Down and Out for Walleye
By Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz
Football and walleye fishing are two of our passions, and there are a lot of common themes between them. It begins with preparation and studying the opponent. As game time approaches, last minute changes in strategy are made based on factors such as weather.
Trolling for walleyes is like a quarterback spreading the receivers out, leaving options for a short pass or going long. Once you see what is working, it is just a matter of making adjustments to outsmart the other side.
Our planer boards are like the receivers. Without planer boards we wouldn’t be able to effectively spread out our lines and cover a large area of water.
Situations where walleyes can be easily spooked are perfect for using planer boards. In crystal, clear water, the planer boards help us move the baits away from the boat. When walleyes are in shallow water, the boards allow us to put our lures in the right zone while the boat remains in deep water. Another bonus is the ability to work a gradual break, by running some lines in shallow water and some lines in deep water at the same time.
Finally, open water is an ideal situation for planer boards. Open water fish often suspend and are easily spooked by the boat. By running several boards out each side of the boat, not only does it reduce spooking but also creates a wider swath of trolling coverage.
Once we have spread our lines out from the boat, we have to put our lure in the right spot in the water column. If we are fishing structure, we will want to be on bottom. If we are fishing an open water basin we want to have our bait at or above where we are marking the fish.
Many times weights are needed to help get the bait to the proper place in the water column. So how do we that? We like to use Off Shore Tackle Tadpole Resettable Diving Weights (Model OR36). We often pair these weights with spinners, also known as crawler harnesses.
Tadpoles not only sink, but they are able to dive due to their unique “tadpole-like” shape, which allows us to use shorter leads. Not only is a shorter lead more efficient when reeling in a fish, they are less likely to drop to bottom as a result of a boat surge caused by waves. If the boat pauses, the shorter leads will all help keep Tadpoles from swinging down do quickly, so they will be less likely to bang bottom and get snagged.
The real beauty of a Tadpole is that when a fish hits, the clip that the line is connected to slides forward and causes the Tadpole to quit diving. The Tadpole will pull in without resistance, all you battle is the weight of the fish.
For walleye fishing we like to use a #1 Tadpole. Remember, this is a speed related system. If we slow down, the bait will go deeper – speed up and it will not dive as deep. On the Precision Trolling App it says that if we let out 35 feet of line on a #1 Tadpole, at 1mph it will run at 23 feet deep. At 1.5mph it will be 14ft deep and at 2mph it will be 11ft. deep. We really have to watch our speed to get into the exact zone. Changing speed can also be our friend. If we mark fish higher than where our baits are, we can adjust the bait depth by simply speeding up.
Let’s take a closer look at how to run multiple boards out each side of the boat. It begins with rod placement. In the back of the boat we put three rod holders on each side. The rod with the “outside line” is in the rod holder furthest to the front of the boat and the “middle line” will go in the middle rod holder. The “inside line”, which is the line with the board closest to the boat, will be placed in the rod holder at the back of the boat.
The rod holder at the front of the boat should be pointed up high. The next one should be at a medium level and the back one should be pointed just above the water. This setup gives the rod tips separation which will reduce the chance of tangled lines.
It is important to have durable rod holders. There is a good amount of torque due to the weight of an inline weight or a crank bait pulling and of course the pull of the board. Rod holders should also be easy to adjust up and down. Take a look at Cisco rod holders. Not only are these machined stainless steel rod holders durable, but they can be easily adjusted with one hand and lock into the correct position securely.
For planer boards, we use Off Shore Planer Boards (Model OR12). While the standard board comes with two clips, we like to add a Snapper Release (Model OR18) on the main arm. The Snapper can securely lock any line, including Berkley FireLine so slippage is never a problem. This clip simply will not let go, which is great for keeping boards attached to the line in big waves.
Off Shore planer boards are also perfectly ballasted, so they won’t flop in waves, they can be pulled really slow for spinners, or fast with a lot of weight behind them. Their ballast makes them track in the water and remain upright in all conditions.
We run at least two boards on each side of the boat (if you are fishing in Minnesota where only one line is legal – take some kids fishing). Multiple boards allow us to compare how they are running. If we don’t have something to reference against, it can be hard to tell if we have a small fish or weed on our lure. On the standard setup, when a board slips back something is on – hopefully a fish!
About 90 percent of the time we use Tattle Flags (Model OR12TF) on our boards. These flags have a spring system that pulls the flag down when extra weight is on the line, such as small fish, weeds, or a big walleye. With the Tattle Flag system the tension can be adjusted by moving the spring to different locations on the board – based on the pull of the bait being used. Adjust it so the flag just barely stays up – any additional pull will snap the flag down.
Next fishing season, there will be a new version of the flags that will have several positions on the flag so the tensioning spring can be placed higher up. This will allow you to put proper tension on the flag for pulling a lot of weight such as heavy pulling cranks, Tadpoles with crank baits and even lead core.
As you prepare for your next walleye trip, study the lake, create a playbook. Send your receivers down and out (spread the boards and adjust to the proper depth) to score your Next Bite!