Musky Fishing with Planer Boards

Posted on December 19, 2012 by .

Musky fishing demands careful placement of bait in areas where traditional methods are ineffective. The planer board was introduced many years ago with the emphasis on presenting live bait in a horizontal presentation. Using a planer board allows the angler to place the bait closer to the favorite hiding places of the most evasive musky.


A planer board will spread fishing lines away from the boat in the effort to cover more area in one pass. Multiple lines will reach different distances from the boat with the added benefit of gaining interest from musky in the shallows without spooking them. With proper use of weights, some lines can be sent deeper to find the musky that is hunting for baitfish suspended in deeper waters.


Visualizing the methods of planer board use can be difficult without carefully described scenarios.

• SCENARIO ONE – Walls and steep breaklines – Proper use of the planer board allows close approaches without relying on accurate casts to reach vertical structures above, or below, the waterline. Muskies will favor hard-to-reach knolls that provide protection. Various line lengths allow for the use of a sucker, and artificial lures in the same pass. Stubborn muskies might ignore certain lines and find interest in the live bait.

• SCENARIO TWO – Weather changes – Anglers become accustomed to working the edges of the lake to find the big fish. A cold front can force the fish into deeper water. The planer board is effective for this situation since longer lines are part of the initial pass. Muskies will take notice of live bait presented at considerable depths. During hot weather conditions, fish will favor shallow bays, weed flat and shallow bars. The planer bar can be used to present bait at virtually any depth.

• SCENARIO THREE – Fish schools – Musky’s will move to depths where there are smaller fish for feeding. The planer board allows multiple types of bait to be presented at various depths to reach the musky in all water temperatures. Instead of making multiple attempts, many different lines are used to present bait of multiple types in one pass.


Quick-set rigs are designed to work in conjunction with the planer board. Single-hook and circle-hook rigs have been criticized because the musky cannot be released after being caught with one. The Herbie quick-set rig will catch fish in many challenging settings with a 100 percent safe release record.

The Herbie rig can be modified to add a clevis, a Number 7 or 8 Colorado blade, with a few beads on the leader line, which converts the rigging to a giant spinner. This lure can be used in conjunction with live bait where the rubber band of the Herbie Rig is through the sucker’s lips, not its nose, to keep the entire rig in line. The blade will spin more freely with this setup.

Rubbercore sinkers from 1/4- ounce to 1-ounce are required to achieve proper depths for each line. A pair of inline planer board with heavy releases will work well together. Fiberglass or composite rods are best for this setup.

Suckers from 13 inches to 17 inches will provide sufficient live bait for some of the lines. These live fish might seem large, but the larger bait offered will bring a large musky from the depths. Lively movement on the line will attract the savviest musky.


Creating proper tension on the lines is essential for success in the use of a planer board. With any wind, the boat must be positioned to go into the wind. Boat speed will determine how effectively the lines sink to various depths. Too much speed will cause the lines to come to the surface. Slow speeds prevent the spinners from working properly. Lines with artificial lures will sink at very slow trolling speeds.

The boat driver must go to the edge or depth where the live bait will be fished. Set the sucker line at the proper depth and then properly attach the planer board. Set the fishing reel to free spool and move the boat away from the structure. A casting distance can be established with this method.

From the desired distance, engage the line-out clicker. The spool tension will be adjusted to prevent the line from extending while fishing. An aggressive fish will take the line. The angler should pay close attention to the difference between a free spool and sufficient tension by placing the thumb on the spool.


All of the efforts will be lost without proper boat speed. A simple, yet the apt description is the cruise-and coast. The bait will rise and swim in response to the boat speed. Initial moves forward in trolling speed will cause the bait to rise into view from under the water. The boat should be slowed to allow the bait to sink once again. The spinners will flutter, which is when the musky will strike. Additionally, the planer board itself will often attract musky because they are curious. Once the sucker is noticed, the musky will take it.

When fishing close to structures or heavily weeded areas, avoid the use of weights to reduce the number of hang-ups in the lines. A line holding the sucker should be 10 feet long if the sucker is to be fished at five feet below the boat. More obstacles in the water, including grass, mud, and sand, will determine the best number of lines, the line length, and the boat speed.


The first few strikes are hard to handle for the novice angler. A planer board will begin to bob and act unnaturally because the sucker is attempting to escape. This live fish is aware that a musky is in pursuit. The musky strike will cause the board to move to one side of the boat.

The angler must stay calm and bring the other lines out of the water while the musky is still attached to the sucker line. Trolling speed must be maintained for constant tension.

The rod should be pointed at the fish while reeling in the line until the weight of the fish is felt on the line. Set the hook with several sharp tugs and keep the pressure on the fish.


Experienced anglers recommend the use of the planer board for fish that refuse to strike under standard conditions. Use of live bait slows the fishing pace considerably. Challenging conditions call for extreme measures to interest the stubborn musky to strike on live, or artificial, lures.

Practicing with the planer board will prevent tangling up lines and wasting an entire morning in frustration. Use of two or three lines in the first few passes will allow the angler to become accustomed to the various approaches without too many details to track. As experience is gained, more lines and bait types can be added.

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