The A-B-Cs of Trusting Your Bullet

By Ron Spomer

 A bullet is not just a bullet. 

Expert advice on 8 different bullet types, 

plus how to pick the right one!

We hunters place way too much value on our rifles and scopes and way too little on our actual bullets. We’ll spend $1,000 on a hunting rifle, $500 on a scope (should be the other way around) and then look for the cheapest box of ammo we can find. Well, big mistake.

Brown bear shot with select type of bullet with proper hunting rifle

You don’t want your bullet to fail when facing an animal of this size – especially one that can fight back. This brown bear dropped in its tracks to a high shoulder shot from a .375 H&H Dakota M97 rifle firing Remington’s 300-grain Swift A-Frame Premium bullet. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

No offense, folks, but it’s the bullet that’s doing all the work. Everything else is just a launch pad. Give me a $100 used single-shot with open sights and I’ll collect the world’s record elk, moose, whitetail, pronghorn … unless you also give me some lousy ammunition.

Yes, bullets can fail. A bullet that’s too soft can flatten out like a pancake and never reach the vitals, while a bullet that’s too hard can fail to expand and zip right through the vitals like a target arrow, doing minimal damage. Get one that’s too fragile and it can break into tiny pieces and create nothing more than a flesh wound. A bullet that’s poorly balanced can wobble so badly that it arrives at a destination other than the one you were aiming at.

This is why the marketplace is flooded with, oh, about 397 different types of bullets. Sorting through them all can be tricky, but don’t worry. Here’s how to pick the right one for the job you’re looking to accomplish:

  1. Select your quarry. Obviously, you don’t need an elephant solid for a woodchuck. Neither do you want a frangible varmint bullet for an elk. The bigger the animal, the “tougher” or “harder” the bullet should be.
  2. Select your velocity. There’s a big difference between impact velocities of a 150-grain bullet launched from a 30-30 Winchester versus a 300 Winchester Magnum. The higher the impact velocity, the tougher a bullet must be in order to stay in one piece and not flatten like a hammered gumdrop.
  3. Select your impact distance. This one catches some shooters by surprise. Don’t assume your bullet is going to land with magnum velocities just because you launch it at magnum velocities. Somewhere downrange every bullet slows to 30-30 Winchester speeds – and then even slower. This doesn’t mean they’re likely to bounce off a mule deer’s shoulder, but at long range (and we’re talking beyond 500 yards in most cases) expansion may be minimal.

Bullet Types – How to Tell Them Apart and Judge What They’ll Do

  1. Frangible varmint bullets. These usually have thin, gilding metal jackets (copper alloyed with 5% to 10% zinc) and are filled with pure lead. The jacket prevents the lead from melting at high velocities in the bore, but on impact the somewhat brittle gilding metal usually breaks into two or more pieces. The lead may flatten or also break up, none of which matters on a varmint the size of a coyote or smaller. Varmint bullets are not recommended for big game hunting, but can be used effectively if they are slipped behind the shoulder to “explode” in the heart/lungs. I’ve seen whitetails terminated almost immediately with such shots. But if you hit a bone or major muscle … it’s a nasty flesh wound. (Examples: Sierra and Speer varmint hollow points, Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint, etc.)
  2. Traditional cup-and-core bullets. Much like varmint bullets except the gilding metal is usually thicker and the lead is sometimes hardened with a bit of antimony. Jackets can part from cores under impact. (Examples: Remington Core-Lokt, Winchester Power Point, Hornady SST.)
  3. Bonded. The lead core (usually pure lead) is molecularly bonded with the jacket so the two cannot mechanically separate. Usually results in increased penetration because weight retention remains fairly high. Lead, however, is still lost to erosion against meat and muscle. (Examples: Accubond, Scirocco, Power Max Bonded, Fusion.)
  4. Monolithic. All one material, usually copper or a copper alloy. Expansion is initiated via a hollow punched into the nose. The depth and width of this hollow determines the degree of expansion. (The classic example – Barnes X.)
  5. Partition style. The lead shank is usually isolated from the tapered lead nose by a wall of jacket material between the two. (Examples: Nosler Partition is the original, Swift A-Frame is a beefier version.)
  6. Hybrids. Any combination of the above. (Examples: Solid copper shank and bonded lead nose – Federal Bear Claw and Bonded Tip; Lead core shank and hollow copper – Winchester XP3.)
  7. Non-leaded varmint. Thin gilding metal jacket and sintered (compressed) metal core instead of lead.
  8. Solids. Non-expanding. These can be solid copper or gilding metal or a lead core completely surrounded by jacket material. Designed to NOT expand, but penetrate deeply in a straight line, thus flat-nosed, sometimes round-nosed.

