June 10, 2016
By Dan Johnson
Generations of anglers have relied on paddles, poles, oars, and hefty anchors to hold boat position, but times are changing. "For more than 30 years, I've carried a pair of 28-pound navy-style anchors, each with 100 feet of rope, and rarely have not been able to anchor and hold," says In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange. "But today, such methods are but a sidebar to the larger topic of new-wave anchoring systems." Leading the charge are spike-style shallow-water anchors and hands-free systems that link and harness the positioning powers of your bowmount trolling motor and GPS chartplotter.
Typically mounted the stern, shallow-water anchors set a sturdy spike or pole into the bottom to hold the boat in place. When not in use, they retract or fold up. Some models assume an even lower profile by tilting to a horizontal position for transport or passing under low-hanging bridges and other obstructions. Popular on the freshwater bass and inshore saltwater scenes, they're quickly gaining fans in other quarters, for species including panfish, walleyes, catfish, and muskies.
"From 10-foot weedlines to two feet of slop, shallow-water anchors are the ultimate in pinpoint positioning, regardless of the conditions," says Minnesota bass ace Scott Bonnema. His boat is equipped with a pair of Minn Kota Talons (minnkotamotors.com) for the past five seasons. He says he routinely fields questions on the strange black poles sprouting from the transom. "At ramps and gas pumps, people ask what those things are for," he says. "I tell them they're the single-most important piece of technology I've put on my boat in years.
"The most important thing is being able to lock into position without touching the trolling motor, so I can focus on fishing, not on fighting the wind or waves," he says. "They're quieter than traditional anchors and eliminate the need to jockey the boat into position with bursts of the bowmount. You can ease into an area, then drop the spike without alerting fish to your presence," he says. To increase stealth, Bonnema shuts down all electronics.
While a single spike can keep your boat from drifting out of position, doubling down with a pair of poles improves performance. "Two Talons give me rock-solid positioning in heavy wind, when boats can swing on a single pole. That keeps me at the optimal angle to work a specific piece of cover or structure."
By enabling quick and quiet anchoring, these anchors encourage anglers to dissect fishing areas. When working a weedline or flat, for example, you can stop and explore potential hotspots and reposition the boat as you progress, with the push of a button.
When relying on a trolling motor or wind to cover an area, there's a tendency to cruise quickly and miss small key areas. And when a fish bites, the boat quickly drifts out of position or into the strike zone, spooking the rest of the school. Handy by day, shallow-water anchors are critical at night, when simple tasks become challenging. And as river anglers are discovering, they excel in current, on small flat-bottoms or larger craft.
Consider fishing a wing dam and being able to drop a spike to position the boat upstream of the structure, yet with the bow facing the area you want to fish. Or with a single spike deployed, you can use the trolling motor to spin the boat 360 degrees to work a wider area without repositioning.
Beyond fishing, chores such as keeping the boat secure while docking, loading, and unloading is simplified. "I can idle up to a dock, put the Talon down, and be halfway to my truck in the time it would take to tie up," Bonnema says. "I don't have to worry about the boat rubbing up against the dock and getting scratched on sharp surfaces. Beaching is simpler, and on lakes with rocky banks, they make it easy to hold the boat just off the bank while you go ashore," he says.
Shallow-water anchor options expand every season. Longtime player Minn Kota offers the Talon in 8-, 10-, and 12-foot lengths. All feature a three-stage deployment system with a trio of distinct anchoring options. When fishing on sand or mucky substrate, the Soft Bottom mode tones down anchoring force and only taps bottom once, to prevent the spike from plunging too deeply into the goo. The Auto-Drive option taps three times, with increasing force, to gain a foothold. And in choppy seas, Rough Water mode performs three Auto-Drive sequences to hold its ground.
Installation is an easy do-it-yourself project on flat-transom hulls, with no complicated wiring or other headaches. They're simple to operate — push buttons on the unit, or use a wireless Talon remote from anywhere in the boat.
Power-Pole (power-pole.com), invented by engineer John Oliverio, is another driving force, offering a variety of products covering 6- to 10-foot depths, and available in various colors. Most are spider-leg designs, but the quiet and compact Micro Anchor vertically deploys its 8½-foot spike in under seven seconds. The pint-sized, electric-powered unit is perfect for pinning boats, canoes, and kayaks weighing up to 1,500 pounds securely on sand, muck, or rock bottoms.
Power-Pole features include a wireless C-Monster control system, which can be operated via your smartphone or Lowrance HDS Gen3 sonar-chartplotters, plus low-friction spike glider bearings, Soft Drive stealth gearbox, and an adjustable mounting bracket that fits almost any transom, making it easy to share one unit among several boats.
