Like a lot of fishing guides, Rod Thomas of Capt. Ponytail Guide Service got his training on the water. Unlike a lot of guides, he got plenty of training holding a video camera as well as a fishing rod, filming outdoors TV shows.

One thing he learned is something a lot of inshore saltwater guides are missing from their repertoire: how and when to use a side planer board.

Thomas guides on North Carolina’s Roanoke River during the annual spring striper run, then spends most of the summer and fall on South Carolina’s Winyah Bay — minus a month on North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound targeting bull redfish. Planer boards — thin plastic boards with a keel, a snap swivel and a clip — are a big part of his arsenal much of the year. They used to spread baits or lures out away from a moving or anchored boat in order to provide fish with multiple targets over a wider area.

“I learned it from striper fishermen, and the saltwater guys don’t get them at all, but they allow you to get baits in some spots that you can’t otherwise reach,” said Thomas. 

To set up a planer board, a fisherman slides the running line from his rod and reel through the snap swivel, usually with only a few split shot crimped on above the terminal tackle, then pays out as much line as he wants so the angle of the board and pressure from moving water takes the board and line out away from the boat, using the clip to hold the line in place like a downrigger clip. Planer boards can be fished at varying distances from a vessel, at varying distances behind a vessel — almost anyway you can imagine.

And imagination has taught Thomas several saltwater applications for planer boards.

First, when he’s fishing along the rock jetties that guard the entrances to Winyah Bay near Georgetown, Thomas said will put out a live bait on a planer board on the side of his boat closes to the jetty rocks, often several baits. He can then slow-troll up and down the jetties, a safe distance from the rocks, while his baits slip through the strike zone of a redfish, trout and even a flounder.

“You don’t want the baits on the sandy bottom away from the rocks, because there are a lot of rocks that have slid a ways out there, and you can hang up,” said Thomas, who has used WaterBugz planer boards for years. “You want to let out enough line to get the bait against the rocks, but above the rocks. You can fish it almost at the surface if you only let out a little bit of line behind the planer board.

“It’s really good to put out a planer board when you’re looking for fish. I can fish one off the side of the boat toward the rocks while I’ve got a guy up front with me casting to the rocks. You can fish two or three planer boards off the stern while you’ve got two or three guys casting from the bow.”

His other main application for planer boards is to allow him to fish both sides of a wide, marsh creek.

“The other place it’s great to use one is in the marsh,” Thomas said. “If I’m fishing an oyster bed on one side of a creek, I can anchor up and put a planer board to go to the other side of the creek, 40 yards away. I let it out and stop it, and it just rides in the current; it won’t move. The only thing that can happen is to get some grass or weeds on the line.

“It’s a great way to fish the outside edge of a creek bend at the same time you’re fishing the inside bend.”