Dealing with your anchor

[Originally published in the January 2022 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

By Craig Stubbs

WHEN it comes to targeting bottomfish over structure, you have two choices. One is to fish “on the drift” (either wind or current, or a combination of both), or on anchor (commonly referred to as “on the pick”). This is a critical choice, with quite a few pros and cons on either side. Making the right choice can make a massive difference to your day’s fishing. We have already touched on fishing on the drift and how to position your boat, so in this article we will concentrate on fishing on anchor.
You have pretty much only two choices here, and that is a rock anchor or a sand anchor. For most offshore bottomfishing, the rock anchor we make use of is called a reef anchor and is a style of a grapnel anchor. Many of these are pretty rudimentary in design, with some being homemade and others more professionally engineered.
Essentially it’s a heavy shaft with welded and bent rebar for the prongs. They do a good job of hooking onto reef structure, or jamming into crevices, and if they are well stuck when attempting retrieval, the rebar prongs will often bend open, releasing the anchor. It can then be bent back into shape on the boat, using a piece of hollow steel pipe.
Stay away from those grapnel anchors with folding prongs and a locking mechanism, or Danforth (fluke) style anchors, as these are definitely not suited for the purpose at hand.
Rock anchors are suitable for 90% of reef fishing applications, but there are times when a sand anchor is a great tool to have at your disposal. Again, sand anchors come in a huge variety, but undoubtedly the best is the Rocna which is a spade/plow type design.
These anchors are expensive, so it’s a bitter pill to swallow if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot retrieve your anchor, but they are invaluable at times. These instances are mainly when you have a relatively small patch of reef surrounded by sand and you have to accurately position yourself. A rock anchor would slide over the sand and only hook up on the reef, meaning that you would be fishing past your mark, but a sand anchor buries itself in the sand, allowing you to drift back and position yourself directly over the reef.
Choosing an anchor weight is totally dependent on your craft size. It is not necessary to carry a 14kg anchor on a 16ft boat, but a larger boat would need a correspondingly larger anchor. It is not necessary to go overboard with this though, as your entire anchor setup is what contributes to successful anchoring, and not just the anchor weight itself.

The author’s well-used rock anchor setup. In the first photo, you will notice the D-shackle connected to the bottom of the anchor shank, and in the second, secured to the top of the anchor shank, ready to be deployed. This is known as a “weak link” setup. Should the anchor become firmly stuck, the wire wraps connecting the chain to the shank will shear, allowing the anchor to be retrieved backwards and hopefully come unstuck.

Your anchor setup is made up of the anchor itself, a length of chain, and then your anchor rope. The length of chain and the size thereof is critically important. The chain stops wear on your rope while on anchor, but the real reason it is so important is that it — combined with the anchor — is actually what holds you securely in place, due to its weight and propensity to dig and grab onto the reef below. Don’t go for less than 8m in length, and chain of around 8mm is recommended.
The chain should be well secured to your anchor with a high quality stainless steel D-shackle, and the other end of the chain should be secured to your rope with a rope-to-chain splice. A quick Google search will teach you how to splice, and it’s not as difficult as it initially seems. Do not under any circumstances tie a few granny knots to secure your rope to your chain; it will jam in your anchor roller, and will probably fail, leaving you anchorless and with a dent in your pocket. Splicing is secure, strong, lasts forever and slides well through the anchor roller
On the subject of rope, nylon floating rope is the rope of choice, and 8mm to 10mm is sufficient for most small- to medium-sized ski-boats, going to a slightly larger diameter for larger boats. This rope offers minimal stretch, is tangle resistant and tough. The lack of stretch is very important when it comes to anchor retrieval, so do not ever use anchor rope that has a large degree of stretch.
Store your anchor, chain and rope neatly in your anchor hatch, and if you notice knots and bunch ups in your rope, lay your rope out on land and repack your anchor hatch so you are best able to deploy your anchor when next on the ocean.