Any of these bullets can have flat or boat-tailed bases, exposed lead tips, tapered jackets, thick or thin jacket bases, polycarbonate tips or other features that change performance minimally.

Bullet types and the materials of each

Materials, design and construction all influence bullet performance. From left: Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, Remington Core-Lokt, Speer Grand Slam, Swift Scirocco, Barnes X. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

Terminal Performance: Two Schools of Thought

As the hunter, you must determine which type of bullet is best suited for your rifle, game and style of hunting. For this, there are two basic schools of thought. One camp holds that bullets should stay inside the animal to dump all their energy into vital tissue. The other prefers that bullets expand to damage tissue, but pass out like a good broadhead arrow to leave a better blood trail. After observing literally hundreds of big game animals, from 40-pound African antelopes to brown bears and moose shot with everything from .223 Remington to .458 Lott, I’m firmly in the shoot-through camp. Kinetic energy carried by bullets doesn’t reliably behave like a knockout punch, so I like to have a good blood trail.

Here follows a basic summary of which bullet types to use and where, but numerous variables can always change things. Consider them all, but also consider accuracy. It’s better to use a slightly less preferred bullet that is accurate in your rifle than an inaccurate one that might have a slight edge in terminal performance.

The Velocity Factor

For cartridges that launch bullets at about 2,800 fps or less at game the size of whitetails taken broadside at 100 to 250 yards, traditional cup-and-core bullets are quite effective. They generally ball up and stop against the far side hide.

At fast “magnum-class” launch velocities of 3,000 fps and higher, cup-and-core bullets tend to pancake or break up, especially inside of 200 yards. You may be better served by a bonded, partition, monolithic or hybrid bullet. Such bullets will more likely stay in one piece and reach vitals if you have to shoot through the shoulders or quartering from any angle. A deep penetrating bullet can often reach the vitals from north to south to finish fleeing, wounded game. The bigger/bulkier/tougher the game, the deeper penetrating bullet you want.

At extreme ranges, say 500 yards and beyond, the velocity of a bullet drops so much that cup-and-core bullets begin performing well again. “Hard” bullets may not open as widely as they would on game inside of 400 yards, even when shot at over 3,000 fps.

Different types of bullets showing different kinds of wear and tear from use

Depending on construction, impact velocity and game struck, bullets perform in different ways. Lead can erode away, jackets can separate from lead cores, bones can mangle and tear. Monolithic bullets like the Barnes TSX (at right) usually stay in one piece, although sometimes a petal or two can shear off. The greater the retained weight of any bullet, the deeper the penetration. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

Regardless of the bullets you use, magic is not a factor. No bullet reliably drops game in its tracks every time at any impact velocity unless you hit the central nervous system. Destroy vital tissues (heart, lungs, liver) and game usually lives for several seconds to a minute until a decrease in blood pressures deprives the brain of oxygen.

The last step in shooting game is observation. Watch carefully after every shot for signs of a hit. Check thoroughly for blood and especially hair. Often bullets enter, cut hair and stay inside while the animal runs 20 to 200 yards without losing a drop of blood. Always remember to be persistent in your search.


About Ron Spomer

Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (www.ronspomeroutdoors.com)


 

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The Best Place for Moose Hunting…

…and 4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation

By Ron Spomer

Moose hunting and moose hunting preparation and tips

Come face-to-face with a big Alaskan moose-or get one on the ground-and you’ll know how big a moose is. (Ron Spomer photo)

Unless you live in the far north, a moose probably isn’t something you hunt every year. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with, one hopes, one heck of a supply of meat and one painful taxidermy bill.

