I believe you, but I never see anyone playing out that much line here. Although, I don't personally know too many sailors, either. More scope can't hurt, and I'll certainly try. I'll get more line.
It never occurred to me to just dump line over the side. Typically, I'll be on the bow with my wife at the helm. I'll drop the anchor until it hits bottom, then call to her to back up. While the boat is backing I play out more line.
Unfortunately, there are more people out there that don't know how to anchor properly, than there are that do... I've seen powerboats and charter sailboats do just what I described...and then they wonder why they dragged during the night.
As to the second part of your question - I don't ever apply power after I think I've set the anchor. Should I? Sequence of events should be drop anchor to bottom, reverse the boat while playing out the proper amount of line, stop reversing, tie off line, then reverse again?
You don't necessarily need to reverse the boat while paying out the rode. If there is any wind, it will often back the boat down for you. Using the engine to set the anchor is never a bad idea IMHO. In soft mud conditions, you'd probably want to set it before letting out all the rode as Cam has suggested.
I'll work on my technique and I'll see about a new anchor. The latter may take a while as I'm budget constrained, but I'll put it on my list.
Thanks much for your help.
Try looking at craigslist, as they've often got anchors and boat-related gear listed. As for what kind of anchor, I'd still recommend the same, and think that the next gen anchors will probably set in hard clay better than a Fortress. The Fortress is an excellent mud/sand anchor, but not as versatile as the ones I listed, and generally not as well suited to shifting winds/currents IMHO.
One other thing... just because you're on an inland lake, don't underestimate the size anchor you'll need. People laughing at the size of the anchor you're using is usually a good indicator that it is either about right or really way too small.
Some inland lakes aren't really going to see rough conditions. I have a lake near my home that is maybe 1/2" mile across... and it won't see any rough conditions, even in really bad weather. Lake Winnepausakee, up in New Hampshire, on the other hand is more like an inland fresh water sea, with no tides. But in bad weather, you can see some serious waves and wind. I don't know what lake you're sailing on, but going a bit oversized is generally not a bad idea... and if you get a bigger boat and sail on salt water later on, you can always use it as a kedge or lunch hook on that boat.