is holding the most baitfish and muskies. Yeah right, if it were only that easy. Well it can be if you learn to master the art of trolling for muskies using planer boards.
Let’s start by analyzing my bold statement in the last paragraph – Troll 10” Jointed Believers… Why? Well let’s see, there is not a trolling bait made that has more built in action than the Believer, where its side to side sweep/wander can cover an amazing 6+ feet and in doing so also changes depths all without having to pump the rod or impart any action into the lure. In 2006 the Catch and Release World Record Muskie was caught on a 10” Jointed Believer, also past experience has shown me that 95% of my trolling muskies in the U.S and Canada have been caught on 10” Jointed Believers and then there is the very well known fact that the Believer has more “World Class” muskies under its belt than any other muskie crankbait on the market today. I think you can begin to understand why it’s my #1 go to lure for trolling.
Next, planer boards… Wait a minute; I thought planer boards were only used to troll for Walleye or Salmon. Actually, planer boards have been used by muskie fisherman for more than 10 years on Lake St. Clair and various muskie fisheries in the Eastern United States and the technique is quickly gaining in popularity on other bodies of water around the country. Planer boards spread a lure laterally away from each side of the boat which helps an angler cover more water by being able to run multiple lines (check local regulations on lines/angler), they also make turning easier and reduce tangling, but most importantly planer boards have played a huge part in my success rate on “Super Clear” bodies of water in triggering strikes from fish that may be spooked away from the boat. I am afraid to think about the amount of fish that get overlooked due to this unfortunate scenario. The truth is in the numbers, on my last muskie trip to Canada where the water is gin clear a whopping 9 of the 10 muskies hooked where on planer board rods and the trip before that we went 8 of 11 on the planer boards that’s 17 muskies on boards and 4 on the boat rods – I think you get the picture.
O.K now to the most mystifying part of the statement I made earlier,” the section of the lake holding the most baitfish and muskie.” Again I have a very simple answer to help you breakdown your favorite body of water and also help you to more understand the key elements used when trolling for muskies with planer boards. First I need to shed some light on the baitfish thing. In my area in Canada, I am targeting both muskies suspending in open water and muskies relating to structure such as rock humps and shelves. One reason I choose a 10” Believer for this type of trolling is because my target range for a lures depth is 10-20 feet to stay around baitfish/muskies whether I am in open water or trolling structure and this lure covers that range very well. Also keep in mind I am talking about a gin clear body of water so Drifter Tackle’s natural color patterns such as Finlander Cisco for open water trolling and Perch or Walleye for trolling structure tend to be my best producers. Knowing what forage your muskies feed on most and the times of year they feed on them is a very important part of your trolling success. Once you have figured out what type baitfish you are targeting and you know their depth ranges and you know the depth ranges of the structure you will be fishing you are ready to set up your system and start trolling.
There are 3 key elements to trolling with planer boards. First is obtaining the right lure depth. The desired lure depth is obtained by lengthening or shortening the distance of line between your rod and your lure. Simply put, the more line that is out the deeper the bait will run and the less line that is out the shallower the bait will go. I have found that using line counter reels and making a lure depth chart has greatly improved my efficiency on the water. My lure depth chart for trolling 10” Jointed Believers on 100# braided line in my desired depth ranges are as follows:(may vary with different speed/conditions) 85 feet of line = 12 feet deep, 100 feet of line = 15 feet deep, and 125 feet of line = 18-20 feet deep.
The second key element is trolling speed. The right speed can mean the difference between catching muskies and not catching anything at all. My average speed for trolling 10” Believers on planer boards ranges between 3.0 and 4.5 miles per hour. Finding out what speed it will take for your muskies to eat is just a process of elimination. Keep in mind these baits will troll with the same great action from 2 to 6+ miles per hour.
The third key element to trolling with planer boards is setting a pattern and reproducing what has just worked for you. Being able to duplicate the situation that caught a muskie is the difference between catching muskies by chance and catching muskies consistently. For example, if I catch a muskie on a planer board rod with 100 feet of line out on a Perch colored Believer trolling at 3.9 miles per hour, I will immediately set that lure back at the same 100 feet and will key in on that trolling speed of 3.9 miles per hour. I will then put another Perch colored Believer on the other planer board rod and troll it 100 feet back. You can see how setting a pattern using planer boards can be very efficient and easy.
I think it is obvious that the days of just grabbing a lure out of your tackle box and hopelessly dragging it behind the boat are over. By taking a systematic approach to trolling you will be able to target fish that were previously overlooked. On your next muskie trip make sure you try trolling Believer’s on planer boards. I’m sure you will have the same success as I have. Good Luck!!!
Lakewood tacklebox full of Believers
Big Jon Trolling Mast
Homemade wood planer boards (can get plans from www.mssfa.com)
Offshore Tackle OR-30 Muskie Release Clips (These even hold 13” Believers)
Down-East Rod holders on Traxstech adjustable bases
Shimano Line Counter Reels on 7’ 9” Heavy St. Croix rods
100# Power Pro Braided Line
Stealth Tackle Leaders (130# Fluorocarbon & 175# solid strand)
Chris Walker is owner of Indiana Fishing Adventures Guide Service which specializes in Muskie and Smallmouth Bass trips in Indiana . He also spends 7 weeks a year dedicated to trolling Lake Huron in search of “World Class” Muskies. Chris can be reached via his website at www.indianafishingadventures.com or 317-727-8432