So do it right. Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of hunting moose in the wrong place.

West is the Best!

Everyone wants to hunt in the best place, but that’s more easily said than done. So how do you find the right place for moose? Short answer: hunt in the mountains.

 

Okay, let’s slow down and explain some of this. I’ve hunted moose more than 10 times and taken six bulls, all in the mountains. In the flatlands – those swampy, forested lakes and rivers – I’ve struck out, just like a lot of my friends.

Why such high success in the mountains? The answer is simple: you can easily spot more moose from up there.

Lots of hunters, raised on those classic images of moose in eastern swamps and hunters in canoes, don’t even know these huge deer live in mountainous terrain, but they do. And not just in the bottomlands and river valleys. Moose negotiate steep slopes every bit as easily as do elk. They also climb quite high, often above treeline. Bulls, especially, like to live above treeline in the summer so they don’t damage their velvet antlers. They’ll stay in that open country until mid-September when rut hormones urge them to go prospecting for cows at lower levels.

Moose hunting in the mountains

Here’s a big reason why mountain moose hunting is the best: they live in the open and you can look down on them. With their big white dish-antenna antlers, they’re fairly easy to spot. (Ron Spomer photo)

But even when mountain moose are frequenting the forests, they’re easier to see in mountain terrain because hunters can get high and look low, peering right into pockets of meadow, beaver ponds and small lakes. We’ve glassed moose more than eight miles away in Alaska. Once in British Columbia we counted 14 moose spread across five miles of river bottom while we sat atop a peak.

On a hunt in the Alaska Range, we spotted a bull from our perch high up on a mountain. He was feeding in a small, wet meadow three miles away. Thick forest lay between us. My guide stayed put with the horses to watch. I took a compass reading and dived off the tundra into the fir forest. When I reached the meadow, there was the bull, just about to walk into the trees on the far side. A 200-grain Nosler Partition from my Model 70 30-06 brought that stalk to a satisfying conclusion.

When you see lots of moose during a hunt, your spirit soars. Just as important, you get more chances to land one.

Mountain moose hunting and moose hunting preparation

A big bull in the open is a surer bet than a bull holding back in the swamps. (Ron Spomer photo)

Why Not the Eastern Swamps?

I’ll grant flatland moose country may hold as many moose, but that doesn’t do you much good if you can’t see them. That’s why hunting guides in lowland habitat rely heavily on cruising lake shores, running rivers and calling like lovesick cows. They’re trying to get a bull in the headlights, but if he doesn’t come, you’re left with a sob story about a grunting bull that wouldn’t show himself.

I understand some hunters can’t head to the mountains to stalk their moose. Maine moose are a lot closer to East Coast hunters than Yukon moose, and hunts are undoubtedly a lot less expensive. Ditto Manitoba and western Ontario for Midwest hunters.

Hunting moose and moose hunting tips

This bull may have been shot in a wet meadow, but it was spotted from the peaks in the background. M70 Winchester in custom 6.5-06. 120-grain J-36 Lost River bullet, one shot. (Ron Spomer photo)

If you hunt those famous “moosing” grounds, research the heck out of them—and your outfitter. Check fish and game department websites for population trends, hunter success rates, moose die-offs and the like. The recent rash of wolf predation is disrupting moose nearly everywhere. Disease outbreaks are hitting some populations hard. An area that’s been a hotspot for years might suddenly be empty after a summer forest fire, but after a few years the young browse in burnt areas and could pull in moose from afar, fueling fantastic antler growth. Ask questions of local game wardens and biologists, too. Don’t waste your precious moose hunt on old intelligence in an area that used to be a hotspot.

