Whether you like to sling brutalized fish while you go chumming, drop live baits on a wreck, or cast jigs along a drop-off, knowing how to set an anchor can make the difference between a healthy catch and a skunk in the box. Nothing’s worse than drifting along, unable to get the anchor to stick, as you gaze longingly at other boaters who are holding position and catching fish. So, do you know how to set your anchor? Use these three key tips to make it happen each and every time you try.

boat at anchor

When you need to position your boat right over the hotspot, getting the anchor to stick the first time can be key.


1. Start with the right anchor.

A Danforth will do you little good over a rocky bottom, and a grappling anchor is little more than a joke when you’re trying to set an anchor in mud. If you don’t have an appropriate amount of chain in addition to the rode, anchoring will be that much tougher. And if your rode is too short, on windy days anchoring will never be easy. You can get more information on which anchor to use when, where, and why, by reading Anchor Choices: Important Safety Tips and by watching our how-to video, How to Choose the best Anchor.

2. After you let out enough scope, let out some more.

Too little scope is the number-one reason why anchors don’t stay put the first time you cleat off the line. As a rule of thumb plan on a scope of 3:1 in ideal conditions, 5:1 in so-so conditions, and 7:1 in rough or windy conditions. You’ll have to plan out how much you’ll need before dropping, so you can idle up-current/up-wind far enough that with the scope out, your boat sits in the correct fishing spot. Your GPS and some quick math will do the trick. If, for example, you’re in 20’ of water and the wind is howling, you know you’ll need to let out 140’ of line to be sure anchoring is successful. When the boat is over the hotspot make a waypoint, then idle forward and watch the GPS until you’re 140’ away. That’s where you’ll need to set that anchor, in order to sit over the fish when the anchor line comes tight.

3. Over difficult bottom, use the pull-drop-pull method.

This is effective on shell bottom, when mud or sand is mixed with rocks, and in other situations when your anchor may bounce along for a while before catching. First, pull your boat a few dozen extra feet forward of the hotspot, to give yourself some additional time to get the anchor to set. (You can always let out a little bit more scope, but you can’t always pull it in, to get the boat’s position just so). Then drop the anchor, let out the scope, and hold the end of the line in your hand instead of cleating it. As it comes tight, you need to feel for whether the anchor is grabbing or bouncing. If it’s bouncing, give a sharp tug on the line to hop the anchor forward a few feet, then quickly move your hand back the other way, to allow slack in the line. You want to allow the anchor to lay flat on the bottom, and for the line to come tight again, slowly, as the boat drifts back. When it does, again, feel for the bounce. After five seconds if it’s still bouncing, repeat the process. Continue doing so, until the anchor sets.