If you don’t have a trolling motor on your boat, chances are you’re missing out on a lot of fish. And, if you’re spending hours on forums reading electric trolling motor reviews you’re definitely not on the water. Don’t worry… we’re here to share the basics and help you choose that perfect trolling motor.
Why do you need a trolling motor?
Quiet and easy to deploy, a trolling motor gives anglers the ability to stealthily move around or stay in position without firing up a noisy outboard or dropping an anchor.
This means you can effortlessly cover more ground while you fish – and not spook fish before your lure even hits the water.
Like just about nearly everything else you buy for your boat, trolling motors come in a variety of sizes and styles. Choosing the right one is crucial to getting the most out of a trolling motor. It all depends on your boat, fishing style and conditions of where you fish.
Here’s a guide to helping you pick the right trolling motor for your boat.
At the end of the day, choosing the right trolling motor comes down to power. The industry measures gas outboard engine power in horsepower but measures electric motor power in thrust.
The lower end of the power spectrum starts around 30 pounds of thrust, while the most powerful motors put out as much as 120 pounds.
How do you know how much thrust you need?
It boils down to two factors: the size of your boat and fishing conditions.
Obviously, bigger boats need more power to move around. Canoes and small aluminum boats can get away with less powerful motors, while anglers in heavier boats will need to choose more powerful motors.
Most trolling motor manufacturers have charts that recommend how much power you need based on your boat’s length. If you want to choose by weight, most recommend 5 pounds of thrust per 200 pounds of boat.
Remember, if you’re calculating by weight, don’t forget to factor in passengers and equipment. If you do, you could find yourself underpowered.
Boat size is just part of the equation. Your fishing conditions, and the way you fish, should also be a major consideration.
You’ll be fine at the lower end of the recommended thrust if you fish in calm waters and light winds. However, if heavy current and stiff winds are standard fare, you’ll likely need to up in power.
Take your fishing style in consideration, too. Do you fish dawn to dusk? Or do you limit your trips to just a few hours? Are you a run-and-gun angler or do you like thoroughly working a few spots?
If you’re going to use your motor a lot during each trip, choosing more power will give you a longer running time, as you won’t be draining your battery by using the motor’s maximum power output.
12, 24 or 36 volts?
Your engine’s power will dictate what type of voltage system you’ll need. Trolling motors come in three types of voltage systems: 12, 24 and 36 volts. The more powerful your engine, the more volts you need.
A 12-volt system requires one 12-volt battery. A 24-volt system requires two 12-volt batteries run in series, and a 36-volt system requires three batteries.
Typically, motors with 55 pounds of thrust or less require one battery. Motors in the 70 to 80-pound class require two batteries, and anything bigger will require three batteries.
The bigger motors don’t just offer more speed. You’ll also get more run time out of your batteries.
In most cases, anglers should go with as much power as they can afford. That being said, don’t over do it. The extra weight of batteries can diminish your boat’s performance, and some boats don’t have space for extra batteries.
Bow or transom mount?
Most anglers will want to mount the trolling motor on the bow of their boats. This is where you spend the most time fishing, and trolling motors work much better on the front of a boat.
If you have the option, you should certainly put your trolling motor on the bow.
However, not every boat has that capability. In those cases, you can go with a transom-mount motor that clips on to the end of your boat.
This style is typically used by anglers who fish out of canoes or small aluminum boats. For those boats, transom-mount motors will work fine.
Tiller, foot-pedal, or remote controlled
Now that you’ve decided how much power you’ll need, you can start getting into the finer details of your trolling motor. These decisions will be made based on the type of fishing you do.
First, you’ll need to decide how you want to control your motor: by hand, foot or remote control?
Tiller-steered trolling motors are the original, and often most intuitive, set up. Anglers steer with their hand and control speed with the throttle on the tiller. This setup is the most simple and requires less maintenance, as it relies on less mechanical and electronic parts that can break.
If you’re looking for a hands-free capabilities, you have several options.
Foot-pedal trolling motors are very popular, especially among bass anglers. These motors are hooked up to a panel that allows you to steer and throttle your engine with your feet. Using this setup takes some adjustment, and there are more things that can break and leave you without a trolling motor while you’re on the water. But with some practice and vigilant maintenance, foot-controlled motors can make fishing on the move much easier.
