Trolling Planer Boards for the Chesapeake

Capt Frank Tuma - Down Time Charters

Updated 2011

Planer Board Basics

Over the last 5 years Planer Boards have emerged as one of the foremost components for catching fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Trolling larger spreads becomes very workable with a set of boards. The trolling rigs are set out on each side with from 2 to 6 rods on each side.

The concept of using planer boards is two fold:

1) Get more trolling rigs in the water without tangling

2) Moving the trolling lures away from the boat motors or boat noise.

Offshore anglers and Lakes fisherman have taken on the use of using these larger planner boards for tuna to salmon.

You can easily troll 4+ offshore rigs (ballyhoo, Live bait, etc ) per board as opposed to 2 off the riggers.

When used properly, they have many advantages. Most anglers perceive them to be cumbersome and only workable on larger boats.  This theory is no longer true. Things have changed with better designs, new materials and new ideas, all  have made it easy for the small boat fisherman to run planer boards.

New ideas and uses are being developed every season.

Rigging Planer Boards.

Setup properly, Planer Boards are can be easy to use and very effective, especially for Trophy Stripers that enter the Bay during the spring migration or trolling multiple spreads.

These Boards are designed to run as close to parallel to the boat when trolling as possible. In the Bay our trolling speed is generally 2 -3 knots.  Trolling with boards, the higher the speed, the more pull they will have. The further back behind the boat, the less effective they are.  With Boards, you are trying to get a wider spread of lures and further from the boat.

Size Matters

The size of the board makes a big difference. 2 board or 3 board models, 6 “ and 10” 12” Board width all cause the boards to run deeper in the water, causing more resistance that maintains the tension on the Board running line. The more tension, the more lines and more control you have. Engineering and design make a big difference. These factors built into design all make the boards run properly.

Attaching to Boat

The Boards running line should be attached to the boat at the highest point. Boats with T-Tops or hard tops have an advantage.  The Board running line will have a bow and may drag the water when out any distance. There are planer board poles that serve to raise the level of the board attachment at the boat.

Use a separate line - (1/2 nylon) to attach to the running line.
Leave a tag line from boat line or end of running line to the gunnels for easy set and retrieve of the running line

Generally you want the boards to run safely at 75 to 125 feet from the boat and be able to troll 2 to 5 lines.

Generally, 100-150 foot of line on each side with boards running out to about 75-125 foot with bow in the running line is more than adequate.

 to attach to planer boards. I find this spools and stores easily.

Using planer line, nylon, 200lb test mono or weed whacker lines in the .95 or larger diameter works very well.
Weed whacker line has become the preferred choice. It  generally comes in bulk or 100ft lengths. and usually available in bright colors florescent red or purple, making it easy to see on the water.

Old reel for storing line

Electric Line Spooler for heavier storage

Weed Whacker Line

Running line storage 

Electric cord line spoolers work very well if not spooling on a reel.
An old reel to hold planer board line when not in use. Old open face reels work good to store line and keep from getting tangled when retrieving line. This setup is used  the same way outrigger lines are stored. They are not intended to reel the boards in, only to store the line. Sorry but the only way to retrieve these boards, is by hand over hand.


Trolling with Boards

Attaching your fishing rigs to the line is fairly simple. Run your trolling rig out to your distance 50’ 100 ‘ . Attaching to the board running line now gets a little trickier. You want the rig to stay at your distance set out. I use Scotty clip to quickly attach my trolling line to the board running line. Letting out the reel line when attached to the running line. I leave my clicker on to avoid a backlash. Let the line out to the distance you feel is comfortable on the running line (see diagram). Set the release and place in rod holder working from outside line to top rod holders, in toward boat..

I use Scotty Clips sold in most tackle shops now with a D-Ring /Carbineer to attach trolling line to the running line of the Board. Quick, easy and consistent. You can use a Rubber band #16 connected with a slip knot in the trolling line and then connected to a metal shower curtain clip or D-Ring/Carbineer clip,  which connects to the running line. I found that a 30# fish can stretch a rubber band without breaking.