 

4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation

Wherever you go, while you plot, plan and save for the perfect moose hunt, train yourself to be the perfect moose hunter. Use these tips when preparing your next moose hunt:

  1. Know your quarry. Read up on moose behavior. Study them. Listen to their calls. Calling in a bull is fairly easy when he’s willing to play.
  2. Set your goals. Study taxidermy mounts and train yourself to judge antler size. Set realistic goals for what you’ll happily shoot.
  3. Conditioning. Get in shape to walk, endure and live in the wilderness. Don’t wait until a month before you leave home. It will take you all summer. Maybe longer.
  4. Practice shooting. Don’t wait until the last minute and show up in camp afraid to shoot that new uber Magnums can be fun, but moose don’t know whether you hit them with a .375 H&H or a .270 Winchester. I’ve taken most of mine with bullets as light as 120-grain 6.5mms. Locals regularly use the .243 Winchester. Just use a bullet designed to penetrate deep and aim for the chest, which provides a generous target diameter of more than 2 feet! Don’t expect a hard-hit bull to drop in its tracks unless you strike the spine. Lung shot moose sometimes need a minute or more to realize they’re dead.
Hunting moose in the mountains and moose hunting tips

Get in shape for your hunt because even skinning a moose is a big, tough job. (Ron Spomer photo)

Finally, east or west, be prepared to get tired and dirty. Just skinning an 800- to 1,100-pound moose is a big job, but it’s no problem for the Havalon knife. Hauling the meat out is exhausting, but worth every drop of sweat. About the only wild venison better than moose is sheep, but one moose equals about 10 sheep. That’s reason enough to hunt them.


About Ron Spomer

Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (www.ronspomeroutdoors.com)


 

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Key On Three Natural Foods For Fall Bear Hunting

Find the Foods and You’ll Find Good Bear Hunting in the Fall

By Bernie Barringer

bear-hunting-fall-foods-trophy

Bernie Barringer with a bear taken in the fall on a ridge with lots of food from the mast trees in the area.

I was walking to my tree stand for a November deer hunt. A shortcut through a field of dry standing corn helped me get there undetected. As I eased down a row I was startled when I spotted something big, black and furry out ahead of me.

I stopped and eyed the black blob until I was certain it was a black bear. Bear scat littered the area, and much of the corn was broken down with ears pulled off and cleaned of their golden grain. I learned a lesson that day about the fall food choices of bears.

Black bears eat a variety of foods, but they’ll concentrate on what’s easy and available. In some cases, the foods are planted and in others the food sources occur naturally. Either way, if you find the food you’ll find the bears in the fall.

Grains: Corn, Oats, Winter Wheat

bear-hunting-fall-foods-grains

Oats are relished by bears and provide a food source while they are ripe. Bears will even visit oat fields after the harvest, gleaning fallen grains off the ground.

Corn is not the only high-carb food that attracts bears in the fall. An oat field can also be a bear magnet. Bears will feed on the fallen oats left over from harvesting, too. Winter wheat offers fresh, green shoots at a time when little of that is available, and the bears go bonkers for it.

Scout the edges of these fields to find the entry points. Bears are creatures of habit and often use the same trail to enter the field every day. They may also scratch trees before entering a field. Keep an eye out for their scratch trees; they can help you determine the size of a bear.

Put up trail cameras to find out when the bears enter the fields and to learn the size of the bear you are dealing with. Tracks will often show in the edges of the field, especially right after a rain. Follow the tracks back to their entry point and set up a treestand. Or set up an ambush downwind of the entry spot if the field is a low crop like wheat or oats. In corn, you will need to shoot the bear before he gets into the tall stuff. In low crops a rifle hunter can overlook a field; a bowhunter can set up a blind or treestand on the entry points.

bear-hunting-fall-foods-scat

Finding bear scat with oats in it is a sure sign where the bears are feeding. Find the food source and the trails in that area are prime locations for an ambush.

Bears love to roll around in the oats and sometimes you can spot these flattened areas from the road. The crop damage bears do is very negative for the farmer, but one of the best things for helping a hunter get permission to hunt. Make sure you take advantage of the situation.

Soft Mast: Apples, Plums and Other Fruits

Abandoned apple orchards are gold mines for bears. The bears start using them as soon as the apples are ripe, which usually takes place in September, depending on the variety of apple. However, late fall frosts and winds knock down a whole new round of apples for the bears, and trees that had lost their attractiveness can once again become feeding destinations for bears when the nights start getting cold. Plus I think the bears appreciate the fermentation that takes place in the fruit later in the year.

bear-hunting-fall-foods-apples

Apples, whether in orchards or abandoned in the woods, are favorite foods of bears in the fall. Bears are hard on apple trees and orchardists welcome bear hunters.

