By Ron Presley
Widen your spread and increase your catch
Planer boards are a normal sight on walleye boats, but not so much among catfish anglers. Walleye anglers refer to their fishing technique as bottom bouncing, a technique that is closely related to what catfishers call dragging.
Planner boards are quickly making their way on catfish boats as the method proves itself capable of catching catfish too. Seth McCallister is one of the earlier cat men to implement the method as a way to improve his catfishing. In general he just likes to fish and always has. His long history of being on the water has led him to adopt catfish as his target of choice.
“I have been an avid multispecies angler and tournament fisherman for almost my whole life,” revealed McCallister. “Growing up, I used to float some local creeks. That experience gave me some early exposure to catfishing and the fun and excitement of catching them.”
“I always had fun catfishing, but it was not until a few years ago that I really started to take it seriously and devote a lot of time to the sport,” continued McCallister. “Now I fish around 12 tournaments a year. I spend the majority of my time traveling for catfish in southern states and the southwest on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers with my wife Laura Kane as Team Unhooked Fishing.”
As someone that was an avid walleye angler, McCallister started using planer boards almost immediately once he started catfishing seriously. “There is a technique in catfishing called ‘dragging,’’’ explained the Illinois angler. “The technique is very similar to bottom bouncing in the walleye world.”
“We use them in lakes, small rivers and even in some of the largest rivers, such as the Mississippi,” offered McCallister. “We use them on both flats and in large structure situations. If anglers have a circumstance where they would drag in the conventional way, planer boards will work really well.”
Whether it be for walleye or catfish, the technique moves a piece of bait, at slow speeds, across the bottom. Savvy anglers use snag resistant dragging weights that help avoid snags and hang-ups.
McCallister turned to planer boards after observing anglers dragging a few baits behind their catfish boats. “I wanted to increase my spread and planer boards were the natural option for covering more water,” explained McCallister. “Since implementing the technique we have found great success in both lakes and rivers with planner boards.”
McCallister offers a few things to keep in mind when river fishing with boards. “When fishing rivers we prefer to drag downriver,” offered McCallister. “We simply find more action then going against current.”
“When dragging downriver, and on slower rivers such as the Ohio, you need to ensure that your boat speed is greater than the current speed. You don’t want the planer boards, the current and the boat travelling at the same speed. Anglers can adjust for this by using the trolling motor. If the river is running at .3 mph, run your trolling motor to get you up to .5 and the boards will pull out wonderfully.”
“On faster running rivers like the Mississippi, the boards can actually be deployed backwards downriver,” explained McCallister.” With the front of your boat pointing upriver, engage your trolling motor to slow your boat as you slip backwards down river.”
The rig and then the boards can be put out the back of the boat and the boards clipped on the same way as if you were moving forward. “Since the current is moving faster than your boat, the lines will move downriver and the board will actually run backwards down the river,” explained McCallister. “This sounds confusing, but can be a deadly combination on the Mississippi River.”
McCallister did have a caveat related to wood. “I would caution about using them when fishing through lots of wood,” warned McCallister. “This type of structure can really increase the amount of hang ups that you will have.”
He followed that warning with a dose of encouragement to catfish anglers. “Planer boards are not a hard technique to get good at,” reassured McCallister. “I think many people see planer boards and think it looks difficult. That could not be further from the truth. Planer boards are very simple to use and can really increase your chances for putting quality fish in the boat.”
Anglers need to select their boards to match the fish they target. “When using planer boards for catfish you need to pick a planer board that is large enough to pull both the weight and bait size you use. This is especially important when targeting blue catfish, because of their size. There are larger format boards that many of the striper fisherman use that are perfect for catfishing.”
McCallister mentioned the Offshore SST Pro Mag Board as one he uses. “This size board is perfect for pulling large baits and weights up to 6 ounces, in both lake and river applications. We have used the larger planer boards for small channel catfish and blue cats all the way up to 45 pounds. We will also catch an occasional flathead using this method.”
Although planer boards are at times a bit more work than traditional anchor fishing, it can be a very rewarding and successful presentation when fishing for scattered or moving fish. “When reflecting on a trip after a day of fishing, more often than no we have put many more fish in the boat than we would have with more traditional methods,” revealed McCallister. “This is due to the sheer volume of water you are able to cover using the planer board technique.”
Bait selection is pretty much the same as in any other catfishing situation. “We try to match bait to what the fish are currently feeding on. Skipjack is a favorite of many catfish anglers, but if skipjack are not native to where he is fishing, McCallister will go with the native bait.
Rigging ad Deploying Planner Boards
Rigging and deploying the boards is pretty easy once you get the hang of it, according to McCallister. “Starting with no poles in the water we cast, or let out, two dragging rigs behind the boat. We deploy them to a range of 100 to180 feet. Next we clip on a large Offshore SST Pro Mag planer board to each line and let out another 50 to100 feet of line, depending on how far you want the board to track out the side of the boat.”
“Once the outside spread is set on the boards, we usually let out two regular dragging lines off of the back. We complete the presentation with two vertical presentations. This gives us our normal six pole setup.”
Speed is also an important part of the equation, basically being a trial and error application. Anglers should experiment until they find the speed that works. “We vary our speed depending on the bite,” said McCallister. “You will find the effective speed somewhere between .3 and .8 mph.”
Don’t be afraid of inclement weather. “Planner boards are very effective in bad weather,” advises McCallister. “Most often when the weather gets bad or when the waves really kick up is when planer boards will really shine, although we use them in calm conditions as well, we have seen excellent results in the wind.”
“Off Shore planer boards have been an invaluable tool in our arsenal for catching more and bigger catfish when fish are on the move, held on ledges or when fishing large flats,” offered McCallister. “The increased spread you are able to achieve using planer boards allows much more water to be covered per pass and put us in position to fish many different depths and target more fish.”
We have caught channel cats, blue cats and flathead catfish on the planer boards but we have found that channels and blues are the most likely catch on planer boards.”
For more catfishing tips from McCallister you can visit Unhooked Fishing on Facebook or the Unhooked Fishing YouTube channel.
“We try to target fish using the native bait selection,” said McCallister. “Heads, side-cuts and general bait cut techniques are all dependent on the day. Some days they want a very specific cut and others they might want the whole fish. Fresh is king though, and we try to use the freshest bait possible.”
Time on the water will teach anglers to recognize a strike. “You will get very used to the way the boards track,” explained McCallister. “When a fish hits, it will pull the board back. Once hooked up anglers should keep the rod tip high and slowly reel in the board. When the board is at the boat it can be unclipped and the fight continues the same as if fishing without boards.”
McCallister’s Mississippi River technique adds another advantage. “Since this method frees up the back of the boat, you and your partner will have plenty of room to bump out the back. Combining techniques like this can help put more fish in the boat on any given day.”