PEPIN — Slowly motoring out of the marina on a dead calm Lake Pepin, fishing buddies Gary Gehrman and Dan Weiss set up their trendsetting tackle on a sweltering July morning.
Targeting deep schools of walleyes and sauger, they begin by methodically lowering five 5-gallon plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottom around the bow of Gehrman’s boat.
Next, Gehrman removed long rods from a storage box, and Weiss arranged a row of faded red planer boards, Rovers as they’re called.
“The buckets slow us down to one-third mile per hour,” said Gehrman, a retired window worker from Stillwater, Minn. “At that speed, we can tease them into biting.”
Each rod is fixed with a colorful diving crankbait and a snap-on 1-ounce or half-ounce sinker, and well above that, a paperback book-sized Rover planing board.
“You control depth of the bait by adding weight,” Gehrman said. “You set 2 feet of line for every 1 foot of depth.”
Last, Gehrman clips on one of the patented white pine Rover planing boards he and the late Steve Halvorson designed, assembled and marketed for their Troll Sports Co. in Deronda 30 years ago.
Rovers, similar to much bigger skis used by Great Lakes charter fishing boats, spread lines away from the boat to avoid driving off fish. When a fish strikes, or the bait hits weeds or snags, the red-flagged Rover darts back and shakes and sometimes breaks away. Once a fish is landed, the board is recovered.
“I’ve never lost any, although one time I had to return to a lake the next day to find one,” Gehrman said.
The Rover, and another planer model, the Yellow Bird, revolutionized sport and tournament fishing over the past several decades, Gehrman said.
“When we came out with the Rover, we had numerous outdoor writers out to witness the way it worked, spreading the story of how to use them everywhere,” Gehrman said. “(In-Fisherman’s) Al Lindner once told me the (viewer) response they got after airing a TV segment on Rovers was as if it was the greatest thing since boats.”
Gehrman said his company, which sold about 10,000 of the units in left- and right-side pairs, passed a lot of information on using the planers to tournament anglers and the general public for free.
“Some people told us we had no place in the fishing industry, but a lot of tournament anglers made a lot of money off the Rover planer,” he said.
After eight years of production, Gehrman said he sold Troll Sports to Cannon Co., a large tackle supplier.
“There was just too much stuff to keep doing this part-time,” he said.
Gehrman believes the history of planer boards deserves to be immortalized, perhaps in a place such as the National Fresh Water Fishing Museum and Hall of Fame at Hayward.
During several hours our vintage Rovers glided across Lake Pepin, a wide part of the Mississippi River, and produced a mixed catch of walleye, sauger, northern pike and even crappie and perch.
“We can only hope we hold up as good as they have after 30 years,” Gehrman said.
Carlson is a freelance writer from Eau Claire.