Along with electric and hydraulic models, anchoring systems like the Stick It Anchor Pin (stickitanchorpins.com) offer simple and reliable hand-operated options. Stick It's lineup includes a 5½-foot kayak version, along with 7-, 8-, and 10-foot pins geared to larger vessels, plus various brackets and lanyard tethering options.
GPS-based positioning systems like Minn Kota i-Pilot, MotorGuide Pinpoint GPS, and ProNav Angler, which are linked to the trolling motor, expand anchoring ability to deeper water, though they can also be used in the shallows or even in conjunction with spikes. The i-Pilot uses built-in GPS to let you lock onto specific coordinates regardless of current, wind, or waves. Its Spot-Lock feature works like an electronic anchor to hold your boat in place by firing up the trolling motor if you move over five feet off position. Plus, you can record and retrace trolling or casting passes at your speed of choice with the Record-A-Track option. "This is game-changing technology," says Guide and walleye tournament competitor Jon Thelen.
As host of Lindy Fishing Tackle's popular "Fish Ed" online and television programming, he travels extensively, putting tackle and techniques to the test. "In 2015, I ran a Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor with i-Pilot Link and Spot-Lock. It was amazing," he says.
The system lets you deploy, stow, or trim the powerhead, plus dictate speed, direction, and anchoring options — all from a handheld remote or multi-function foot pedal. "You never have to leave the driver's seat," Thelen says. "The system is so much easier, stealthier, and precise than traditional anchoring methods. You reposition the boat more often and more effectively than ever, and catch more fish in the process."
He notes that Spot-Lock is a boon when trolling, too. "When I'm pulling spinners or Lil' Guy rigs at 1 mph and see a pod of fish on sonar, I can park over them with one keystroke," he says. "In the old days, you had to get the anchor out, move upwind, drop the hook, then get back in position. This is a different ballgame."
The i-Pilot system continues to evolve, with recent gains including a larger LCD screen and enhanced memory. One of the biggest advances to date was i-Pilot Link, which opens communication among the trolling motor, sonar/GPS unit, and map card. It's compatible with Minn Kota Ulterra, Terrova, PowerDrive V2, and select saltwater bowmounts, and works with most Ethernet-equipped Humminbird fishfinders and LakeMaster digital GPS maps.
Thelen appreciates the integration of GPS and Humminbird side- and 360-degree sonar scanning. "You can scout structure, move your cursor to the spot you want to anchor, and put the boat exactly where you want it — all without driving over the fish or even getting out of the console," he says.
He adds that the ability to deploy and stow your trolling motor without going on deck reduces the chances of falling overboard in heavy seas. "You can also be underway instantly, without hauling in an anchor — which helps greatly in big rivers and other situations where it pays to be light on your feet."
Thelen also relies on a shallow-water anchor. "I use a 12-foot Talon and have been amazed at the amount of time I spend in depths where this unit can hold the boat, whether I'm fishing walleyes, bass, or panfish," he says. Sometimes he runs the two systems together. "With a Talon down and the Ulterra on low, I keep the bow facing any direction I want," he explains.
MotorGuide's Pinpoint GPS (motorguide.com) is another great option. Available on the company's Xi5 wireless trolling motor, it relies on a GPS receiver and control algorithms to keep your boat precisely on target. You can reposition the boat in 5-foot increments in any direction and store up to eight locations in anchor mode. Other handy features include heading lock, cruise control, and route memory features.
If you'd like to add sonar and GPS to the mix, MotorGuide offers a Gateway Kit to incorporate Lowrance HDS Gen2 and Gen3 sonar/chartplotters with the GPS navigation of the Xi5 trolling motor. The connection lets you plot anchor points, headings, and more from the display.
Start-up company ProNav Marine (pronavmarine.com) brings even more options to the table with its ProNav Angler GPS-guided autopilot system. The compact unit connects to the shaft of a bowmount in seconds and lets you lock onto anchoring coordinates, follow routes, and control speed with your smartphone or tablet.
ProNav Angler also lets you create and modify unlimited routes on or off the water from your mobile device or computer, as well as store them in the ProNav Cloud, which allows infinite access from devices of your choice, enabling you to toggle between phones and tablets, or share information with fishing buddies.
And because it's easy to move the ProNav control unit from one trolling motor to another, you can use your system on multiple boats, at a price that's competitive with other autopilot and navigational systems. Currently the ProNav Angler is compatible with Minn Kota PowerDrive V2 systems and Android devices, but the company says additional motor choices and IOS compatibility are coming soon, promising to further simplify the art of boat positioning.