Bears will range around the area looking for variety, but they seem to hit the orchards every day for a few bites. When new apples are falling daily bears will figure that out. Bruins have no problem climbing trees to get everything within reach, but apple trees tend to have smaller limbs they cannot reach.

Since the apples tend to be in open areas such as abandoned farmsteads, ground blinds are a great tool for taking advantage of this situation. Treestands work if the conditions warrant, but being on eye-level in a ground blind is exhilarating and helps you to see farther under the overhanging branches of the apple trees. Bears can be taken by spot and stalk hunters in orchards, too. The bears may be busy with their head in the grass, poking around for fruit, which gives a hunter opportunity to move in close for a shot.

Bears relish wild plums and other wild fruits and berries. Once the leaves fall off the plants, the remaining fruit is exposed and the bears move in. It doesn’t take them long to clean the fruit up, so if you find this situation capitalize on it quickly.

Hard Mast: Acorns and Hazelnuts

bear-hunting-fall-foods-acorns

Acorns have all the ingredients to make a bear fat and healthy for the winter. Find the acorns and there will be bearns nearby.

Bears are nuts for nuts. Instinct drives them to put on weight, and high carbohydrate nuts can be quickly converted to fat. When nuts are falling, bears move in and gobble them with abandon. Most mast crops tend to fall during early autumn, and squirrels, deer and an abundance of other critters don’t take long to clean up the life-preserving morsels. However, when late fall arrives and you find a place where the nuts haven’t all been cleaned up, the bears will know about it too.

Scouting early and during hunting is an important part of finding the fall food sources. The bear hunter who is willing to burn the boot leather to find and understand fall food sources will find opportunities to bag bears in the fall when other hunters have given up.

***

Bear Hunting Secrets of the Pros

See our Free eBook on Bear Hunting Secrets of the Pros. Click here.

About Bernie Barringer

Bernie hunts and fishes for a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 500 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored 12 books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Travelling Hunter. He is a recognized authority on DIY hunting, and blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.

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Five Take-Home Lessons for More Flounder

By Mike Marsh

Keys to Catching Coastal Flatfish

Fishing surveys consistently rank flounder in the top three game fish, saltwater anglers are after. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. They’re fun to catch, great to eat and caught anywhere a couple of inches of saltwater covers their backs, what’s not to like about flounder? The trick to taking home more flounder is learning where they lurk and how to use the same rigs experts use to haul them from their favorite haunts.

a six pound flounder 448x261

A Carolina rig was called a flounder rig long before freshwater bass anglers “discovered” it. A sliding sinker rig with a Kahle hook is perfect for fishing live menhaden, a favorite forage for flounder. Another 6-pound flounder.
(Photo By Mike Marsh)

 

1: Bottom Rigs
Long before the bass fishing crowd nicknamed it the “Carolina rig,” saltwater anglers called the simple egg sinker rig a “flounder rig.” The flounder rig in its various forms has accounted for more flounder than any other rig. What’s its key? Versatility.

A half-ounce sinker and an 8-inch leader may work well in shallow, dingy water while a 3-ounce sinker and an 18-inch leader may work better in deeper, clearer water. Shorter leaders keep live baitfish such as mullet and menhaden closer to the bottom in stained water where flounder can see them more easily. Longer leaders allow them to swim more freely and higher above the bottom in water that has good visibility. The most important part of a flounder rig is the hook, which should be a Kahle or wide-bend style.

mullet and menhaden best flounder baitfish 448x317

Mullet and menhaden are the best baitfish for flounder. Catch them in cast nets and put them in live wells before heading out for a day of flounder fishing.
(Photo By Mike Marsh)

