Pro Planer Board Rod Setups

Bird Holders

New vs. Old

Line Counter Reels

Surface Rods

Bird Tree Setup

Sept. Steel

What Makes a Good Line Counter Reel & Planer Board Rod Combo?

The best line counter reel for this job? the one you can afford.  Price range for LCs goes from 50 to over 200 bucks.  Used Okuma, Diawa, ABU Garcia and the pricey Shimanos.  They all do the job.  My current line counter reels are the 2015 Ambassador Alfamar ABU Garcia, because they're priced right.  Like 80-90 bucks on eBay.  The drag the Alfamars is ultra smooth.  Reason I chose the Alfamars goes back to 1977 when I bought my first Ambassador 7000 for around a 100 bucks.  That equals 400 bucks in 2015 money when adjusted for inflation.  Back then, choices on large capacity levelwind reels was very limited, with Penn 209s winning the fleet's favor.  My gripe against the olden days Penn 209s was their drag system left a lot to be desired.

There's a bunch of good line counter reels on the market.  This was not the case in 1986 when the Diawa 47H LC broke ground with this new genre by creating line counter reels.  Nowadays Penn, Diawa, Shimano, Cabelas, ABU Garcia Ambassadors, and Okuma all make LC reels that will get the job done.  And fit any budget too.

LC reels makes setting distance back easy.  Compared to the olden days when we had count level wind passes measure how far back we were dropping our baits.  Line counter reels lets you know exactly where the fish is during the fight too.

It's not unusual to have a fish close to 300' back after the strike when you're using big boards, or birds.  It's going take a good 10-15 minutes to get this fish within netting range.  Use this time to you advantage.  Don't just stand there and gawk at a fish that's in someone else's paws.  Use this time to move rods and and have clear path from the net to the cooler.  Every minute you save, adds up to hours at the end of the season.  More importantly, when the bite is on? ...time efficiency is worth it's weight in gold!

Rods for surface trolling are a pretty easy to cover.  Any medium action rigger stick will work.  Soon learned when I started in the charter business in 1983 being able to reach the tip-top of a rod without laying it on the floor would eliminate the possibility of someone stepping on it.  So, for me 7' to 7 1/2' rods are the way to fly.

Here's a heads up: use reel clamps, or stirrups.  This anchored the reel to the rod firmly and lessens the stress on the reel seat.  Meaning many more years of service from the same rods.  Rods I'm using now are from my charter days purchased in the mid 1990s.  Sure, I've had to re-twist, wrap a few line guides and replace tip-tops.  Over time, to me, my rods become friends.  Proving themselves in battle too many times to count.  Preserving this earned friendship with tested fighting sticks is an unspoken sentimental journey, only a fisherman can understand.

Pro Rigging Rod Tips

When you're sending out invitations to a fish party, you hope your scaly guests show up on time.  Having line counter reels makes the job a lot easier and more precise. There's many ways to rig rods for surface trolling.  Widest variance is the differing types weights that are usually on about 5' leader up from the spoon.  Weight is required to pull any spoon down.  This is double true on a calm day when your fishing line is dry.  Even metal spoons will not break the water's surface tension on a flat day.  Hence, they ride on the surface like a dead stick.

Having pre-made leaders with bead chain keel weights is the best way I know of.  This allows tipping down to 15# test if you have 20 pound as a mainline.  I have leader storage cards at
These Leader Locker™ inserts keep your leader neat and organized.

First set of the trip, you might have to help the line go out by pulling line off the spool by hand.  After the mono is thoroughly wet, re-setting lines is a heck of a lot faster and easier as water drag takes over.  Once mono becomes saturated, it's a lot faster to let out a 100-125' of line with the help water drag, wet line provides.  Specific gravity of monofilament changes when it gets wet.  This can effects how deep your lure/spoon goes too.  You'll notice the added water drag of wet mono second time you reset lines.

Let's talk about time efficiency.  Say you have 2 persons aboard, MI regulations say you can use 6 rods.  That means 600' to plus 700' of string that needs to be played out.  Depending on how far you're dropping your lures back.  If you're using  big boards?  There's the task of sliding the line down on the tag line ...out to the planer board.  It's big help to have boat speed on the hot side to create more water drag.  Always keep the lines being set separated & work with your fishing partners as a team.

Setting Lines

OK, now that you're armed with a pile of knowledge.  Let's take it a step further and fine tune setting lines.  This begins with a quick visual to make sure the lure is working, not fouled when it first hits the drink.  If you're using the "big" boards and not inlines, it helps keep the boat speed on the hot side.  Let's say, your desired troll speed is 2.5 mph, Bump up the speed to 3.5 mph to get lines in the water faster.  It takes too much time to let out 100-125' of line, hook it to a release, then clip it to the planer tow line, get it to side down the tag line, if you're on the slow side.  The faster your spread is set, the quicker the party begins.

A word of note: my preference is the big boards.  But this is a matter of personal preference, because I rather go direct drive to the fish and not have an inline board to deal with.  Done it both ways and this depends on what you're most comfortable with.  "Used to be," inline planers would produce more fish due to the little boards imparting more lure action as they skitter along.  The game changer is my Lexan™ (plastic) Salmon Buster™ spoons that have their own erratic action built in.   There's no metal spoon on this planet that darts, dives and changes direction like mine!  Click a video that proves this reel-fact!

If you're using the "big" boards, make sure to use 200# test planer board line and NOT the 130-150# test that comes standard on most planer board reels.  Breaking a board off is big time grief and causes lost releases and a mess from hell.  After a few seasons, reverse the planer board cord.  Put the used stuff on the bottom of the spool. Reversing planer tow line brings newer, unused line on top.

Fluorocarbon, or Monofilament Line?

In most cases this is going to be clear open-water trolling with the exception of April shoreline trolling for Brown Trout.  Nix the 25-30 pound test goat rope used for attractors and consider 15# test.  You can get by with 20# for a mainline, then tip down to 15# leader from the keel sinkers I highly recommend to the spoon.  Fluorocarbon can be a great choice for those believing it's invisible to the fish.  Personally, I don't know.  But if the hype is true, but anything that adds confidence to your program? ...go with your gut.  Caught with both regular mono and fluoro and can't verify one works better than the other.

Wind resistance is another factor that influences the line you use.  The thicker the line diameter, the harder it is to get the line to slid down the tag line of larger boards.  Wind effects inlines too, but to a much lesser extent.