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The 2-Anchor System (part one)

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas
Kansas City fisherman Glen Woods is largely responsible for the fact that I'm a fly fisher. I'm sure he never imagined things would go quite this far; all he suggested that I do, ten years ago, was try crappie fishing his way - using a fly rod outfitted with an ultralight open face spinning reel. During the spring spawn, this is Glen's go-to rig when he fishes near-shore areas from his bass boat.

Glen knots a 1/16 or 1/32-oz. leadhead jig to 6-lb. test monofilament and uses his fly rod like a cane pole to vertical fish the area inside a 9-ft. radius of his boat. He lowers the jig straight down until it bumps bottom, lifts it a few inches then slowly swims the jig from side to side. According to Glen, if any crappies are down there they have a hard time saying no, especially when the jig is lowered through dense brush and appears right in front of their noses.

His method sounded too cool to pass up, so I gave it a try using an 8-ft. 5/6-wt. graphite fly rod I'd bought a couple of years earlier and used in the conventional fashion for one summer before giving up fly fishing entirely. To say Glen's way works is an understatement. Sometimes it caught crappies like they were going out of style. And that success got me wondering, "What would happen if I cast a weedless fly into this same cover? With longer lateral passes, would I do as well or maybe better than with jigs?"

I spent a couple of years mulling how to use my fly rod the "right way" in shoreline cover. The sticking point was always the same: I hate losing gear to snags. So based on my assumption that weedless flies are not commercially available, I decided not to attempt traditional fly fishing methods. Just stick with bumping jigs off the bottom and be happy with that.

Not once did I explore the issue by visiting with a fly shop employee. How come? Well, I also assumed there were no fly tackle shops anywhere within 500 miles of Lawrence, KS. Had I checked the Kansas City phone book, though, I'd have found K&K Flyfishers and learned that, yes, weedless flies are indeed available. For example, there is a Clouser's Minnow variant that comes equipped with a mono loop weed guard. That little puppy would have changed my crappie fishing lifestyle years ago. Ah...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

After only two spawning seasons, I quit using Glen's fly rod & jig method. Unlike Glen in his heavy bass boat, my fishing boat is a 52-lb. solo canoe and despite my best efforts I could not keep my boat stationary once I located a school of fish. The lightest breath of wind would push my boat around, usually away from the sweet spot. Or if no wind was blowing, the struggle put up by even a small crappie would pull my canoe into the place where the fish was hooked, spooking the other crappies holding there.

Naturally, I tried using an anchor to prevent this unwanted movement. But when lowering my 10-lb. steel anchor over the side, more often than not it would bang loudly against the hull. Goodbye crappies. Strike one.

If I succeeded in anchoring quietly, I then had to tie off the anchor line at a point near my paddling station (thwart bar, sliding tractor seat rack, or around my waist). You might not think that a canoe anchored amidships is a problem. Think again: now the wind hits the canoe broadside. The canoe begins kiting on its tether, and the yawing motion is unpredictable and sometimes severe. My canoe would cast shadows or pass directly over places I wanted to probe. Strike two.

So I stopped carrying an anchor altogether and attempted to hold my canoe in place using figure-8 sculling strokes - paddle in one hand, fly rod in the other. Once a crappie was hooked, though, I needed both hands to land the fish. With no paddle in the water during the fight, the crappie usually pulled me into the hot spot. And when sculling with one hand and working my rod with the other, I often lost control of the paddle and clanked it loudly against the canoe's hull. Strike three, batter retired.

In breezy Kansas, at some point in the day every crappie trip deteriorated into a mentally and physically exhausting ordeal. Wind and water currents, wave action, hooked fish - these forces kept moving my boat into places I didn't want it to go. All this grief was being caused by a fundamental shortcoming: my inability to hold position once I located a good spot.

If I wanted to pursue crappie fishing seriously, it made sense to use a boat. The big federal, state and county lakes in Kansas are largely inaccessible to shoreline fishing (which arguably is a good thing; as a recreational group, fishermen are the worst litterbugs on the planet). I enjoy the solitude that comes from separating myself from a crowd, so I wanted to solve my anchoring problem and take full advantage of my canoe's mobility potential.