When attached to the Boards, my trolling rigs are about 20 feet apart and end at about 40-50 feet from the boat.

Always set your lines from the outside in. The rods farthest out go in your top position in the rod holders. As fish take a rig, just let out the next line to fill its spot on the running line.

Safety and Common Courtesy

Boards are hard to see and not recognized in the Coast Guard Rules of the Road as part of your boat!
Do not expect other boaters to know you have boards attached when running out great distances. Boards should be brightly marked with a color that shows up at a distance. This is generally Florescent Orange and with a Flag.

Many captains use flags on top. I personally like the florescent colors trimmed on top of the boards and a bright color line. White and Black do not show well at a distance.

Remember you are taking up over 250 to 300 feet of water with your spread! With the number of boats now running boards in prime areas, it gets very crowded. I have run in these waters for 5 years with boards and never had a problem with other charter boats. Only when people running out beyond 125’ have there been any problems.

Not Good!

White boards - No Flag
Bad Idea!
Easy to see!

Easy to see!

Florescent orange/red
Trimmed on top

To Buy or Make?

ALL PLANER BOARDS are not created equal.

Planer boards are now sold regularly at tackle shops, flea markets and from recreational fisherman and charter captains that have created a new cottage industry of building planer boards. The costs to build a good set are can be upwards of $70, not including time. Buying a pre-made set will be $125 to $200 or more per set. If you have the time and experience to build your own and most important a good set of plans or a model that works it should take about 4 hours to put a set together.

Recently I tested and compared several popular models particularly designed for ease of use on small boats and that are intended for use on the Chesapeake.. All were effective and had their unique advantages and disadvantages.

With the popularity of Planer Boards now being used for trolling in the Chesapeake I thought I would try several models and see the differences.

I tested & used three types:

1)      Production 6 inch 2 board set from Riviera

2)      6 inch custom 3 board set

3)      10 inch 3 board custom set I made from a model we have used for 5 years


I tested all models trolling at 2.5 – 3 knots in a slight chop.

Know Before you Buy!

Production Model from Riviera:


These boards retail around $60- $70 each.

They are very light and made with plastic over foam. A 2 Board model  is made to fold up for storage – a plus.
These Boards have been used in the Great Lakes and other areas for years.
These boards are made to troll a shorter distance and with lighter lures than we use in the Bay area..

It is good that they fold and stow away.

Setting out in a light chop these boards started to show instability and why these would have a problem in heavy chop

At 100ft – the boards run way back without anything rigged to the line

Started rigging with 1 umbrella and boards started pulling back further
  With 1 umbrella @ 100feet, the boards start to pitch and pull and were close to flipping.




Home Made Custom built 6 inch 3 board set

These were designed and sold in the Chesapeake Bay areas.

There are many examples of boards now available. Be sure to have a good reliable test or referral  of any set of boards you wish to make or buy.

This 3 board set  was light and easy to carry. They were about 40”’s long.  They did stack nice vertically.
Small eye bolt looked like it would come lose at any time.

3 board set  was light and easy to carry. They were about 40”’s long.

Running and setting slow, the boards ran way back and low in water

At 60-75 feet out almost sunk and way back
I found that if I sped up to about 3 knots or more, boards started to work better.


Setting out 1 Umbrella, caused the boards to sink further and run back.

In slight chop at 100ft – with 1 umbrella the board starts to disappear.

These boards were hard to pull in unless I came to a stop in the water. This was probably because they were so far down in the water.

These may be ok for small 1 or 2 rigs and maybe only 50  to 75 feet out or running at higher trolling speeds.

10 inch – 3 Board Set

Click to Build Your Own

I got this design from another Captain fishing in the Solomon’s area about 5 years ago and these have been my standard since.  We had tried several models and had some very bad experiences. When a board flips all lines will get tangled, running across all lines. In rough water it becomes dangerous just getting the mess undone.

These Boards are light and easy to use and store vertically. I have never had these flip or sink.

