Ways of the New: Hands Free Anchoring - The Fisherman

Ways of the New: Hands Free Anchoring

2018 4 Hands Free Anchoring Boat
From striped bass to blackfish, and everything in-between, the addition of a Minn-Kota Ulterra to his boat has greatly transformed the way the author fishes, and all for the better.

No matter how many seasons you have under your hull, there is always something new to learn.

The first time I fished on a boat equipped with a bow-mounted electric motor was two years ago, and despite my familiarity with most of the widespread advances in marine development, I was not prepared for the groundbreaking technology I was about to witness. My experience was quite simply put, “amazing.” That rugged-looking electric motor kept us over a section of the wreck for about three hours without moving more than a foot or two in any direction while we culled through numerous legal specimens of jumbo blackfish. The last time I had fished this piece of the wreck, which is about the size of a standard living room, was with a pair of bridled bow anchors and a stern grapnel buried into the debris field. Fighting wind and tide I would estimate that we were actually over that productive habitat less than a third of the time. The difference was difficult for this senior waterman to comprehend during what I considered an extraordinary experience. I left the dock that day knowing that somehow, and very soon, I had to get a Minn Kota Ulterra I-Pilot with Spot-Lock!

This fall I was fishing over that same ledge where the old-timers used the sounding lead and three anchors to hold us close to the spot, but this time I was using my new Minn Kota I-Pilot motor with the magic of Spot-Lock and numerous other space-age functions. The house and chimney, along with most of the trees on the hill used as ranges were long gone, but the ledge is still there, and the tautog still frequent it as they have for thousands of years. I was all alone, set no anchors and didn’t even get my hands wet unless I was baiting a hook or releasing a fish.

2018 4 Hands Free Anchoring Black Magic
“Black Magic” is the term the author’s old-time mentors would have used to describe two of his favorite tools: the compact-yet-rugged remote that operates all facets of the motor and the digital charger that keeps both of the 12-volt batteries charged. The remote is usually worn around the neck while the charger remains atop the rubber matt in the battery compartment.

I fish solo quite often but seldom on trips when I am required to go forward to set an anchor. There are plenty of ways to get tossed out of a boat, and setting an anchor (or two) to hold over structure is one of the most common. The Minn-Kota eliminates the need for one or two other men to set and haul the anchors because it keeps you right over wherever you set it. On that cold day last fall, I wondered what the old-time watermen would think if they could see me fishing that spot alone and remaining right over the productive cleft in the ancient rock formation. Anyone who has ever fished from, been aboard my boats or has read my recommendations for safety afloat has noticed that the two heavy grapnel anchors—one in the bow and one in the stern—are always ready to deploy. If you fish gnarly boulder fields and your main engine fails, you are in danger of grounding or worse unless you can stop your boat immediately, and that’s what those grapnels were for. I say “were” because now I have the Minn-Kota, with 80 pounds of thrust, to power me out of harm’s way.

I have always cautioned readers and seminar attendees never to shut down their engines when they are drifting or casting in the dangerous habitat in which stripers thrive. I have towed many a disabled fisherman who got in too close and damaged a prop or fractured their lower units and did not have an anchor ready to deploy. Their ground tackle was piled up in the forward locker with the anchor, line and chain twisted in impracticable confusion. With the Minn Kota I can cut my reliable E-Tech outboard and crawl from ledge to reef to wash along the boulder fields or remain stationary whenever we get a hit, a follow or locate a pocket of fish. Being able to remain stationary without casting a shadow or making noise on repeat drifts enhances my options and success. Many of the Fisherman readers of my acquaintance operate single-engine outboard center consoles which, up to now, relied solely on that single source of power.

One of the most popular types of inshore fishing platforms are the rolled-edge skiffs that are built without a closed-in bow foredeck. This past fall my deck-mate alerted me to a boat coming up fast off our stern with two men waving and yelling at me until I slowed down and allowed them to come alongside. Dispensing with a greeting, the animated skipper yelled, “How the hell did you get that motor on there? I’ve wanted to put one of those electric motors on my boat, (He was operating a 20-foot Carolina skiff.) but I didn’t want to build a foredeck to secure it and sacrifice all that forward casting room.” He asked permission to take photos, so I invited him aboard to inspect the bracket I’d designed. He was elated and took a number of photos with his cell phone and then asked about the details for my design. “I will have one of those [Ulterra] on here within a week,” he announced.

2018 4 Hands Free Anchoring NEF MINN KOTA TYSON SPOT LOCKFOR NEF 2
This striper was culled from a under a large school of bunker with the fully gorged bass so thick they could be seen harassing, but not eating the baitfish. Tyson Alvanos, using a weighted white Tsunami shad, speed jigged and teased this striper into striking. The Minn Kota held the boat right over the fish that were never spooked by the silent operation of the motor. The noise from the outboards on the nearby boats continually sounded the bait schools they were working.