The only solution I could imagine was to anchor both ends of my canoe, because no matter where it was tied off, a single anchor alone would never keep my boat from swinging in wide arcs. Two anchors were needed, anchors I could lower from both ends of my boat more or less simultaneously by remote means while kneeling at my paddling station. Trouble is, canoes are not factory designed to enable such anchoring.

I'd seen "cat's paw" anchor outriggers advertised in various canoeing catalogs, but was unsure whether their designs were compatible with the shape of my canoe ends. I began looking at building customized outriggers (a daunting prospect for a registered member of the Carpentry Challenged). But even if I could build my own cat's paws, I feared they'd get damaged when the canoe was turned upside down and lifted onto my rack. (Or they might gouge my truck's paint job.) Using cat's paw outriggers meant that every trip I'd have to mount them before putting my boat in the water, then take them back off before racking my boat for the trip home.

Also, with a cats paw outrigger the anchor line runs over a pulley then down into the water. Keeping the anchor line from jumping off the pulley involves threading it through at least one fairlead located adjacent to the pulley. This task must be done prior to launch, and of course the procedure is reversed at the end of the trip.

And even with a cat's paw outrigger there was still the matter of securing the lines once both anchors were down. This task in particular had better be done right or else the anchors and their lines go over the side and I lose the whole works in one shot.

Last, how do I carry my anchors when the canoe is underway? This was no small issue. If they are hanging from the boat ends, solid metal anchors will clank like sledgehammers on a back alley trash can every time the boat rolls and pitches, and those sharp noises will scare off the fish before I even get within casting range. And if the anchors are carried on board, they must be stowed amidships within easy reach, so that I can lower them by hand. Many feet of anchor line are lying on the floor of my canoe, which means that after I reach a fishing spot there's a chance the anchor lines will get tangled in other gear at the moment of anchor drop. (Oops, there goes that $500 digital camera!)

There seemed no avoiding it: I would have to outfit my canoe with a homemade anchoring system of my own design. Well amigos, I can report to you that the hardest part of inventing a nautical system is simplifying the design so that it meets the fundamental task requirement but does absolutely nothing else. Henry D. Thoreau said it clean: "Simplify. Simplify." Sounds easy, but I'm one of those people who can't fix a leaking faucet without it taking six trips to Ace Hardware to buy the right damn washer. And on home projects, I have a bad habit of making the simplest job more complex and expensive than it needs to be.

For years I ran various outrigger designs through my mind, rejecting them one after another. Eventually I did outfit my canoe with a workable system, but doubts and fears were running rampant the whole time - no more so than when it came time to shell out money for the components. Not until my modified canoe went into action this spring could I confirm that the system functions as designed. Here are its main features:

  • To solve the "hard anchor hull-banging" problem, I made soft anchors using small nylon stuff sacks half-filled with lead bird shot. These soft anchors make hardly a sound if they bump against the boat. And because the bags don't have hard edges, they don't snag on the bottom.

  • To solve the "lost anchor" threat, I used braided polypro river rescue rope. This type of rope floats and is yellow in color - two characteristics that make recovery easy should an anchor line accidentally slip over the side.

  • To solve the "knot tying" problem, I installed micro cam cleats on my thwarts - one each for the bow and stern anchor line. (You would want three cam cleats if you own a tandem canoe.) Once an anchor touches bottom, I pull its line down into the cam cleat and release; the spring-loaded cams seize the line and prevent it pulling back through. I don't tie knots anymore, ever. And when the time comes to move to a new fishing spot, I pull straight up on each anchor line and it pops out of its cam cleat slick as a whistle.

  • To make my anchor lines come away from the exact ends of my canoe (optimum for pinpoint boat positioning), I installed threaded U-bolts on my end caps. These U-bolts serve as fairleads for the anchor lines. No outriggers or pulleys are involved; the anchor lines simply rub over the hard plastic end caps then run down into the water. In the ready position (while underway) the anchors barely move because the bags are pulled tight against the fairleads and held fast by the micro cam cleats.

My next story on this topic will include a materials sheet, price and supplier's lists, plus some generalized installation instructions in case anyone is interested in a system like this for their canoe, kayak, or other suitable small craft.

Meantime, here's a photo of my 2-anchor system in operation. No boat action is evident in the photo, but that's the whole point. Hooked fish no longer can pull my canoe toward their hideouts. Those days are over. ~ Joe riverat@sunflower.com

About Joe:

From Lawrence, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's 'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the 'day job.'

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