Back trolling plugs is one of my favorite ways to fish for steelhead. The way a big steelie tries to atomize a plug that comes wobbling into its lair is so awesome!
It’s a technique that can really yield results – and plugs often attract the biggest fish in the creek: The giant males that are super territorial and all hopped up on hormones.
But you can’t back troll plugs without a boat right? What about the bank angler? Well… good news! With the help of a Luhr Jensen Hot Shot Side Planer (or similar device), you can fish plugs right off the shore. It’s a super fun and productive way to fish, too!
Recently, I’ve met a lot of anglers who are a bit confused as to how to rig a side planer… truth is the instructions on the package are more than just a little hard to follow. So, for those of you like me for whom pictures are better than words, here’s a nice, clear step-by-step look at how to rig one of these handy little steelhead catching tools.
Run your main line from the rod tip down through the wire eye at the front of the planer. I like colored braid for planer fishing so I can see where my rig is.
Next, the line goes down through the hole on the top side of the side planer.
Now, flip the planer over and run the line out through the screw eye on the back end of the unit.
Slide a bead up your main line and then tie a barrel swivel to the end. Your leader goes on the other eye of the swivel. Generally, I’ll run 3 to 6 feet of leader…but for the photo I kept it short, Finish it off with your favorite lure, in this case the super hot Yakima Bait MagLip. On larger waters, I love the 3.5 size. The new smaller 3.0 is awesome on smaller streams or when you have really clear water.
Now, you’re going to want to let out some line. With your reel in freespool, hold the planer in one hand and pull several feet of line through (and out the back of) the side planer. How much line you pull through is going to set the distance behind the planer your plug will be fishing. In clear or deep water, longer is better. I typically set my plug 15-30 feet behind the planer.
Okay, now you are about ready to get this baby wet! The next step to to ensure you have proper orientation of the planer. The wire rod at the front of the planer should always be pointed towards you and the “outrigger” arm should always face away from you. The arm easily attaches to either side of the planer and the wire will swing either direction. You have to adjust these two things depending on the side of the river you are on and which direction the current is running. Anyway, lock the wire eye into the notch of the planer as shown here.
Once the wire is snapped into place facing you, wrap your mainline 4-5 times around the tab at the front of the planer, keeping it tight between the wire eye and the tab. This keeps the planer where you set it (as I mentioned before, usually 15 to 30 feet ahead of the plug). When you start reeling in, the planer will slide back down to your swivel so you can fight the fish without having it well up the line.
Fishing the Side Planer
Okay, now it’s time to fish! In this case, the river is flowing from right to left, so we have to reverse the sides that the wire and outrigger arm from the ones in the rigging pix. Set the plug in the water and then ease the planer in as well, keeping tension on the line so it doesn’t unravel off the nose tab. You have to put the rig in water with some current, otherwise it won’t go anywhere!
With the reel in free spool, use your thumb to let line slip off the reel under tension. You need the tension on the rod side to help to get he planer to pull away from you.
It can take a while to work the planer out into the current, but it should eventually start pulling down and across from your position. The Luhr Jensen Hot Shot Side Planer comes with two different sized fins to run on the outrigger arm. Use the large one in slow water and the smaller one in fast water.
Continue to let line out at a controlled rate with your thumb until you get the plug and planer where you want them. As you can see, I have the planer working here near the opposite bank of a smaller river. Once in place, you can just hang out and wait for a fish to come to you or you can slowly walk downstream, back trolling like you would from a boat.
As I mentioned earlier, strikes are often savage! Resist the temptation to set the hook immediately and instead let the fish turn downstream with the plug first.