I generally troll 3 or 4 umbrella rigs on each side without a problem. I can add a lighter Storm/Tzunami rig if needed without adding extra pull.

Setting out boards at 100 ft, boards are at a good angle - horizontal to the boat and running parallel.

Board set out with 1 umbrella in slight chop shows good angle and no tendency to flip.

I run up to 5 Umbrellas on this setup


Building a good set of boards is not hard.


Made from 1x10” x 8 ft pine stock. makes one set per 8ft board.

Click to Build Your Own


Tips and Tricks

 Just a note for offshore fisherman these work great at 6 to 7 knots out 25 feet. I have used these for Tuna with success on a boat we were fishing offshore that did not have Outriggers.  Boards may be an alternative to expensive ‘riggers

I use a reel to hold planer board line when not in use. Old open face reels work good to store line and keep from getting tangled when retrieving line.

I use 150 foot on each side with boards running out to about 100-125 foot with bow in line.

Old reel for storing running line works well if using thinner lines

Electric line winder used for keeping running line coiled properly and easy storage

Weed Whacker Trimmer line used for Running line

.095 or .105(preferred) Trimmer Line


Connecting reel line to running line is easy with a Scotty Clip setup.

Attaching the running line to the boat is very important.

It is best to attach as far forward as reasonably possible. Use a separate line - (1/2 nylon) to attach to the running line.
Planer line MUST run  to top or highest point on boat and out to Planer for best results.

Use a separate line - (1/2 nylon) to attach to the running line.
Leave a tag line from boat line or end of running line to the gunnels for easy set and retrieve of the running line


Building  a good set of Chesapeake Bay Planer Boards
Written by Capt Frank Tuma -  Down Time Charters
Plans provided by Skip Zinc and Walt Miller

Planer boards used in the Chesapeake need to provide a carrying capacity of 3 to  5 lures pulling substantial weight including large umbrella rigs.

These plans and ideas are meant only as a reference. Each set I have made seem to have its own quirks and dimensions.  Have fun and enjoy.


Plans for 3 Board Planner – Rough Draft below

Detailed plans available at this link




(2) 8 foot 1" x 10" #1 Pine - no big knots, try to find straight boards

(30) 3/8" x 16" stainless steel nuts (to fit all-thread rods)

(28) 3/8" x 1 W' stainless steel fender washers (to fit all-thread rods)

(2) eye bolts stainless steel 3/8" - 2 W' - 3" long

(4) 2' long 3/8" x 16" stainless steel all thread (may have to purchase (2) 6' pieces) or
Alternative: Use pre-cut 3/8" x 24" "All Thread" from your local Hardware stores
– easier and cheaper than stainless.

(2) bike flags (Bright Orage)  with bracket or US Flags
Note: Use fiberglass rods - Wood dowels will break if hit by waves.

(1) Lok Tite thread sealer (small tube)

(1) quart orange paint - oil base is best
Alternative: paint with white house paint and spray paint with Florescent red/orange

FOR FLAG - buy separate at Home Depot or Lowes's (2) 1/4" x 1 W' stainless steel bolt

(2) W' stainless steel wing nut
(2) W' stainless steel washer

NOTE: stainless steel hardware available in lots of qty (100) at Leonard Jed Company 1301 Covington Street, Baltimore, MD 410-685-1482. By purchasing in this large quantity the cost is approximately one third the price at a home discount center or marine store.

Alternative: Use galvanized Bolts, nuts and washers - will last 5 to 10 years at half the price and easy to get at any hardware store!

** Note:
A larger set of boards can be built simply by increasing the lengths by 6" 's and using 12" width boards.

I have since upgraded to 3 bars to to improve stability and keep boards from warping.

The exact location of the bars is not important to the running. It only improves the structure.

Captain Frank,

Thought you might get a kick out of seeing your plans come together.  Only modification is my flag which I make myself out of two field points, two old carbon arrows, and some orange painted marine vinyl.

Thanks a lot, I can't wait to try them out on the waters.....


Capt Frank Tuma - Down Time Charters