The old favorite methods still work in any Georgia waters, but if Southern crappie anglers want to catch more fish, they might want to get on board with a northern walleye technique—and that’s the “planer” truth!
“Planer boards are fairly new to crappie fishermen, but the technique has been around for a long time,” commented Barry Morrow, a walleye angler and crappie pro from Missouri. “The word is getting out to crappie anglers that this is a great way to fish. I’m a jig fisherman at heart, but planer boards give anglers more advantages over other fishermen, and it’s just a lot of fun to do.”
Essentially, a planer board is just a floating plastic block angled to run either left or right when pulled behind a boat. Each board attaches to fishing line with two different clips. When a fish takes a bait, a small brightly colored “tattle flag” pops up like on a mailbox.
“The line comes through the board to a weight called a tadpole,” explained Dan Dannenmueller, a professional crappie angler from Wetumpka, Ala. “A tadpole almost looks like a crankbait, but it’s a diving weight. We use No. 1 tadpole, or about a 1-oz. weight, to hold the bait down. 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.”
For decades, anglers in northern states deployed planer boards to catch walleye. Striped bass enthusiasts across the nation also fish the same way. Except for striper fishermen, few freshwater anglers in the South used planer boards and fewer considered pulling them for crappie—until recently.
Not long ago, some walleye anglers began competing in professional crappie tournaments. When they did, they adapted their old familiar techniques and equipment to tempting a different species. After these walleye fishermen started winning crappie tournaments in the South, some folks took notice.
Many crappie anglers do simple trolling or spider rigging. With trolling, also called longlining, anglers pull several baits behind their boats or slightly off to one side as far out as their rods will allow. With spider rigging, anglers put rods in holders to dangle baits off the boat bow for a slow, vertical presentation. With 16- to 20-foot rods deployed to the sides, spider riggers can push baits through a wide swath of water, but not nearly as wide as those running planer boards.
Planer boards enable anglers to fish wide spreads with multiple baits rigged for different depths simultaneously. Anglers can run boards as far from their boats as they wish or as the terrain allows. Unlike with longlining or spider rigging, anglers can also run baits through waters undisturbed by the boat or motor. With these extensive spreads, anglers can cover considerable territory to locate crappie. After finding a concentration of fish, anglers could keep pulling boards through the hot area or break out the jigging rods to probe the honey hole more thoroughly.
“Planer boards are the best search techniques for crappie because we can cover so much water,” confirmed Chris Bushart, a professional crappie angler. “We can use planers in any number of configurations and spread them out as wide as we want. We can cover more territory with planer boards in an hour than others can cover in five hours using other techniques. We may not fish that area with boards in a tournament, but that’s how we’ll find the fish. Sometimes, we fish planer boards all day long.”
Crappie always look up to attack prey. They might not even see something wiggling a few feet below them. Therefore, anglers deploying baits under planers ideally want to place their offerings to run just above the depth where the fish suspend or the top of prime cover.
Fortunately, anglers can get help to take the guess work out of determining how much line they need to let out to fish a specific lure at a desired depth and at what speed they must run to keep it there. Precision Trolling Data developed a smartphone app containing tables that provide information on different trolling scenarios, taking into account the lure type, trolling speed, line size and type, lead line length and other parameters to put a given lure at the desired depth. Download the app at www.precisiontrollingdata.com.
“Depth is determined by the amount of line out and the speed,” Dannenmueller detailed. “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. We set lures at different depths to find the best range. Once we determine the depth, we adjust our baits accordingly. I use line-counter bait-casting reels loaded with 10-lb. test Gamma line (www.gammafishing.com) when pulling planer boards.”
For a typical planer board rig, anglers run two lines without boards directly behind the boat, just like when longlining. Then, they deploy two to four rods off each side, each rigged with boards set to run at varied distances from the boat. In general, anglers pulling boards typically move forward under electric power at about 1 mile per hour more or less.
“Sometimes, we fish three boards on each side and run flatlines on the inside,” Bushart advised. “If the fish turn spooky and we’re not catching crappie right close to the boat, we’ll run four on each side. When we start in the morning, we put boards from about 25 to 100 feet behind the boat at 25- to 40-foot increments. Sometimes, we’ve put them out as far as 200 feet. Some people let their boards go out more than 300 feet, but we like to keep them closer to the boat because they are easier to work, and we can see them better.”
