T here area a dozen-odd boats sitting at anchor over the rocky bottom, catching one fish after the next. Another boat arrives, pulls upwind of the pack, and drops down the hook.
His anchor line pulls tight, so he shuts off the motor and walks to the stern to get a line ready to cast. When he next looks up, his boat is in the middle of the pack and slowly moving towards someone else’s anchor line.
The hapless captain throws down his rod, races up to the bow, hauls the dragging anchor up as quickly as possible, races back to the helm, starts the engine, and pulls away just in time to avoid twisting that other anchor line around the prop—except when he doesn’t make it in time.
This is a scene many of us have seen play out on the water. Some of us have been on the receiving end, too, shoving off on a drifting boat that didn’t notice their dragging anchor quite soon enough.
The problem here is that many people don’t know exactly how to tell (or simply don’t notice) when their anchor is dragging, whether it’s been doing so from the moment they dropped it or it popped free on a big wave.
Nine times out of 10, however, the root of this problem lies in the anchor and ground tackle that’s been chosen to do the job, in the first place. Anchor types are, of course, a major factor. So let’s look at each one in turn.
Danforth — This type has two flukes that pivot on a shaft, and are very effective in mud, sand, and other soft bottom types. But on rock and packed shell, they tend to skip along without firmly digging in.
On wrecks and reefs they may hold if the pointed flukes grab in a lucky spot, but quite commonly, they also become stuck and may be irretrievable.
Plow — Plow anchors look just like, well, a plow. They have similar characteristics to the Danforth and do best in relatively soft bottom types. They aren’t likely to hold on wreck or reef materials and again, if they do, they’ll often become permanent additions to the structure.
Grappling — These anchors have multiple tines poking out (think of a giant treble hook but with five or six hooks), and are completely ineffective on soft bottoms, but are the best way to snag on hard shell, a jagged rocky bottom, or a wreck or reef.
Most are designed so the tines can be bent out by applying some extra pressure with the throttle of your boat, so they can be recovered after use in a snaggy situation. Many handy anglers build their own grappling anchors by welding short lengths of rebar to a pipe then bending them into shape.
Mushroom — Mushroom anchors depend almost entirely on their own weight to hold position, so they aren’t usually much good for boats of any real size.
Although a 10-pound mushroom works just fine for a jon boat in a lake, the huge sizes needed for bigger boats used in open water, makes them impractical. Still, their easy to stow nature and the fact that they hold equally well on any bottom type makes them a favorite for pond-hoppers, canoes and the like.
For many boaters, carrying two anchors is in order—one for soft bottom, and one for holding tight on structure. Of course, you’ll need to make sure each anchor is sized properly for the boat you intend to use it with. Fortunately, this minor detail is usually well marked on the anchor itself, or is on a label when you see the anchor in the store.
Even with the proper type and size of anchor, having the appropriate ground tackle is also a must. Rope alone rarely does the trick, and having a sufficient length of chain between the rope and the anchor is imperative.
Just what is that length? It depends on the size of your boat and the depth of the water you usually anchor in, but as a general rule of thumb you’ll want to use at least 10 feet of chain and ideally, the same length of chain as your boat’s LOA.
Okay, all the boxes have been checked and all the gear is in good order—what else do you need to know to make sure your boat doesn’t break free?
Start with how much scope (extra line) you let out after the anchor hits bottom. At a bare minimum in calm water, a 3:1 ratio to the water depth is sufficient. If the water is 20-foot deep, for example, less than 60 feet of line isn’t likely to be enough no matter how calm it may be.
If there’s any real wind, current, or waves pushing your boat this way and that, a scope of 5:1 is probably going to be necessary. And in rough conditions a 7:1 scope is usually minimal. And, just for the record, if you get caught in a raging storm you’ll want to let out every last foot of scope available—the more, the better.
One final point: if you want to make 100 percent sure you’re never “that guy” dragging anchor and drifting toward other boats, your own situational awareness is just as important as everything we’ve discussed here. Becoming focused on baiting a hook, tying a knot, or waiting for a bite often distracts an otherwise competent captain. As a result, he or she may not notice that the anchor is dragging or has broken free for quite a while. Then it becomes a mad scramble to haul that thing up, and get the engine started.
Email Lenny Rudow at
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]