It’s hard to tell what can be more stubborn, a fish after a cold front or an angler set in his ways. I say bring on the new, the unproven, the unconventional. Outboards replaced oars and sails. Flashers replaced a heavy weight on a rope, and liquid crystal graphs replaced flashers. Now it’s time to cut the cord, stowing the rope and anchor for push-button technology, with cordless anchoring options.
Case in point: The 2010 Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit Championship on the nearly flood-stage Mississippi River at Prairie Du Chein, Wisconsin. The team of Johnnie Candle, longtime tournament angler and Devils Lake guide, along with partner Dave Noble, found what turned out to be the winning fish on a wing dam. Candle tells the story. “We found these fish the last day of practice. The current was so strong it swept around the end of the wing dam and made a big eddy, swirling the current back along shore. The fish were holding on top of the wing dam tight to shore. When we first fished the spot, I held us in the eddy with the big motor. Dave made two casts, scoring two good walleyes.
“The challenge was to fish this little area efficiently,” Candle says. “Casting Shad Raps and Flicker Shads was the key, but the lure had to bounce off the top of the wing dam near shore or you didn’t get bit. A traditional anchor didn’t keep us on the spot. Between the current in the eddy and swirling winds, the boat made huge swings. Half the time we weren’t able to cast to the sweet spot. You can’t spend that much time fishing dead water and expect to win a tournament.”
Candle and Noble’s solution turned out to be their Minn Kota i-Pilot trolling motor. GPS is built into the i-Pilot and a feature called Spot-Lock automatically adjusts speed and direction to hold the bow of the boat directly on GPS coordinates. Whenever you anchor, the anchor becomes the pivot point of an arc. The arc becomes larger with every foot of line between anchor and boat. “With Spot-Lock we were able to cast and consistently hit the sweet spot,” Candle says. “At times we both were on the bow casting, or sometimes on the stern, depending on how the wind and current moved us. We never had to worry about fish getting tangled in the anchor rope, either.”
Dropping the hook can be effective, but it takes precision and sometimes multiple drops to hit the right spot. A complex reef system or point may require 20 or more anchor positions to cover all potential hot spots. This is time-consuming hard work. It’s also noisy and stirs up sediment, clouding the water. After a few drops, fish spook. Why not just push a button.
I’m an aggressive angler, preferring to attack a reef complex by casting crankbaits, pitching jigs, or working livebait rigs around the structure quickly. When a good fish is hooked, I hit Spot-Lock and make multiple presentations to the same area as it holds me within 5 feet. As a guide who often caters to novice anglers, run-and-gun tactics aren’t always feasible. At times, finicky fish require a finesse approach. This is when I use active anchoring. Motor to the key spot, deploy i-Pilot and hit Spot-Lock, anchoring on the outside edge of the boulders where the wind contacts the reef.
Armed with slipbobber rigs, clients drift leeches, crawlers, and minnows into the boulders picking off willing fish. I then kick the trolling motor on high and move to another transition. Dissect the entire reef, never touching a rope nor banging bottom with a noisy anchor. Stay only as long as the corks keep going under. The latest version of i-Pilot saves 2,500 locations, so returning to productive spots is simple.
Wind and river currents aren’t the only factors that affect accuracy and the time involved in traditional anchoring. Water depth and bottom content also are considerations. In late summer, deep humps that top out at 20-plus feet are fish magnets. These reefs may rise from 50 foot depths and require 250 feet of anchor rope. Handling this much rope wastes valuable fishing time and leads to sitting in one spot too long. Extremely soft bottoms don’t provide the sticking power needed, allowing the boat to slowly slip downwind. Hard-packed bottom makes it difficult for the anchor to get a good grip, and require extreme amounts of lead.
The i-Pilot system changes the way you view anchoring. It’s no longer a sedentary method. It’s aggressive—stick and jab, punch and move. Take what’s offered and get out. Active anchoring at its best.
Bass fishing and anchors are not synonymous. Put the trolling motor down and go—chunk and wind, flip the dock, pitch to a fallen tree—stopping only briefly to fight a fish or make a few more casts to a fishy area. But since introduction of the Power-Pole, a hydraulic arm mounted on the stern of the boat, this has changed. Minn Kota entered the market with their Talon series, a vertically aligned electronic system that garnered Best of Show honors in the marine category at the 2011 ICAST show. Watch the B.A.S.S. or FLW tournaments and all the boats are rigged with these shallow water anchoring systems. But have they truly changed the way anglers fish or made them more effective?
2003 Bassmaster Classic Champ and 2006 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Mike Iaconnelli says, “Yes, absolutely. Anchoring has always been part of my fishing strategy ever since I was a kid fishing ponds in New Jersey. Back then I used a coffee can filled with concrete. But since I added a Power-Pole to my boat, I’ve become a more proficient angler. For instance, I was at an FLW Tour Open on the Potomac River in a postspawn situation. The Potomac is a tidal river and bass were on big flats with scattered weed clumps. On high tide it was nearly impossible to pinpoint these small clumps, so I cast my vibrating jig, probing until I snagged weeds or hooked a fish. Then I immediately hit the remote to deploy my Power-Poles. This allowed me to dissect each weed clump as I located them, making casts and landing multiple fish from each clump. I finished second in that tournament.”
Stealth, noise reduction, and keeping the water clean are vital to sight-fishermen looking to land big bedding bass. Many anglers won’t use their trolling motor to approach a bass bed to avoid what’s known as pulse noise. Depthfinders often are turned off, too. “I’ve used push poles for years to sneak up on bedding fish,” Iaconnelli says. “I used to make my own out of PVC pipe. After positioning the boat, I’d bury the push pole and tie it off to a cleat to hold position.
“Now I hit the button on the remote when I’m in position and my Power-Poles deploy. I can easily change position around the bed, giving me different casting angles. This sometimes gets a reluctant fish to bite. Most weekend anglers don’t realize how important changing casting angles can be to triggering fish to bite.
“If I’m targeting a single stump or a small rockpile, I want to hit that target from multiple directions to learn how the fish are set up on that structure. With shallow water anchors I can focus on my presentation. Once the anchors are set, I’m no longer tied to foot pedal. I can concentrate on fishing, not boat control.
“I first put one Power-Pole on my boat. Now I have two. Initially, I thought I’d use them primarily for sight-fishing. Now I use them nearly every day and in situations I never dreamed of.”
Two different active anchoring systems. One works off the bow with your trolling motor and GPS, the other off the stern with probes that stick in the ground. Active anchoring, it’s quieter, quicker, and more accurate. What more could even the most stubborn of anglers ask for.
*M. Doug Burns, “The Iowa Guide,” has guided on Iowa’s Great Lakes since 1999. Contact him at fishinfunokoboji.com, 712/209-4286.