Fishing : Tech/Tackle Reviews

Trolling motors 101

Minn Kota remains on the cutting edge of trolling-motor technology. (Photo by Minn Kota Motors)
Fishing style, location determine best trolling-motor choice
20.Aug.2008 by Matt Williams

Few pieces of fishing equipment are utilized more frequently and undergo more abuse than a trolling motor. Think about it. How many times did you put the juice to the plastic prop on your last fishing trip? Fifty times, 100, 500? Now, imagine spending a day on the lake, river or bay minus a trolling motor. If you’re like most anglers, you might feel naked out there without one.

The fishing world can thank the late O.G. Schmidt for its trolling motors. Schmidt was a crafty inventor from Wheatland, N.D., who introduced the first electric unit in 1934. The concept was so well received that manufacturing operations eventually had to be moved to Fargo to keep up with spiking production demands.

Fargo is located in close proximity to the Minnesota/North Dakota border. Alas, the Minn Kota Corporation was born. Now owned by Johnson Outdoors, the company builds trolling motors for fresh and saltwater applications that rank among the most powerful, dependable and efficient around. It’s no wonder so many anglers are looking to Minn Kota muscle when it comes time to shop. But there are a number of things to consider when selecting a trolling motor. To wit:

Prilosec pro Chad Grigsby straps his trolling motor down for a “bumpy ride” on a wind-blown day three.• Will the unit be used in freshwater or salt, in current, or in waters that are inherently choppy?

• How about boat style? Will it be mounted on a high-performance bass boat, flats boat, center console, or a deep-V, multispecies rig?

• Are you in the market for a bow-mount motor or one that clamps to the transom?

• Do you prefer a foot control or hand control?

• How tight is your budget?

These are all viable questions worth answering before you pay a visit to the local dealer or sporting goods outlet, according to Joe Brown of Racine, Wis. Brown is brands manager for Minn Kota. We looked to the products point man to provide some additional insight on trolling-motor selection to help give consumers a better feel for their options. Here is a summary of what he had to say:

Mounting styles: There are two mounting styles: bow and transom. A bow mount is typically the best choice for anglers who spend their time maneuvering for precise position on bass, redfish or muskie haunts. The bow-mount style also can be useful on a walleye rig, although many of these guys will spend a high percentage of their time back-trolling. Some walleye boats are outfitted with two trolling motors – one up front and one on the transom – so all the bases are covered.

Minn-Kota Freshwater Engine Mount Trolling Motor (Courtesy of Minn-Kota)Fresh or salt: Minn Kota’s freshwater line of trolling motors are black. The saltwater brutes are white. Rest assured, however, the differences extend far beyond the paint job. Put a black one in the bay and you’ll find out. Salt rusts metal. Plus, it corrodes unprotected connections and eats away electronic control boards. That is why saltwater motors, like Minn Kota’s Riptide, undergo a much more rigid construction process using more expensive parts than those motors intended for use in freshwater. Naturally, the extra steps lead to a higher price tag.

Thrust: Thrust power is measured in pounds, not horsepower. One of the most often-asked questions Brown hears from consumers is: What pound-thrust trolling motor do I need for my boat?

“That’s a $64,000 question,” Brown said. “There is no concrete answer, because there are so many variables involved.” Perhaps the best starting point is learning what voltage the boat is wired for – 12 volt, 24 volt or 36 volt. Most bass, flats, bay and multispecies boats fall into the 24- or 36-volt classes. The cutoff for 12-volt harnesses is 55 pounds of thrust. Boats rigged with 24-volt wiring will work with motors that displace up to 80 pounds of thrust; the maximum thrust for 36-volt systems is 101 pounds.

Brown said it is always a good idea to consider the water conditions in which a boat will be used when making the choice between trolling motor/voltage systems. The guy in a 20-foot boat who is not fishing in current will probably be perfectly happy with an 80-pound, 24-volt setup. But one who fishes in rivers or competes in those 12-hour tournament days might potentially need a 36-volt system for a couple of reasons – more power and longer run time.

“It all depends on how an angler fishes,” Brown said. “To me, having too much power is better than not There are many factors to considering when deciding on the right trolling motor.having enough, so long as the boat isn’t severely overpowered. I usually recommend going with the highest thrust level the boat is wired for.”

Hand or foot control: Making the choice between a hand control and a foot control is strictly a matter a personal preference. Anglers manually control speed and direction with hand-control units using a tiller or extension handle. The most obvious advantage of foot control is it frees up both hands to fish. Brown says hand-control, bow-mount units seem to be the favorite among anglers who frequent Southern reservoirs where grass and weeds are in abundance.

“It is a little easier to get the weeds off with a hand control because all you have to do is turn the handle to put the motor in reverse,” he said. “With a foot control, you have to raise the motor out of water.”

Shaft Length: The ideal shaft length can vary from one boat style to another. Brown says many of the walleye pros prefer a 62-inch shaft because they tend to frequent big water with lots of chop. The long shaft prevents the prop from coming out of the water in rough conditions.

Bass boats? While there are a few makes that sit high enough out of the water to oblige a 52-inch shaft, the 42-inch is the best fit on most boats.

“The idea is for the prop to stay about 12 inches beneath the surface to reduce cavitation,” Brown said. “I would say a 42-inch shaft finds the sweet spot in about 70 to 80 percent of the market.”

For more information on Minn Kota trolling motors and a complete list of standard and optional features such as Lift-Assist, Bowguard 360 and CoPilot, check out the company Web site, The Web site provides some handy spec sheets and other information that will be helpful in determining which trolling motor is right for you.