2: Float Rigs
Adapting float rigs to flounder fishing is easy, once the angler identifies a hotspot such as a rubble pile or oyster bed. Bottom rigs may hang up or break off with every cast in such snag-filled places where flounder lie in wait for prey. Float rigs work best in water less than five feet deep. Once the angler determines the bottom and structure depth with an anchor line, pole or by hanging bottom rigs, he knows how deep to dangle a live bait beneath a float while leaving adequate clearance to avoid the snags. A flounder will rise several feet to strike a baitfish swimming overhead.

author with flounder caught in navigation channel 435x336

The author with a 6-pound flounder caught in a navigation channel with roots, stumps and trees along the bank. (Photo By Mike Marsh)

The same hook styles used with bottom rigs also work with float rigs. However, most anglers switch to a treble hook, hooking the bait in the nose with one prong and leaving the other two exposed.

3: Flounder Jigs
Jigs have generated lots of interest in recent years. While anglers who target the biggest flounder still rely on live baits, anglers who want to catch more keeper-sized fish in less time should learn to use jigs.

flounder caught from fishing pier 317x448

Flounder can be caught almost anywhere there is saltwater. Any angler who does not have a boat can catch them from a commercial fishing pier. This angler was fishing at Kure Beach Fishing Pier in North Carolina.
(Photo By Mike Marsh)

White is the most popular color, with natural the commonplace dressing. The most important factor is the type of trailer. While fish strips and live minnows work well, plastic trailers specifically tailored to flounder are more durable. Patterned after the ubiquitous pork rind of freshwater fishing, the Berkley Power Bait Flounder Strip was the first trailer to revolutionize flounder jigs. Berkley’s Gulp! enzyme-impregnated trailers have raised the bar ever higher.

4: Drifting
Drifting is one of the most popular flounder fishing methods. In its simplest form, an angler drops a live minnow on a bottom rig and allows the wind or current to move the boat.

A more efficient method is “power drifting,” with the angler controlling the direction of the drift by leaving the engine switched on and kicking it in and out of gear to maneuver the boat over prime spots. Some anglers also troll for flounder, dragging their baits on the bottom in broad estuaries that have little current.

5: Fishing Offshore Ledges and Reefs
In most coastal areas, natural ledges and artificial reefs are located within a short distance of an inlet or river mouth. These structure areas hold plenty of flounder.

author caught flounder along shoreline 317x448

The author caught this flounder by using a jig with an enzyme-impregnated trailer. The fish was holding along a shoreline with riprap. Flounder are attracted to areas with hard structure. (Photo By Mike Marsh)

The key to catching flounder is learning which areas of the structure hold the most fish among the least snags. Flounder lie on the bottom within a couple of feet of the edge of the structure, where targeting them can be frustrating. Drifting with a jig is popular because the angler can usually reverse the engine to free the jig from a snag. When anchoring on the structure and fishing with live baits on bottom rigs, anglers should use a bendable tined grapnel, such as the Mighty Mite or drop a fluked anchor into the sand upwind of the structure and pay out anchor line until the boat drifts back over the strike zone.

Yes flounder are coastal fish but hey – lots of people live on the coast, so it’s no wonder flounder are one of the top fish anywhere. Follow these five tips and get some good eating!


mike marshAbout Mike Marsh

Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.


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Planer Boards: Useful Tips for Summer Walleye Fishing

By Bernie Barringer

What’s the secret to big walleye fishing?
Planer Boards!
This nifty tool puts you in the middle of
overlooked walleyes.

tommy skarlis wins big with planer boards 300x448

Tommy Skarlis has won more money catching big fish on planer boards in professional walleye tournaments than anyone else.

From shiners to sheepshead, and alewives to shad, large schools of baitfish inhabit the vast open water of our natural lakes and reservoirs. It should be no surprise that walleyes follow the food into the open water and feast on these pelagic balls of bait.

In summer, large, loosely-grouped schools of big walleyes are suspended in open water, hunting these baitfish. While anglers pick away at small walleyes around the points, rock piles and weed lines, hungrier specimens are almost untouched for the majority of the year, which allows them to get big. In some cases, really big.

