All right, stop the boat!

Anglers have plenty of options for keeping their boat in one place, including traditional anchors.

Sometimes you just need to stop the boat. As summer transitions to fall, we have fewer opportunities to put together a good catch while trolling at speed (6+ knots). And most offshore anglers tend to focus more on bottom dropping or live bait fishing, as they should. Therefore, keeping your vessel exactly where you want becomes a top priority.

These days, we have more than just one way to accomplish our goals. Obviously, every boat needs an anchor and an anchoring system on board. If for nothing else, an anchor is a safety measure. If this was being written a generation ago, however, the anchor would be the only realistic way to achieve a complete stop to position your boat for bottom fishing. While this is no longer exactly the case, anchoring is the “tried-and-true” method for producing banner catches of tasty bottom fish. Literally the mark of every good grouper fisherman that I know is that they have a high aptitude for setting anchors, leaving the boat right on the mark. If you can drop on the hole, you can generally score. If you can’t, well, let’s just say that your chances of success have been reduced dramatically.

Anglers have a couple of factors to consider when setting anchor, not the least of which is your drift. Simply letting your boat freely drift for a bit and watching your instruments is the best way to determine this, and then set your anchor course. You also need to be aware of how much chain you have in your system and how quickly it will stop and hold, depending on the amount of current you are dealing with. As with most things, practice makes perfect.

Another option

In recent years, another option has come onto the scene, that being the offshore trolling motor. These beefy electric motors have changed exponentially in the years since they hit the market as freshwater assistants for bass fishermen. These newer offshore variants are heavily integrated with GPS receivers and allow anglers to simply push a button and stay in one place, provided you are getting a solid GPS fix and have enough battery charge. The motor then makes constant corrections to compensate for the current and wind, keeping you within a few feet of your original spot. You can even use a remote to make subtle corrections if you need. When you want to leave and try another spot entirely, it’s a simple matter of pulling the trolling motor up, which is a lot easier than hauling an anchor and several hundred feet of rope.

When conditions are right, you can position your boat in water much deeper than you could even reasonably consider throwing an anchor in, allowing you to drop or at least jig for more exotic species of bottom dwellers.

Drift and hover

Another great function of the offshore trolling motor is when you aren’t bottom fishing at all, but live bait fishing. On larger boats with high horsepower outboards, it can sometimes be difficult to slow down enough to reach the perfect live bait “slow-trolling” speed, just fast enough to keep your lines fairly straight, but not so fast that you stress out your baits and make them appear unnatural in the water. These motors can push just about any boat forward at minute speeds, and again, can make constant adjustments to maintain whatever slow speed you desire. I got to see firsthand how capable they are when fishing a recent king mackerel tournament where we were working around big clouds of cigar minnows. My friend used his trolling motor to simply stay with the bait, watching it move on the depth sounder and using a remote on a lanyard around his neck to creep the boat forward, then simply “hover” in place when we were right on top of it. The strategy worked and we were rewarded with a top-10 finish.

Here’s the bad news: these shiny additions to the bow of your center console come with a substantial price tag. The motors can be upwards of three or four thousand dollars themselves. Most boats will require a 36-volt system, which means three new batteries. Traditional lead/acid batteries are pricey enough themselves these days, and they will add a good bit of weight to your boat and take up space belowdecks.

The lighter option, newer lithium-ion batteries, will send the price through the stratosphere. You must keep these batteries charged, which means adding a three-bank charger to your boat. The trolling motor setup itself takes up a lot of space on the bow, as they are currently making shaft lengths of up to 108 inches. Fishing around that, whether it is deployed or stowed, can take some getting used to.

It’s also important to mention that offshore trolling motors are really a calm day only option. Trying to use them in heavier seas is often a fool’s errand.

Carry an anchor

Speaking to a local tackle store owner, who sells and installs these motors, I was told that about 95 percent of the repairs he sees are from when anglers deploy them on rougher days, when they are better off left on the dock. When it’s rough, they tend to gobble up batteries quickly, even if the motor doesn’t fail. This is something to consider when it’s time to ante up that amount of cash.

So, what’s the right call for your boat for your early fall fishing? Only you can say. The offshore trolling motor is a great bullet to have in the gun. On the right day, it will simplify things and can give you more fishing time, which generally results in better catches. On the wrong day, it’s a nice conversation piece on the bow. I will say this, only a fool leaves the dock without a good anchor, a lot of chain, and a lot more anchor line.

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