Anchoring Over Structure: Tips & Tricks

Let out line until the stern of the boat is positioned directly over the high point of the structure, were most of the fish are usually concentrated. Note the second anchor deployed off the stern corner, which prevents the boat from swinging. Illustration Tom Richardson

If you plan to pursue rock- and wreck-hugging inshore fish such as tautog (blackfish), fluke, seabass and scup, you’ll need to know a few things about anchoring over structure.

Precision anchoring takes skill, experience and patience, but it pays big dividends, as being just a few feet off the part of the wreck, reef or rock pile where the fish are holding can make the difference between scoring dinner and coming home empty-handed. The best bottom fishermen will set and reset the hook several times until their boat is directly over the precise spot they want to fish. In other words, they don’t settle for “close enough.” Fortunately, there are a few simple tricks you can use to “work” a piece of structure effectively without having to re-anchor.

The Right Anchor

Many anglers, especially those with smaller boats, find it handy to use a special wreck anchor (grapnel or grappling anchor). This type of anchor features multiple tines that are strong enough to hold the boat in place, yet can be straightened using the boat’s power if the anchor becomes stuck. You can make your own wreck anchor out of rebar, but I recommend a corrosion-resistant aluminum anchor, such as the kind made by Mighty Mite. These anchors will not rust, flake or stain your deck or anchor locker. They’re more expensive than the homemade rebar versions, but are well worth the money, in my opinion.

By the way, rigging your wreck anchor with the proper chain, shackles and line for the boat size will make anchoring easier. Too many anglers simply tie any old line directly to their wreck anchor without any type of chafing gear. The result is usually a lost anchor. The chain will also help set the anchor is tricky conditions and reduce the amount of anchor line you’ll need.

This wreck anchor has the chain secured to its shaft and end ring with plastic cable tie-wraps. If it becomes snagged, the ties will break under strain, allowing the anchor to be pulled free via the eye on its crown.

Breakaway System

Most commercially made wreck anchors have an eye on the crown for attaching the shackle and chain. The chain can then be secured to the shaft and top ring or eye of the anchor using heavy plastic cable tie-wraps or seizing wire, as shown in the above photo. This allows the anchor to be set in the normal fashion, by pulling on the shaft; however, if the anchor becomes stuck, the tie-wraps or wire will break under strain, allowing the anchor to be pulled out of the structure by its crown. Lastly, consider attaching a marker buoy or poly ball to the end of your anchor line, in case you have to leave in an emergency (see below).

When anchoring in deep water and strong current, some bottom fishermen prefer a big, heavy plow anchor. This type of anchor holds very well indeed, but must be rigged with a heavy-duty breakaway system. In this case, plastic tie-wraps won’t do the job. Instead, use a metal hose clamp to attach the chain to the normal attachment point of the anchor. The hose clamp will break under strain when the boat’s power is used to free the anchor.

Drop a marker buoy to pinpoint the part of the structure you want to fish. This makes the job of anchoring somewhat easier.

Mark the Spot

Once you’ve discovered a good “piece” of bottom, be it a rock pile, wreck or ledge with a bunch of fish on it, drop a small marker buoy on the spot so you’ll know exactly where to position the boat. Next, you’ll need to factor in the wind and current direction and velocity before dropping the hook. This can be a tricky business, especially if wind and current are not moving in the same direction. Experience is the only sure way to know when you’re in the right spot to lower the anchor. If you’re new to the game, choose a day when the current and wind are aligned.

Drop the anchor upcurrent/upwind of your target and let the boat to drift back until the anchor sets or grabs something on the bottom then gradually let out more line until the depthsounder starts to show the bottom structure you’re after or until you reach the marker buoy dropped earlier. Generally speaking, the highest part of the structure will hold the most and biggest tautog, sea bass and scup, while the edges of the structure will attract fluke.

Another trick is to use a double-anchor system. This involves setting two anchors 30 to 50 feet apart, with both anchor lines attached to the bow of the boat. Now you can let out or take in one line or the other to position the boat over different parts of the structure. The setup will also keep the boat from swinging at anchor.

Drift & Grab Trick

If you’re fishing an isolated patch of structure surrounded by a soft mud or sand bottom, and the wind/current is relatively light, you can drop the anchor upwind/upcurrent and slowly drift back until it catches in the rocks. That way you’ll know you’re over the structure.

Now you can start fishing. If you don’t get a bite within 10 minutes, let out line in 3- to 5-foot increments to fish different parts of the structure until you locate the “hot spot.”

If the wind is blowing the boat all over the place, making it hard to stay on top of the hot spot, you can drop a second anchor off the stern (a cinder block works well for this). This is critical if you have found a pile of fish over a very small part of the structure, and will also help to prevent snags. Note that this technique works best in water less than 40 feet deep.

Side Moves

If you want to fish laterally along the structure, toss out a light wreck/grappling-hook anchor off to the side of the boat. Once it reaches bottom, you can pull (or kedge) yourself to a new section of the wreck without having to re-set the main anchor. Again, this works best over relatively shallow structure.

Another way to fish a new section of bottom is to loop the anchor line around a cleat or rail stanchion forward of amidships. This will cause the bow to plane off to one side, putting you over a different part of the wreck or reef. This is a useful technique in water of any depth.

The most important thing to remember when fishing structure is to keep moving until you find fish. Anchoring can be a pain, but the only way to get good at it is to practice in a variety of conditions.

Safety First!

Small-boat anglers can find themselves in trouble if the wind and seas kick up while they’re at anchor. At a certain point it can become dangerous to move forward to haul the anchor or even uncleat the line without taking water over the bow.

If you find yourself in this situation, the safest bet it to cut or jettison the anchor line. Carry a buoy so you can attach it to the line in order to mark the spot. Record it on your GPS, too, if you have one. This way you can return in calmer conditions and retrieve the gear. Also, always make sure you have a sharp knife onboard that will quickly slice through the anchor line in an emergency.