A third option: remote controlled trolling motors. This setup is mostly found in high-end, gps-controlled trolling motors (we’ll talk more about these in the later). This allows anglers to deploy and control the trolling motor from any location on the boat – or even from the dock in launching scenarios.
GPS-enabled trolling motors
In recent years, several manufacturers have released trolling motors that are linked to GPS navigational systems. Using GPS coordinates, the trolling motor can keep you “anchored” to a spot or troll through a predetermined fishing path.
These features have changed the game for many anglers. It’s taken the work and hassle out of dropping anchors or drifting over spots. It also allows anglers to work shorelines, docks or weeds without touching their trolling motor.
Choosing a battery
When powering a trolling motor, it’s best to use a deep-cycle battery.
A typical battery used to start a car or boat is designed to put out a lot of power in short bursts. However, these batteries will quickly fail if used to power a trolling motor over an extended period.
On the other hand, deep-cycle batteries are designed for prolonged use. These batteries can handle being drained, as long as you charge them as soon as you get home.
Batteries come in different sizes, or groups. Larger group batteries have higher amp-hour capacities. Amp hours, in layman’s terms, will determine how long the battery can power your trolling motor.
Consult your trolling motor’s manual to determine which size battery you need. Generally speaking, it’s best to pick a battery on the higher end of the recommendation. That way, you won’t run out of juice on the water or completely drain your battery and end its life early.
There are several types of batteries to choose from.
The most basic and affordable are wet-cell lead acid batteries. These are generally more affordable and perform well. However, some batteries require you to top them off with distilled water. That means these batteries are prone to leaking if they’re tipped over. Even maintenance free batteries can spill. When using these batteries, it’s critical to store them in a place where they won’t tip, and where acid will not damage the hull of your boat.
Another option is AGM or Absorbed Glass Mat, batteries. Not only are these batteries maintenance free and completely sealed, they last longer on the water and have a longer lifespan. Of course, better performance comes with a higher price. But since they will last longer and perform better, they are worth the money if your budget allows for it.
The third option is gel cell batteries. These batteries are also completely sealed and maintenance free. These batteries work well in low temperatures and have long cycle lives. They are also very forgiving to deep discharges and will tolerate long periods of not being charged. While anglers can ruin lead-cell batteries by not charging them, gel cell batteries don’t have this problem.
However, these batteries can be ruined in the process of being charged. Gel cell batteries will require a charger that has a special setting for this battery type. These batteries are also the most expensive.
Our Favorite Trolling Motors
The Minnkota Edge provides anglers with a compact, rugged and simple design. It offers a lot of fishability for an affordable price.
The motor comes with 5-speed control and is offered in both foot-pedal or tiller-steer models. Both styles are available in a 12-volt system with 55 pounds of thrust. Each cost around $500.
If you’re looking for a simple, reliable and affordable trolling motor, consider the Edge.
Motorguide VariMAX Hand:
With 74 pounds of thrust, the VariMAX hand will give your boat the power it needs to fish all day.
Motorguide claims this motor offers better runtime on the water versus its competitors thanks to the digital variable speed control. This model is sleek and requires little maintenance.
MOTORGUIDE MotorGuide Xi5 Wireless Trolling Motor:
If you’re looking for wireless steering and GPS-enabled anchoring and control, the Xi5 has what you need.
You control the motor with a foot pedal or a wireless remote. Lose the anchor and stay in a spot with the click of a button. You can also hook it up to your GPS chartplotter to guide where you want the motor to take you.
With 80 pounds of thrust, it’s a great fit for mid-sized boats in most conditions.
If you’re looking for high-end power and speed but still want a simple design, the Fortex is for you.
There’s no need for GPS machines or remote controls. Instead, this motor comes available in both tiller or foot-pedal models. With 112 pounds of thrust, this motor is for those who are on the water all day in the roughest conditions.
The Ulterra is for anglers who want the most power and the latest technology.
Deploy the anchor, start the motor or stay in place with the click of a button. You can also link this motor to Humminbird fish finders, allowing you to anchor over structure or troll along a drop-off or certain depth. Many anglers say these trolling motors have changed the way they’ve fished.
The motor has 112 pounds of thrust and comes with Minnkota’s Digital Maxmizer technology for maximum battery life.