How Big? Professional angler Tommy Skarlis knows about big walleye fishing. In fact he owns the record for the largest catch in any professional walleye tournament. Over a three-day tournament at Lake Erie, he brought his limit of five walleyes to the scales each day. Those 15 walleyes weighed a total of 138 pounds. Don’t bother to reach for a calculator, I already figured it out for you… that’s an impressive average of 9.2 pounds each!

How to Catch Them. How he caught those walleyes might be of interest to you. He caught them by trolling with planer boards, a technique that has been popular on Lake Erie for the better part of two decades. Because this technique is so effective, it has exploded in popularity on smaller natural lakes, reservoirs and even rivers during the last decade.

planer boards allow more water coverage 296x448

Planer boards allow you to spread lines out and cover more water. Perfect for contacting suspended fish in the summer. (Photo by Mark Romanack)

The Bait and the Structure Are the Same. Many walleye anglers are structure oriented, and that’s with good cause, but in many lakes and reservoirs, these suspended fish get really big because few people are targeting them. “The structure is the bait,” Skarlis told me. “You find the schools of baitfish and you will find walleyes relating to them.”

How to Fish Planer Boards. Skarlis starts out by spreading the planer boards out and combing the depths. By varying the length of line behind the boards he can control how deep the baits dive, and he also uses different baits that run at different depths. He normally starts out running four lines, two on each side of the boat, putting baits at 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet or near the bottom. When he gets a bite, he begins to adjust the other lines until he has a pattern figured out. “Walleyes tend to feed up, so don’t be afraid to start high and work your way down.”

The Advantages of Planer Boards:

  1. One of the significant advantages of walleye fishing with planer boards is the ability to catch fish that are either shallow or well up in the water column. If you are trolling a bait behind your boat and the walleyes are only five feet down, the boat will spook the fish so you aren’t going to catch very many, particularly in clear water. Where do the spooked fish go? Why right off to the side of course, and that’s where your planer board is running your bait.
a sagging board means a fish hooked 448x299

As the boards run off to the side of the boat, you will know you have a fish on when they begin to sag back. I’ve seen big walleyes pull the boards all the way under. (Photo by Mark Romanack)

  1. The same is true of fishing in shallow water. Walleyes often come up on shallow flats to feed and chase baitfish. Crankbaits or spinners attached to planer boards spread out your lines, covering more water, and anything that is spooked by the boat motor running directly over them moves right off to the side and runs smack into your bait. Perfect.
  1. Skarlis has another trick up his sleeve when it comes to fishing with planer boards. “Too many people just troll in a straight line. That’s boring. I mix it up a little, making S-curves and driving erratically. As you turn, the baits on the outside of the turn speed up and dive deeper, while the ones on the inside slow down and rise a little. You’d be surprised how often this little variation triggers a bite.”
planers can be used with spinners or crankbaits 299x448

Planers can be used with either spinners or crankbaits. They target big fish that are orienting to schools of open water bait.

When he catches a fish or marks a pod of them on his sonar, he hits a marker on the GPS. Soon a pattern begins to develop. “The fish are there for a reason,” he says, “and they will be there a while, you need to be able to go right back to those same spots.”

In that Lake Erie tournament a lot of anglers were catching fish and bringing in big limits, but Skarlis dialed them in better. “I found that there were fish to be caught at many depths, but it seemed like the biggest fish consistently came from 11-12 feet below the surface,” he said. “But I have often seen big walleyes only five feet below the surface. There is really no way to catch these fish that’s even close to as effective as planer boards. It’s like turning your little push lawnmower into a big double deck rider, you can really spread out and cover a lot of water.”

Is walleye fishing with planer boards for you? If you have a boat, you can find fish with planer boards and they are likely to be bigger fish than you are catching elsewhere because other fishermen aren’t targeting them. A set of four Off Shore OR-12 boards and the rod holders to attach to your boat will run you a little upwards of $200. That’s a small investment to make that will pay off in more and bigger walleyes.


Bernie Barringer Bass Fishing.About Bernie Barringer

Bernie Barringer is a lifelong angler who has competed in professional walleye tournaments. He enjoys fishing for all species and writing about his experiences for many outdoor magazines.


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