So, you have arrived at your chosen spot, have sounded around and identified some good looking structure and/or showings, have done a test drift or two to establish drift direction and strength, and have decided to fish on anchor.
The first thing you need to do is factor in how far above your mark you need to drop anchor in order to allow it to sink, grip and hold before your boat has drifted past the mark you intended fishing over. A general rule of thumb is that you need at least double the amount of rope out, relative to the depth you are fishing i.e. if you are going to be dropping anchor in 60m of water, then you would need to have no less than 120m of rope out. This will enable you to get the correct angle on your rope and chain to ensure they do their work safely and effectively.
If you anchor in 60m of water, with only 80m of rope out, you are placing a lot of pressure on your anchor system and the chance of it holding is minimal, not to mention the safety issues this may cause.
When it comes to dropping anchor, position the anchor just over your anchor roller, with a wrap of chain over your bollard as you slowly motor into position. Under the skipper’s instruction, release that wrap from the bollard and allow the anchor and chain to roll out via your anchor roller system, and begin pulling rope.
Keep a careful eye on the rope as it uncoils and slides out the anchor hatch, and control the speed as best you can without causing rope burns. It its important to try and remain in control of the sink speed rather than just “bombs away” and letting rope lash around wildly. If you are in control of the rope as it sinks, you will feel the anchor hit the bottom.
In communication with the skipper, either slowly feed out rope as the boat drifts back, or feed rope as the skipper slowly reverses the boat into position. When the boat is just above where you wish to stop, secure the rope to the bollard with a series of figure eight wraps.
It is best to secure your wraps a short distance above your chosen anchor point to check if the anchor is holding. If it is, then releasing rope slowly will allow you to pinpoint your position. If the anchor is not holding yet, then release line, allowing the chain and anchor to do their work, before securing again and re-checking.
If you have missed your mark, or your anchor is not holding, then retrieve it, and redeploy.

A few no-nos to mention at this point:
• Don’t anchor in screaming current or if you are expecting sudden wind or changes in conditions.
• Don’t bundle up your chain in your hands and throw it out to deploy anchor. This could lead to the chain balling around the anchor and prevent a good deployment.
• Don’t wait till your anchor rope sounds like a guitar string whistling in the wind before you pull anchor. If conditions deteriorate, weigh anchor as soon as possible.
• Never secure an anchor on your stern! Only ever secure your anchor rope on your bow.

I have saved the most important for last, and that is the safe retrieval of your anchor. I would say that this is possibly one of the most dangerous aspects of boat handling and skippering one regularly encounters at sea, but if done correctly it is safe and can be accomplished time and time again without issue.
First, you will need an anchor retrieval buoy. This is a large volume floating buoy with a stainless steel ring that is attached over the anchor rope.
Some prefer to break their anchor free and then attach the buoy, but I normally have my buoy attached throughout the process, which looks like this…
You have decided it’s time to weigh anchor. Secure the sliding ring of the buoy over your anchor rope and toss the buoy over your bow. Start both motors and, with someone on the anchor bollard, release the figure of eight wraps and quickly strip out a few metres of rope before resecuring the wraps tightly. This slack line that you’ve created by releasing a few metres of rope will enable the skipper to “get an angle” on the anchor rope and begin to slowly drive away from it.
At this point, your anchor rope and buoy should be alongside, never under your keel. Steer the boat at an angle away from your rope (and buoy) which will begin to arc away from you. Once the rope is sufficiently clear of the boat, you can begin to accelerate in a wide arc of approximately 45 degrees from your anchor line. This should, with sufficient pressure, free your anchor.
However, if the anchor does not budge, you will feel the tension of the rope begin to pull your bow around. In this case, don’t fight the rope too much, just slowly turn towards the pressure.
Following a circular pattern, return to the position where you initially took off from and begin the process again. By slightly changing the angle of the pull on the rope you should eventually be able to free the anchor. Never pull directly away from the rope because if it does not come free, the pressure on your setup will be incredible. Just remember that 45 degree rule and try any pull from as close to that angle as possible.
When your anchor pulls free, you will feel that through the rope, and it is here that your buoy does its job. The rope and chain pass through the ring on the buoy as you drive away from it, and the anchor eventually pulls all the way into the ring, meaning that you can retrieve your anchor system easily off the surface, rather than trying to pull in vertically.

Here are some non negotiables for pulling anchor:
• Pull anchor into the wind and swell.
• Drive at an angle of approximately 45 degrees from your rope.
• If your anchor does not come free, do a wide circle around it and start again.
• Only pull anchor off your bow, never from your stern.
• Don’t panic. Remain patient and you should succeed in most cases.
• If you cannot retrieve your anchor and conditions are deteriorating, retrieve as much rope as possible and cut your anchor loose, or tie your anchor rope to a floating buoy, and come back as soon as possible on a fair weather day to attempt to retrieve it.

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