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More Lines Equal More Fish

Managed right, planer boards are great for catching trophy rockfish

Jamie Avedon caught this 43-inch, 32-pound trophy rockfish off the mouth of the Choptank River.

Fish on! Fish on!     
    The call rang out from the bridge, and we rushed out from the cabin to the stern to determine which of the 18 rods had hooked a trophy rockfish. Seizing a stout trolling outfit that was bent down by an obviously big striper, my friend Mike began to fight the fish to the boat.
    Managing to avoid any disastrous tangles, my buddy finally got the fat and healthy 37-incher on deck. It was the first of a number of catches made possible by planer boards.

Increasing the Odds
    The thrill of trophy rockfish season is getting control of a big ocean-running fish. Trolling many rods at once increases the odds of success. The challenge is avoiding tangling the active line with the many others still in the water. Because of the other rigs, the boat cannot stop lest there be even more disastrous tangles. So the victor has to overcome not only the rockfish’s strength but also the boat’s continued speed.
    A set of connected angled boards towed to either side of a craft as far back as 150 feet, planer boards let you tow multiple lines at various distances and depths without getting them tangled. The result has been an exponential increase in big fish caught, particularly during the trophy season when trolling is by far the most effective technique.

Between Ocean and Bay
    Most of the big striped bass that cruise the Atlantic Coast from Maine to South Carolina are born in our Chesapeake Bay (where we call them rockfish). They only live in the Bay for four or five years, then migrate to live in the Atlantic.
    The vast baitfish schools of the ocean feed our stripers to substantial size, often over 50 pounds and sometimes over 100 pounds. These migratory giants return to the Chesapeake once a year, during the early spring, to seek out their natal waters and reproduce. After they’ve spawned, they return to the ocean.
    Stripers begin spawning as early as February and, depending on water temperatures, can continue into May. But most are done by the third Saturday in April, when the trophy season is scheduled by Maryland law to open. Thus the season is scheduled to target fish that have already strewn their eggs.

On the Downside
    Planer-board fishing does have its downside. To rig and stream out so many outfits is a complicated affair requiring good teamwork and plenty of planning and preparation.
    Maneuvering a craft with a 300-foot-wide trolling footprint can be a big challenge. Despite the usual brightly colored flags marking a ­planer board setup, they can be hard for other boats to see, especially in choppy waters. Pleasure boaters not familiar with the fishing practice may not notice the devices in the water. The consequences of a collision with one of these towed arrays — even of an abruptly forced course change — can be costly in both time and money.
    Each individual trolling lure can include expensive, multi-lure umbrella and chandelier rigs. Multiply the individual lure cost by a dozen or more, and there is a significant investment in fishing gear. Plus a large mixup can take hours to untangle and re-deploy.
    Keep them out of trouble, though, and planer boards catch big fish.