Electric trolling motors have become standard equipment for both bass fishermen and saltwater inshore anglers. There is no denying the fact that a trolling motor gives you the ability to cover a great deal of water, quietly and efficiently, which ultimately helps us catch more fish. There are a lot of options out there, so how do you go about choosing the motor that's right for you? Budget certainly comes into play for most of us, and that factor will definitely come into light when we discuss some of the non-essential options you may want. First, lets focus on the basics.
How big is your boat?
The bigger the boat, the more thrust required to maneuver it. It takes very little power to move a canoe, a jon boat or even a small technical poling skiff. On the other hand, you will want 75 - 105 Lbs of thrust to keep a heavy bass boat, large pontoon or bay boat moving all day.
How many batteries are dedicated to the trolling motor?
12 volt, 24 volt or 36 volt motors will require 1 to 3 batteries respectively, but your options here go beyond just having enough power for a motor with 50 Lbs of thrust. It will also effect how much juice your trolling motor has at the end of a long fishing day. Fishing in current will also tax your trolling motor batteries substantially more, so if you frequently fish in places with moving water, you should consider at least a 24 volt trolling motor. You can apply the same rationale if you go on fishing camping trips where you may not have the chance to charge your trolling motor batteries before your next day on the water. While it may seem that more power is always better, the trade off is the space and weight you will need to sacrifice for the additional batteries. With that in mind there are a lot of options for trolling motor batteries including small, light weight and lithium ion batteries, all of which will cost substantially more than a deep cycle battery.
Bow mounts offer the best combination of boat control while fishing. Transom mounts are typically used on canoes and small pond boats where gas motors aren't being used. If you're a fly fisherman and don't like the idea of having anything on the deck of the boat that you can hang a fly line on, you may consider trim tab and lower unit mounted trolling motors.
How to choose shaft length?
The biggest factor to consider here is the distance from the mounting position to 2+ feet below the surface of the water. If you have a large bay boat with a bow that rests 30 or more inches above the surface of the water, a 48 inch shaft won't be long enough. It might suffice in glassy conditions, but if your bow is moving up and down in a 2 foot chop you're prop will come out of the water so your going to want a longer shaft. If you're thinking, why not just go with a 60 inch shaft for any boat the answer is simple. The mounting bracket will be set as close to the front of the boat as you can get it, so that when it's deployed, the trolling motor sits perpendicular to the tip of the bow. The longer the shaft, the more real estate it is going to take up on your boat when stowed. You'll want to make sure it's not hanging over the gunwale when stowed so you don't knock the head unit off at the dock.
The most essential of the non essential options
I have had boats with manual controls, foot pedal controls and wireless key fab type remotes. If you have the budget to upgrade from a manually controlled hand till unit, this is a good place to spend it. There is a simple reason that most bass boats have foot pedal controlled trolling motors. Foot pedals offer hands free control so you never have to take your hands off the reel when fishing, or more importantly while fighting a fish. In short, foot pedals are the most efficient way to go. On the down side, foot pedals take a little getting used to and if you have any balance or mobility issues they can be a little more challenging. Furthermore, traditional foot pedals operate with a cabled pulley system and are typically not made for saltwater applications. Many saltwater anglers opt for the key fob style remote which isn't exactly hands free like the foot pedal, but it requires less effort than manual control and gives you the flexibility to control the trolling motor from anywhere in the boat. Several years ago Motorguide introduced, and has since improved, a wireless foot pedal option that offers the best of both worlds. It's a low profile crescent moon shape and can go anywhere in the boat, including on top of a casting or poling platform on a flats skiff. It's the answer to hands free control, from anywhere in the boat, without the big clunky cable style foot pedal on the front deck.
GPS & Sonar Interface
The biggest innovation in trolling motor technology over the last decade has been the integration of GPS and Sonar interface. Both Motorguide and Minn Kota offer their own versions of the GPS feature which enable you to mark a position or a route. For an example, if you are fishing in current and want to hold your position the trolling motor will hold you within 10 feet (or so) of that position. You can also use the GPS feature to memorize and recall a route, or maintain a heading. More recently, both manufacturers have began offering sonar integration. It's great to have your sonar transducer already built into the trolling motor lower unit, but it's important to note that the interface only works with certain units. Motorguide has partnered with Lowrance, while Minn Kota keeps this feature in the family with their sister brand, Humminbird. If you are considering that option, check to make sure that the trolling motor you want works with the GPS/Sonar unit you have or want. Adding this option to your trolling motor definitely gives you the latest and greatest accessory for your boat, but it comes at a hefty price point which will add $750 or more to the price of the trolling motor. The technology and the price of those options will likely improve over the next couple of years, until they do, I'll stick with what I've got.
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