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updated: 11/21/2012 2:27 PM

Solution for expanding your river range is plane to see

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Think about this.

You're standing on one of banks of a fairly narrow river, and you see surface action created by fish on the shoreline across from you. That opposite shoreline could be 50-60 feet away.

There is absolutely no way you can reach that action with one of your typical casts, either with spinning or bait casting gear.

Well, at least some of us are unable to make it, and the scenario I just presented can be quite frustrating.

About 20 years ago I was introduced to side planers, or planer boards, as some fishermen call them.

A planer board is simply an oblong piece of wood or molded plastic that has a slightly angled or beveled edge on one end.

Great Lakes salmon and trout charter captains use the boards to expand their trolling efforts. Some walleye tournament anglers also use the boards to increase their chances of finding suspended fish by widening out the amount of watery real estate that can be covered.

Because the ends are cut at an angle (either for right- or left-hand coverage), these accessories zip out and away from the boat as it moves forward. Current basically does all the work. The angler clips the fishing line to the board and that's basically all there is to it.

This trolling device can be used to present a crankbait, nightcrawler rig, spoon, or fly to the fish. These boards come in either single or double-ganged models.

I repeat my declaration for those who haven't discovered my likes and dislikes in the past: I am not a great fan of trolling. I find it far too passive for me. I would rather use jigging, bait casting, and fly casting to satisfy my need to be more active. On the Great Lakes, planer boards win out with many fishermen because they help simplify the mission.

But some years ago I tried an experiment on the Fox River to see whether or not I could use a planer board to take a bait to areas I couldn't reach.

There is just so much territory, or area, if you will, to cover through normal casting and drifting lures. So I started experimenting with a small planer board.

I hooked a tiny bottom-bouncing, live bait (1/8 oz., with an 18-inch snell) rig to the board. I pushed the button on the baitcaster, thereby allowing a free-spool operation to ensue.

Because there was plenty of river current available to "drive" the board, it slowly (at first) made its way close to the opposite shoreline. If I let a little more line out, the board and rig would creep along the bank bouncing on and off whatever structure was there.

If I shortened the line, the board moved closer to midstream, where some deeper pockets were available. I got a kick out of forcing the board and bait rig against the opposite bank.

The experiment took place in August, and the first fish that took the nightcrawler was a scrappy channel catfish. I went through about a dozen more crawlers with eight more channel cats.

There were also some partially submerged tree stumps on the opposite (western) shoreline, while my location on the eastern side was devoid of similar hiding places.

And yes, I managed to lose some rigs when they became entangled in the submerged tree branches.

But it was worth the effort, and you certainly don't have to wait for summer to try this.

Even during the cold months when rivers manage to stay ice free, you can try this tactic to drum up some action.

•Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at

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