Gettin' The Dread Out Of Gettin' The Lead Out
Few things in fishing -- other than bait preparation -- are less romanticized than having to lift and drop the anchor, over and over and again, month after month, year after year. Pumping that much lead oughta be outlawed. There's a better way. Several, in fact, depending on how glorified you wish to make your anchoring system. Let's start with the basics.
If you're going to anchor by hand, skip a few desserts and invest your savings in a good rope. One hundred feet of half-inch soft, flexible braided nylon rope is recommended, primarily because it allows a firm grip without abusing your hands. And it's far more durable than a cheap polypropylene rope, which not only hurts like heck and peels the skin off your fingers and palms, but tends to fray when rubbed against a rough surface.
Anchor upcurrent a sufficient distance to enable the boat to drift back to the desired fishing position, anticipating a sufficient length of rope and an adequate angle of descent to get a firm grip on the bottom. Feed out rope as you drift, then tie off at the appropriate moment. In slack water, it's possible to virtually hang your anchor straight down with few problems. But in stronger flows, more rope and a more gradual rope angle is required to dig that anchor in and hold firm.
The easiest method is to tie the anchor rope to a cleat, preferably located at or within a foot or so of the bow, to position the nose of the boat into the current for precision anchoring. A gunnel-mounted cleat eliminates the necessity of leaning over the bow to reach a rope tied to the bow eye every time you wish to retie or lift the anchor. Cleats located a bit farther back along the gunnel -- included as standard equipment on many boats -- create additional tie points that angle the boat into current and make it swing wide from the original anchor position. Use this strategy to fish a wide area from several tie-off positions, in conjunction with different lengths of anchor rope, without having to lift the anchor.
Cleat styles range from the traditional twin-ended marine style (fixed or retractable), to quick-connect variations such as the Gripper or a spring-loaded locking latch mechanism like the Quik Cleat. In lieu of a bow cleat, Attwood's Deluxe Lift 'N Lock or Anchor Rope Lift 'N Lock are good options for most fishing applications.
If the need arises, simultaneously use two anchors, ropes, and attachment cleats to handle strong current or to precisely position the boat to make a cast; double anchoring prevents the boat from swinging in wind or current. In nearly all cases, avoid anchoring at the transom only, because sudden waves from barges or large boats can wash up and over the flat transom surface, rather than deflecting around the bow.
Because river anglers rely on anchoring as a predominant strategy, they frequently invest in some type of winch to reduce the effort of repeatedly lifting and lowering a heavy anchor, and to be able to do so without having to stand up and walk to the bow. Such devices range from mechanical reels like the Worth Anchormate to electric anchor systems like the Minn Kota DeckHand.
A manual winch lets you crank the anchor up and, when needed, a simple twist of a friction release lowers the anchor back to bottom. You control the friction and speed of anchor descent with the tension knob. Mount the winch (or davit with some models) atop the bow cap, along a flat gunnel, or inside the gunnel wall, in easy position to crank the winch from your predominant fishing position. If there's an extended distance between the davit and the reel, additional pulley line guides (available from Worth) mounted to the gunnel may be necessary to position the rope for efficient cranking.
On some electric units, the anchor retracts into the winch unit itself, requiring that the entire unit be mounted adjacent to the edge of the boat, which isn't always convenient or easy. In others, a remote pulley mount called a davit is affixed to your bow cap or gunnel, hanging just enough over the edge to drop the anchor without bonking the boat on every up-down cycle. Make sure the mount is solid; add a piece of wood backing to prevent the bow cap from wobbling or the davit from eventually ripping free under stress. Bolts, lock washers, and nuts (preferably T-nuts for affixing nuts below plywood decks) are better than screws.
With an electric winch, reversing the 12-volt current via a switch allows the device to spin backwards, lowering the anchor under light tension. Popular offerings include the Powerwinch Anchor-Pro 20, Minn Kota DeckHand DH20 and powerful new Deck Hand DH40, which can hoist an anchor weighing up to 40 pounds. With any unit, it's easier to run a wire and mount a switch near your fishing position than to stop, hop, and drop 20-some pounds 20 to 30 times a day. Unless you're into that cross-training aerobics thing.
In all cases, a safe and secure grip or latch mechanism is necessary when motoring at high speed; you don't want the anchor suddenly letting loose and plunging below the hull, potentially grabbing bottom or entangling the anchor line in the propeller. If you don't trust the automatic or manual latch, either install the furnished safety pin when traveling, or simply let out a couple feet of rope and rest the anchor on the floor or deck when cruising or trailering. Better safe than sore and sorry.
Some electric anchor winches come as a system, meaning they include an anchor and a rope strong enough to retract the anchor and hold the boat. Choose your combo wisely. Don't expect a lightweight mushroom anchor to hold on hard bottom in river current as a heavier tri-fluke or navy anchor does. Most anchors tend to work best with a short section of chain attached between the anchor and the rope. Switch anchor models to a favorable design if it doesn't overload the winch capacity or prevent the anchor from properly retracting into the latch-and-lock mode. If the winch doesn't accept the anchor you need, either switch systems, or go back to hand-over-hand combat.
When retracting your anchor, take up excess slack while moving upstream. Once you're slightly past the anchor, shut off the electric mechanism and use the boat's momentum to tighten the rope and nudge the anchor loose from the bottom. If you're in manual mode, have your unsuspecting fishing partner wrap the rope around a cleat, and then nudge the anchor loose with the boat. Now he gets to enjoy lifting it into the boat -- every time you move to a new spot.
Manual or mechanical? You make the call. Typical fishing conditions determine equipment needs. Small johnboats and gentle rivers require little in the way of fancy anchoring gear. Powerful flows, or large boats geared to run long distances across waves on big reservoirs, are a different story. If your equipment can't handle the anchor, then you'll have to. Choose wisely.
Lift, lock, and load.