The inability to anchor up properly is a certain way to ruin your day's sport. Anchoring is one of those things that people take so much for granted but like everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way. Choosing the right anchor for your needs is the first thing. There is a wide range of anchors available and each is most suitable for a particular application.
Most people would be well familiar with the grab type of anchor which are available at a fairly modest price from any chandler's. As well as being cheap to buy they have the advantage of being collapsible so they are easy to transport and store but they are fairly limited in their application. A grab anchor will work well over a rocky bottom and reasonably over sand. They are very poor in silt however and are quite prone to snagging up. I've never lost an anchor on a snag but I've come closer with a grab anchor than with anything else. If you decide on a grab anchor then I would suggest you get a heavy one, maybe ten pounds. You'll definitely need to attach a good heavy length of chain to it too. This both adds weight and provides a shock absorber which prevents sudden swings of the boat from snatching the anchor off its purchase. On the whole I don't rely on grab anchors much. They are okay to use as a downwind anchor which is not going to come under much strain but are just not good enough for a main anchor.
My two main types of anchor are the mudweight and the plough. The mudweight, as its name suggests, is best suited to a muddy bottom. Sash weights make quite effective mudweights, dropped vertically into the mud they will bury themselves deep and will hold a boat even in quite a strong wind. My other mudweights are shorter and more squat than a sash weight and have an important feature which really makes a difference - a concave base. This concave end acts like a sucker in the mud, holding the weight in place due to suction and preventing boat drift very effectively. I do not use chain on my mudweights - the damn things are heavy enough!
My favourite anchor is my 10lb plough. This is suitable for use over any type of bottom, though is not as effective as a heavy mudweight in very soft silt. The plough will lock onto rocks and digs nicely into sand. I have a good length of chain attached to this and find that this combination will hold fast in most conditions. If it gets up really rough, I attach a sash weight to the rope at the top of the chain and this will hold in anything. I should say however that if the plough anchor won't hold on its own, it's probably time to start thinking about coming off the water anyway.
How To Do It
Setting the anchors properly is more complicated than you might think. Simply dropping a single anchor to the bottom on a short length of rope isn't good enough to enable you to fish effectively. The boat will swing wildly in even a modest breeze and if you're trying to fish over a tightly baited area or on the edge of a steep drop-off, you will find it hard to keep your bait in the desired spot. There is a technique which will prevent this however. I use two anchors, both of which are tied to the same piece of rope (at opposite ends of course). The way to do it is as follows;
Find your desired fishing spot and motor a little way upwind (or upstream) of it, drop your main anchor here and run the rope out from the bow of the boat. Allow the wind or the current to take the boat down from this anchor until there is only a little rope left (just enough to reach the bottom) and drop your second anchor off the stern. Pull up on the bow anchor, allowing the rope to spill off the stern until the boat is positioned mid-way between the two anchors and tie off the stern anchor. Continue to pull up on the bow anchor until both ends of the rope become taut and tie off the other end of the rope at the bow. You should now have your boat locked firmly between the two anchors with the two ends of the rope running off at steep angles under tension. The boat will now swing very little, thus allowing you to fish tight to whatever underwater feature you are after.
One other little touch which comes with experience though; if you have managed to anchor the boat up at a slight angle to the wind rather than facing directly into it you will find that the boat does not swing at all but stays rock steady! Having the ropes run off at an angle like this has another very important advantage. If a hooked fish runs under the anchor rope it is an easy matter to thread the rod under the rope in the same direction. This actually happened to me whist playing my biggest ever pike and I was ever so glad that I'd learned this trick from my old mate Grant Everson.
How To Undo It
While on the subject of anchoring, I really need to tell you how to bring the anchors back in again. The stern anchor is easy to bring up but when fishing from a boat with a cabin or cuddy it can be a little difficult to retrieve the front anchor. The rope on this anchor ought to run through a bow cleat or preferably a bow roller so that it keeps the bow into the wind. The chain on the rope tends to inhibit retrieval through the bow roller however and another method of retrieval is needed - enter the lazy line.
