I have always preferred to fish bait in saltwater trolling. My early years were spent in Saanich Inlet, and I learned from those like John Rose that I should be using a planer, and roller guided Peetz rod and wooden reel, loaded with wire line.
When I switched over from downriggers to planers, my catch statistics went up dramatically. And over the years I came to understand that downriggers were okay at first light, and down to 50 feet, and then planer rods caught way more fish, until about 2pm when downriggers could once again be put out, about 140 feet.
I think the difference was that early fish were less wary than later in the day, and would whack a lure close to the boat, until the sun was on the water. From then on, we lowered our planers as the hours wore on down to as much as 350 feet. If memory serves me correctly, the conversion rate was that down to 150 feet, it was 2 to 1, meaning, that every two feet of line let out resulted in one foot of depth (and of course this was easy to determine as the Peetz reels had a line counter in the reel). From 150 to 350 feet the conversion was 3 to 1 – 3 feet let out for 1 foot down.
The issue was drag, and the wire line, being so long, and having more drag than mono, and no 10-pound weight, meant that depth was more difficult to achieve. The various old timers said that beyond 350 feet, there was no point letting out more wire line as the drag resulted in zero depth added, no matter how many feet of wire line were let out. And as the turning radius was longer and having downrigger anglers cut behind you meant there was no point letting out more. Note that before planers, rocks in nylons were let out to extraordinary lengths, more than 500 feet.
I came to the view that in the daily period when planers caught more fish, the main reason was that the lure was farther away from the boat and its engine noise. Saanich Inlet is pretty much dead calm because it has only one entrance point at Wain Rocks, the current is imperceptible and thus as quiet water as you can get in fishing.
And, of course, planers were better all day when fishing for winter feeders, and all chinook, other than fall spawners (most for the Cowichan), because you seldom needed to go beyond 250 feet. So most of my Inlet ‘ancestors’ used only planers all day long, and never ever used downriggers at all. And it was only on long sunny days and over less than 4 summer months of the year that lines would be out to 350.
John Rose and Bob Redgrave with his 35 foot wooden Chris Craft and the others (Jimmy Gilbert, laconic Harold who bought Gilbert’s Boathouse, etc.) were terrific anglers and once they realized I was in fishing for the long haul, freely gave me their nuggets of wisdom. I committed them all to memory and their largesse has resulted in hundreds of extra fish over the years, before I moved in the mid-90s to the Waterfront, and finally, wistfully put my planers away – they being next to impossible to control in water with high tidal speed and criss-crossing currents.
I came to realize that because Saanich Inlet was and is so specific in terms of gear and trolling pattern, and that by the mid-seventies, when I started, there were fewer fish, that it was a great place to have learned because you had to do it exactly right or you would get skunked. If anyone else remembers some of the gear considerations I do not mention, send me a note.
And then the rest of the know-how included setting up the bait properly. The only bait and teaser we all used were large strip and large Strip Teaser, both from Rhys Davis. If memory serves me (often it does not) the large teaser used large herring strip from the left flank and that it spiralled to the right. A Super Herring strip teaser used the right flank cut and rotated to the left (Tom Davis correct me if I am wrong).
John Rose bought whole large herring and cut his own strip. He prized the strip from the left flank, and used it in preference to the right flank. I never got into cutting herring, other than cut-plugs in remote water and West Coast Van Isle. Once, when we were jawing boat to boat, he told me I wanted to take the rod as it had a fish on it. It was the rod behind me, and thus he saw the strike before I did. He didn’t shout it, just slowly drawled out, in his Scots accent, that I would want to tend to my rod, knowing I was by that point proficient enough in the catching that he didn’t need to shout across the water.
I was told that the Large Strip Teaser worked better – in Saanich Inlet – than the Super, and came to agree, as I tried both and sure enough the large caught more fish. I don’t know why the fish preferred this rotation, but they did. The trick was to push the strip all the way in to the front inside bevel evenly, then put the toothpick through bait and teaser, snipping the toothpick tight to the teaser. Note that if the teaser had crud in the front end, you took it out with a knife point and reinserted the strip. Then always checked the spiral (this means the tail follows the head, the bait does not spin, with the tail in a tighter or wider circle, as in not-spiralling) before assigning the gear to the water.
Note that with planers, due to the extra time involved in reeling in all that line and letting it all back out, it makes sense to get it right, because you will not take the fishing time to reel in something to check it. The spiral was a one second roll, or one second flop, not faster, not slower. Spiral speed was changed by bending the tab on the teaser’s back end out for a faster spiral, or in for a slower spiral. You used two single kerbed, Octopus style singles tied with sliding knots, with the trailer behind the strip’s tail end, the leader flush with the strip.
And if you were using a flasher – not everyone did – the metal hanger on the front end of the planer, that gave it its sink or trip, was bent down slightly in the middle of the top section, because the roll of a flasher would sometimes make the split ring attached to the planer trip, meaning migrate to the front end, and thus the rod fly up just like a strike, but there was no fish on the line. Heart attacks are great when there is a fish on the other end, but not so great when there is none. And of course, when a planer trips you must bring it in to check it, which is a waste of fishing time.
One final note, that when a planer trips and there is no tugging, meaning no fish, if you are fishing an artificial lure, you can feel there is no fish, and set the planer again. You brought the rod tip forward, relieved any pressure, then smoothly moved the rod tip back several feet. On the planer, the split ring would migrate back to the highest point of the metal hanger, and thus when you held the rod and waited, once it caught, the planer would tip down and the resumed pressure on the rod meant the planer was fishing once again, at the depth you had put it to.
Planers are heavy gear, and I put mine away, when I moved to the waterfront where planers are not used. The extra sound of rushing water where there is higher tidal movement and currents, I think muffles the boat/engine sounds and thus planers are hard to handle, rod tip going down into the water and up to the sky, navigating the water. Now I use downriggers with braided fabric line (boat electrical potential issue is eliminated). All of my planer gear is in my garden shed and I would take it out immediately, if I were to move my boat back to Saanich Inlet.