Anglers deploying planer boards could theoretically set them to run parallel to drop-offs on either side of the channel. When fishing a deep lake, electronically scan an area to locate drop-off edges, humps or other interesting bottom contours. Use electronics to keep the boat directly over the drop-off edge. Then, place boards to run some baits on the deep side of the drop, some on the shallow side and some at the edge. Anglers could even set a high line to run a bait near the top of the drop and a low line at the bottom of it. One never knows where crappie might want to stay or feed. Experiment with different depths to find the fish.
“People can pull boards in any water depth,” Dannenmueller said. “We’ve pulled boards in water as shallow as 6 feet. Some people pull boards in water as deep as 60 feet. We’ve done it in creek channels two or three boat lengths wide. It all depends upon where the fish are and how they are relating to structure.”
To determine what fish want to eat that day, use several different lure sizes, colors and configurations to figure out patterns. Under planer boards, anglers can fish almost any bait combinations that resemble shad or other crappie prey.
“People can pull many different baits with planer boards, such as jigs, hair jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits,” Dannenmueller recommended. “For crankbaits, I go with lures about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long. We also catch crappie on blade baits and spoons. I pull a lot of Thin Fishers and 1/8-oz. Rat-L-Traps. Many people use small Road Runners or Bobby Garland baits with 1- to 3-inch plastic trailers. Sometimes, we’ll use bigger grubs, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long, when targeting larger crappie.”
For larger crappie, use bigger baits that mimic threadfin shad or similar baitfish. Since similar-sized largemouth bass and crappie frequently eat the same prey, what interests a 3-lb. largemouth could entice a 3-lb. crappie. Therefore, many anglers targeting larger crappie pull crankbaits and other lures commonly considered largemouth baits. Long, slim jerkbaits that resemble minnows can also fool slab crappie.
“Most of the crankbaits we use are the same as bass anglers use, but some are smaller,” Morrow said. “When pulling, we’re looking for reaction bites. Big crappie have large mouths. They can suck in a crankbait with no problem. Small crappie will hit the crankbaits just as well. People will have more opportunities to catch various sized crappie with smaller baits, but bigger fish will definitely attack bigger baits.”
Bass-style hard plastics usually attract larger crappie, but might produce fewer bites. Many Georgia crappie anglers want to put more delicious fish fillets in their freezers. When trying to land a limit of eaters, downsize baits and pull more jigs and other traditional crappie temptations. Some people offer something for fish of all sizes.
“I like to pull jigs or a Road Runner on the upper part of a double rig and crankbaits on the bottom,” Dannenmueller suggested. “The crankbait trails behind and below as it dives a little deeper. Since the crankbait is more visible, it acts like a teaser. Some fish might want the jig, and some might want the crankbait. Sometimes, one fish hitting a bait gets other fish excited enough to hit the other bait. We catch a lot of doubles on this rig.”
While most anglers pull artificials, some prefer the real thing. Jigs tipped with live minnows add appealing scent and flavor to an offering, particularly when crappie turn finicky. Some anglers choose to use just live minnows, hooking them through the lips and out the nostrils. Even a fresh, dead minnow can appear alive when slowly pulled behind a boat.
“Most often, we pull light jigs like 1/32- or 1/64-ozs.,” Bushart said. “Sometimes, we put two jigs on one line about 2 to 3 feet apart and tip them with minnows.”
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 during the spring and fall when crappie most actively chase shad. In the summer, and even in the winter, anglers can still catch a bunch of fish by pulling baits parallel to deep drop-offs, around humps or over other bottom contours.
“People can use planer boards to find crappie anytime all year long,” Bushart commented. “In the spring, prespawn fish stage in deeper water before moving into the shallows for spawning, so that’s a great time to fish planer boards. Any good channel is a great place to run boards. About the only place we can’t run boards is through standing timber.”
Most professional crappie anglers specifically rig their tournament boats with fixed holders so they can hang three to four rods off each side when running planers. However, most people use the same boats for many different purposes, so they need considerably more flexibility. For people who need to reconfigure their boats, many companies sell innovative rodholders that can attach to the boat sides with clamps or by other means. Some fit into holes on bass boat decks designed to accommodate removable seats. Some kayaks come with holes where paddlers can insert rodholders.
Even in a small boat without rodholders, one person might hold a rod or two while a partner drives. The driver could even hold another rod attached to a planer rig. When fishing alone, an angler can find a way to secure a rod or two in the boat to pull boards.
Whether fishing a tournament for cash in well-equipped rig or just trying to bring home dinner in a kayak, anyone can catch fish with this method—if they just get on board with a new technique for crappie.