The lazy line is a short piece of cord with one end tied to an accessible point in the boat and a large dog-lead clip on the free end. This clip is clipped on the rope in between the anchor and the bow roller. When you want to retrieve the bow anchor, you should pull up to it on the rope until the anchor is positioned underneath the boat. Now pull on the lazy line while allowing the main rope to slip through your fingers. When the clip and rope appear, stop pulling on the lazy line and simply pull the anchor off the bottom using the main rope. Be sure to wash the mud off before you bring it on board - your boat and tackle will soon get in a nice mess if you don't.
Other Boaters - Things to Bear in Mind
Lakes and rivers are normally quite a lot quieter than roads but traffic does occur in some places. There are some rules which need to be observed but commonsense is your best guide. When approaching another boat you should always pass on the right. Be wary however of sailing craft, especially windsurfers as they may not have the manoeuvrability of a powered boat and should be given a wider berth.
Please remember the wash your boat might create. This can be a nuisance to bank anglers and a hazard to others in small boats. This is something that water skiers often seem not to care about and you will, at times find yourself cursing their arrogance.
Rowers can be a real hazard as they are in the unfortunate position of travelling backwards all of the time. Rowers often fail to look where they are going and will crash into a moored boat if they are not alerted to the danger. You should have some means of warning others of your presence - if only a loud shout!
If you are using your boat at night it is best to carry navigation lights. These are red and green lights which fit either side of the boat, along with a white beacon if it is anchored. Many waters and waterways insist on the use of navigation lights at night.
Make no mistake, there really is no limit to the amount of time and money you can spend on a boat. Everyone has their limit of course and you will probably want to draw the line at a few small items which will make your boat fishing that little bit more comfortable.
The bow roller is something I've already mentioned, this will cost around £25. You should also install a few cleats at strategic points about the boat. These should be of the locking type which allow you to tie off a rope quickly either by turning it around the cleat and pulling tight or by slotting it into spring-loaded jaws. I prefer the former although I have both types fitted.
Duck boarding is well worth considering. It will help keep your tackle and your feet dry and can be knocked up in an afternoon at minimal cost.
Fit a platform for your battery at the bow end of your boat. This will keep it well away from the petrol tank, thus avoiding the hazard of mixing electrics with fuel and the weight will help keep the bow of the boat down while you are motoring - this can make a big difference to your speed and fuel consumption. I have a strap fastened to my battery platform and use this to prevent the battery from being flung about in bad weather. A pair of quick release battery fittings can be used to connect the battery to the boat's electrics. These cost about a fiver and are available from any camping or caravanning shop.
Once you have electrics installed there is so much more that you can do. A bilge pump, for instance, is a real boon. This can easily be fitted under the boards and it means that the boat can be emptied of rainwater at the flick of a switch. Other electrical items I find useful are an interior light and a pair of 12v sockets which allow me to use a variety of plug-in items like hand lamps.
Ready to Go
There are just a few more items which will make your fishing that bit more enjoyable. Rods are a pain in a boat but there's not really any getting away from the fact that you are going to need them! It's a good idea to install a rack if you have room in your boat. This can be used to keep the rods tidy while in transit. Take care however, for if the rack has the rods pointing skywards, low bridges and low power lines can provide an unexpected and most unpleasant surprise!
When in use, the rods should be held in boat rod rests. I bought mine from The Tackle Shop in Gainsborough and they do the job quite well. Take care if you intend to use the rests for trolling from however as a vicious strike from a big fish will bend a poor quality rest quite easily and you risk losing your rod.
Be sure to put down some soft matting before you venture out. This will help deaden the noise of heavy footfalls and provides a much kinder surface to unhook fish on than hard boards. Many people like to use old carpet for this purpose but be sure to wet it before use or it will strip the slime from any fish you catch.
A bailer will come in handy (though not necessarily for bailing) as does a bucket to store excess rope in.
And before you set out - don't forget those lifejackets!
Now you really are ready to go. Next month I'll endeavour to tell you just how having a boat gives you the edge and why it is that the majority of my best fish have been caught while fishing from a boat despite the fact that most of my fishing is from the bank.