Over the course of more than five decades of fishing from Maine to Montauk while setting lobster gear and fish traps in much of that area, I have compiled a list of wrecks and rockpiles that produce good to excellent fishing. One very large wreck has produced eight species of fish that includes stripers, blues, weakfish, fluke, tog, black sea bass, winter flounder and scup. Former Fisherman editor, Tim Coleman was aboard my boat when we finally found this hulk as we began researching our book, Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles back in 1988. That wreck yielded fish in good to excellent numbers, but it was an anchor-eater and loaded with ghost fishing and anchor lines. I asked a friend to make me my own design of wreck anchors out of rebar, but even rigging them so that the line broke away from the top ring and pulled out from the bottom, many were so hopelessly snagged that they couldn’t be recovered.

Even on off years for the species, I have caught some of the biggest tiderunners and tautog on this wreck, but it’s almost impossible to stay over the best drops because the anchored boat swings 30 to 40 degrees side to side. This allows very little time over those prime spots coupled with excessive loss of gear. For this season I’m as excited as a boy just dismissed for summer vacation to fish there with the Spot-Lock set and holding straight up and down over my preferred locations.

Last season I was steaming toward a preferred location when the bottom line on my fishfinder spiked up about 15 feet off the hard-packed gravel. It was a pretty sharp spike with a steep drop on the offshore side. I turned around and came back up on the spot that was not identified on the charts. Using the remote that was hanging around my neck, I deployed the Minn Kota Ulterra and Spot-Locked directly over the structure. I sent a pre-rigged 3-ounce Marathon jig under a single hook 5/0 bucktail teaser tied 18 inches above. The jig never found the bottom. About 40 feet down my line went slack so I cranked hard to put the reel in gear, setting up when the line came tight. What I thought was a huge sea bass was actually a double-header consisting of one short fish along with a deep-purple, 18-inch knucklehead. We were almost two miles from our intended destination, and despite a 10- to 15-knot southeast wind and an outgoing tide, we remained over that spot for over two hours catching and releasing over 50 legal fish including a handsome 5-pounder before leaving with our 10-fish limit in the cooler. In all that time I don’t believe we moved 5 feet off the target.

2018 4 Hands Free Anchoring Catch
A legal tog teased from a deep underwater lair using a light tog jig baited with half of a green crab. The author’s Minn Kota kept them over this productive piece of bottom for well over three hours during which time they caught upwards of four dozen fish and didn’t lose a single jig.

We have enjoyed the same success while tog fishing. Last fall I was drifting over a productive mussel bed when I missed a solid hit while my two friends hooked-up. The Minn Kota was upright with the prop a few feet off the surface because I was running from spot to spot trying to locate a pick of legal leather-lips. I kicked my outboard in reverse to put us over the bite, hitting the remote to lower the Ulterra prop before activating the Spot-Lock. While some of my younger, much stronger and agile associates opted for the Minn Kota manual deployment, that option would have defeated the purpose of my safer solo outings where I fish and operate everything from behind my helm. We remained there for just under three hours, through a wind and a tide change, and caught about four-dozen tog, many of which were between 10 and 14 inches along with a Rhode Island limit of 10 fish that were between 17 and 23 inches. I never could have stayed over those fish by deploying my two conventional grapnel anchors.

It’s at the end of most days on the water when my real work begins. The boat, trailer and truck running boards are washed down. The rods are removed, leaders and terminal tackle inspected and replaced then given a soapy water spray before showering them with a fine mist.

Before the purchase of the Minn Kota package, that was when I backed the boat into the shed, and the last thing I looked forward to was retrieving the battery charger from the tool shed and crawling on hands and knees on the wet deck to hook up the alligator clips to the proper terminals. On occasion I’ve forgotten to return to shut the charger off and worried about cooking a battery. On one evening there was a thunder shower that found a tear in the cover and dumped a torrent of water on the charger shorting it out. That oversight cost me exactly $59 for a replacement. When I purchased the Ulterra unit, I elected for the optional MK220 D digital onboard charger, which is a battery and time-saving unit. The waterproof Minn Kota digital charger stores in the same compartment and charges the batteries and shuts off atomically when they are charged. All I do is plug the extension cord into the charger’s affixed receptacle and both batteries are charged evenly and fully. I do, however, keep a card taped to the steering wheel to remind me to unplug the cord before I pull out of the driveway. Anglers who have been aboard have asked me how long the Ulterra will run on a full charge, but I cannot answer their question. On my longest trip last fall, I deployed that engine 10 or 12 times and estimate that I ran it for well over six hours on a day when finding fish was a challenge. That night I plugged in the onboard charger, went through my aforementioned routine and went out for dinner. Upon our return about three hours later I checked the boat and the batteries were fully charged. They are a pair of five-month-old, heavy Group 27, 12-volt units wired in series to produce 24 volts, and stored alongside the digital charger in a custom-made compartment under my rocket launcher. Trim on any boat is important, but much more so on smaller center console boats, so my batteries more than offset the weight of the motor in the bow.

Today there are discussions about robots and artificial intelligence taking over our lives, but those issues are way above this fisherman’s pay grade. The miniature-yet-handy Ulterra Riptide remote I wear around my neck is the only futuristic device I need in order to activate the marvels of my robot-like trolling motor, which is why I cannot wait for the 2018 season to begin. This year I won’t be all alone on those “solo” trips; my Minn Kota Ulterra Riptide with I-pilot and Spot-Lock will be my new deck hand.

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