Big Board vs. Inlines (birds)

4 kinds of Boards

Cedar is best

Big Board in Action

Rail System

Big Boards vs. Little Boards aka the "Birds"

One of the best things about fishing is: the loads of choices to achieve the same goal.  Don't get bogged down with way too much info that clouds the simple task of catching fish.  Over thinking is cured by hands-on fishing with no preconceived notions.  Both kinds of boards have their advantages.  Little boards, no matter what the brand are usually called, birds.  This comes from the first successful inline, side-planer the, Yellow Bird.  Birds might be a little quicker to set and provide a positive hookup.  Here's where tradeoffs come in, because retrieving the smaller inline takes longer.  Not to mention, you either remove bird from the line by hand, or have it trip and flop around ...on the line while you're fighting a fish. 

With big boards, you go direct drive to the fish with no awkward chunk of plastic to contend with. With the larger planer boards hook-sets tend not to be as positive, but tolerable if you pay careful attention to keeping your hooks ultra razor sharp.  There's a lot of give in the tag line that tows the board.  This does not provide a hard point for a line release. Once again meaning, ultra sticky-sharp hooks.  So, never lazy-up to the first contact point with Mr. Fish.

One thing that's annoying to with large board systems is the vaulted mast you see riding on many boats.  This is fine, if you're in a small boat with no other alternatives.  But larger boats with a walk/bow rail, need no such thing.  I don't want to stare cross-eyed at a pole all day long stuck on the bow.  Here's a link to a You Tube video showing how to use your bow-rail, to run a super slick system from gone, but not forgotten, savvy Ludington, MI's Capt. Jerry Lee shared with me on Lk. Erie during later 1980s.  Back then we both chartered on Lk. Erie for Walleyes during June. Click for Tube remote planer board system

Todd B with various types of planers

From a cost standpoint, making your own big boards is a heck of a lot cheaper.  Price point on inlines in 2016 ranges from 30 to 50 bucks per inline board.  If you choose to make your own, I found cedar to be the best.  Problem with cedar planks purchased at lumberyards is cedar rough sawn on one side.  You'll need access to a power planer to shave the rough side down.  In the photo at the top of this page titled, "cedar is best" you can see how high cedar rides in the water.  The buoyancy cedar provides pulls like a dream and out performs any of the commercial collapsible big boards being marketed.  There's a pile of recipes for big boards on the internet that can be found by doing simple web search.  On DIY boards, remember the closer to the front of the board, the easier it will tow.  Have at 3 pull point holes to adjust for heavy duty towing on 300'-450' coppers, or lead cores.

Salmon Buster™ Spoons with Birds, or Big Boards?

Up until the introduction of my game changing Salmon Buster™ Lexan™ plastic spoons in 2015, the little, or inline boards had a leg-up.  Little boards (inlines-birds) are known for imparting an enticing herky-jerky, variable, back and forth jigging action to the bait.  From what I learned in 2015, my patent pending spoons have their own erratic jiggle-wiggle, lifelike movement built in.  So far, from what I've seen, Salmon Buster™ spoons perform equally well on both kinds of boards.  I will be running more side by side inline vs. big board tests in 2016.  At the penning of this article in late 2015, both kinds of boards worked about the same.

Board Lead Distances

There's no one size fits all for the big boards, or birds (inlines).  Conditions dictate this.  Not a set rule written in stone.  Flat water, big boards, had to go back 150' in flat-calm water.  Ripples on glassy water worked at 125', or a slight chop seen a 100' work just fine for early season Browns.  Number lines of lines that can be run off big boards is up to 6.  Nowadays, being a sport fisherman, 3, or 4 per side is my normal spread. 

Inline boards leads will be closer.  Due to the natural fall back of the board.  70' to 100' most of the time.  In building rough water with whitecaps, I've had to knock down from 4 birds a side, to 2 and kept them close to the boat.  Seen several times the little boards off the side only 25' from the boat on a 30' lead back take fish in water we really shouldn't have been fishing.  Yes, these fish hit that close to the boat when the seas were running at 4 and 6 foot  Ran as many a 5 inline boards per side in the perfect circumstances.  But 4 per side was a normal program back when I chartered (1983-2003).

It's very important to remember, rough water and boards don't go together.  Big boards can flip over and dive for the bottom like a Dipsy Diver.  Only fix is to go dead-stop in the water, let the board float back up.  Then, pull in a jumble of tangled lines all wrapped together.  Little boards cause issues too.  They jump over each other, then's a wrapped, over-under rod tanglement.

It's a good move on your part to know how to fish both inlines and the larger boards.  Both types of side planer devices have their strong points.  Making them valuable tools in your fishing arsenal.  You spread can troll a path the best part of 200' wide when boat traffic is light with boards, or birds.  That's a lot of surface area to cover!

Important: Above all, remember to let the fish drift back after the hit.  This comes from not being in a big hurry to power skate the fish back to the boat.  You need clearance, or you're going to have a mess of lines tangled together.  Line tangles are a waste of valuable fishing time.  Keep all board lead lengths the same, or you'll be shuffling lines all day to eliminate lures staggered at various distances.  Having all lines having the same length per side, makes your turns a lot less prone to tangling.


It's easy to become complacent when you're fishing.  Minutes melt into hours if you enjoy being on the Great Lakes as much as me.
But this is not the time to forget staying on top of how your spread is working!  Remember, you're fishing in the top 10' of the water column and this is where the all floatie stuff dwells.  Weeds and other junk that can foul your offering.  Rendering your baits all gunked up and useless to catch fish.  Go thru, or reset your spread every so often to make sure you're not towing debris.  On a flat day, fouled lures have a tendency to surface and you'll see a small wake way-behind your boards. 

Coming in April 2016

By mid April of 2016, I will have a video that explains using both kinds of planer boards and how I set them.  It's a 100 times more easy to show, when compared coming up with the right words for simple, yet hard to explain part of Great lakes fishing.  This new "how-to" video is priority 1 when the 2016 season begins.