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September 29, 2011

Extreme Anchoring

Park and anchor over fish, even in deep water and heavy current

With the boat’s engines running, Capt. Travis Palladeno has dock lines untied by 4 a.m. to make the 130-mile run into the Gulf of Mexico. What’s the payoff for that run? “You don’t have to throw any fish back,” he says. “In 20 years, I’ve never caught an undersize red grouper or gag in deep water.”

Anchoring in 300- to 600-foot depths, Palladeno fills his fish box with 30- to 80-pound gags, 20-pound red snapper and 10-pound scamps — all much larger than found in shallow water.

Whether chunking for yellowfin along the canyons off New England, anchoring for white seabass off Southern California or bottomfishing in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s surprisingly easy to drop 1,800 feet of 58-inch nylon, 40 feet of 58-inch chain and a 45-pound Danforth anchor, and later retrieve that hardware without a windlass.

But the ability to allow for wind and current so baits drop on the fish separates success from a whole lot of fruitless cranking by anglers. Palladeno lets Game Plan readers in on his secrets, and Miami captain Ray Rosher adds a few tips he uses to anchor in extreme currents of the Gulf Stream.

Countering Wind and Surface Current
“It’s not like in shallow water where you can motor up and drop on the spot,” Palladeno says. To compensate for wind and current at the surface, Palladeno stops atop his target waypoint and drifts for a couple of minutes, using his GPS to determine the boat’s set and drift. He runs back to the fishing-location waypoint and continues past it on that same course. “In 300 feet of water, I’ll usually roll up ahead of my spot by two- or three-tenths of a mile before I drop. In 500 feet of water, that could be half a mile or more,” he says. He adjusts that distance based on his test drift, and he hopes to set his anchor with the spot still astern. “You can let a little more scope out to move the boat back,” Palladeno says.

Countering the Current Down Deep
To feel the snapper bite, Palladeno typically uses 8-ounce leads. Anglers’ lines drift considerably off the spot with current, which is often quite different a few hundred feet below the surface. To compensate, Palladeno says: “When I get to my spot and start that drift, my mate drops a line with a bait on it. He’ll let it hit the bottom and then reel up a few turns. If the boat is drifting due south but that line is leading off to the northwest, then I know I have to come to the east a bit when I drop the anchor.”

Dropping the Hook
To avoid dangerous tangles, Palladeno’s mate lays out 50 feet of line in the bow, places the chain aft of that and drops the anchor from amidships. “When it first starts down, put a little tension on the line so the anchor and chain pull out straight,” Palladeno says. He ties off the rode as soon as it stops free-falling, finding that it usually pulls tight very near his target 2-to-1 ratio of anchor scope to water depth. The long, heavy chain allows the anchor to bite and hold.

Fine-Tuning the Drop
When bottomfishing off South Florida, Capt. Rosher anchors as deep as 700 feet. Rosher finds that the 2- to 3-knot Gulf Stream current affects how a boat lays on its anchor more so than wind. “Be prepared to drop the anchor more than once,” Rosher says. He marks both his desired fishing spot and his anchor drop point on the plotter. Once anchored, if he finds he is, for example, 250 feet southeast of his spot, Rosher adjusts his next drop location by 250 feet to the northwest.

Target Species
Palladeno says red snapper are aggressive feeders, so they tend to be right on the hard edge of the reef. Gags tend to stay off the edge a bit to find food before the snapper gobble it up, and red grouper are a bit farther off the edge still. He positions the boat to target the gag and red grouper. “Once you start catching the gags, the red snapper will find you,” Palladeno says.

To start things off, Palladeno uses dead bait at first — 10- or 12-inch Boston mackerel hooked in the tail. He cuts heads off so they don’t spin on the long drop. “When that [dead bait] bite starts to drop off, I’ll send live pinfish down,” he says.

Location, Location, Location
Palladeno uses bathymetric charts to find steep depth gradients that might indicate a ledge, and then he relies on his fish finder to pinpoint exact locations. “You’ve got to read the book and really learn how to use the fish finder,” Palladeno says. Among his adjustments, he increases gain until he sees a light snow of false returns. “You’ll see chevrons when you’re over the spot,” he says. “Large fish show up as red balls.” He warns, though, “If you drag your anchor through the spot and spook the fish, you might as well move to another location.”

When It’s Time to Go

Like many captains, Palladeno uses a 6-inch-diameter ring around his anchor line and attached to a large float ball to retrieve his anchor. But unlike most captains, he ties the anchor line to a stern cleat — never a bow cleat — so the energy stored in 1,000 feet of stretched nylon can’t suddenly spin the boat by the bow.

Starting just above idle speed, he lets the water force the float ball along the rode back behind his boat. “In the first hundred feet or so, it’s critical to watch that the ball doesn’t twist around the anchor line,” he says. Once past that critical point, “you’ll see that ball go under, and then all of a sudden it comes up a bit,” he says, indicating the anchor broke free of the bottom. Palladeno then speeds up to about 10 knots, and the buoy continues to slide down the rode until it catches around the shank of the anchor, holding it on the surface while the line is retrieved.

If it won’t break free on the first attempt, “pull out all the slack so you have it almost straight up and down, and then try to back it out or go around to either side,” Palladeno says.

While many boaters choose to hold their boat in place with engines for deep drops, Palladeno and Rosher both say it’s often easier, more productive and more fun for the skipper to park atop the fish.

About the Experts
When it’s too rough for Travis Palladeno’s custom 45-foot Phantom center-console, which cruises at 50 knots in good conditions, to make the 260-mile round trip into the Gulf of Mexico, Palladeno goes to his other job — mayor of Madeira Beach, Florida. Politics aside, “when someone says he’s caught the biggest fish or the most fish in his life, that makes my day,” he says.

Well-known South Florida tournament captain Ray Rosher owns the Miss Britt Charter fleet based in Miami.