Trolling motors allow us to reach areas we wouldn’t normally be able to reach and do so without disrupting natural habitats. Before I first got mine, a concern I had was about maneuverability, and whether or not I could reverse if I got into a tricky spot.
Hand-operated trolling motors, referred to as “tiller” models, have a reverse function on the handle. For newer, remote-operated trolling motors, there is not a specific reverse function. Instead, you can effectively go in reverse by turning the head backward with the remote.
Picking the right trolling motor can be a daunting decision. There are many different brands and models available. Below we will review what to look for when picking a motor and who are the best manufacturers on the market.
Do you need a trolling motor?
Before the trolling motor, maneuvering the boat was done by using the main engine, pushing with a push pole, or using a paddle. If you were wanting to hold it in place, then you would have to throw and retrieve the anchor at each spot.
Having a trolling motor allows you to quietly move down a bank without scaring the fish. Since the motors are electric, they do not make a lot of noise. This ability to move is ideal for working lures and covering a lot of ground. Since you can both move in, and trolling motors have reverse functions, it makes it extremely convenient.
Even if you prefer to anchor in place to fish, the trolling motor can be beneficial. Most trolling motors now have a feature that allows you to anchor in place. This is significantly quicker and far less labor-intensive than manually pulling up an anchor.
If you are the type of person who fishes alone quite often, then a trolling motor is a must! In some regards, it is like having a second person on the boat.
What to look for when picking a trolling motor
Each manufacturer offers quite a few different models to choose from. Anywhere from your basic hand-controlled motor to the option of syncing your trolling motor to your head unit.
Weighing your budget against the necessary features can be a hard decision. Here are a few things to consider.
Differences between saltwater and freshwater trolling motors
There are trolling motors designed to be used specifically in salt or freshwater. Typically freshwater trolling motors are more budget-friendly due to the components used in these models. Since freshwater is far less corrosive and taxing than saltwater, the company can use cheaper parts when making the motors.
Freshwater trolling motors are generally identified by being black in color, whereas saltwater motors are white.
Since most freshwater trolling motors are used in bass boats, they typically incorporate a foot control pedal to steer while sitting down. This is less common when saltwater fishing.
Most of the features offered are available in both salt and fresh models. Saltwater models will be available in larger sizes to accommodate offshore fishing boats.
If you can afford it, I highly recommend using a saltwater model even if fishing in freshwater. I have found that the salt models hold up better over time.
What size trolling motor should you get?
Before making a purchase, you need to make sure you have selected the correct thrust amount, voltage, and shaft length of the trolling motor.
Generally, when the trolling motor is deployed it should be a foot below the waterline. This can be adjusted upward depending on water depth, but you can never gain more depth when fully deployed. Therefore it is very important to make sure you select the correct length when making a purchase. A guide for making a decision is as follows:
|Boat type||Shaft size|
|John boats (up to 12ft)||36″|
|Flats and Bass boats (14-19ft)||42-45″|
|Bay boats (20-25ft)||48-52″|
|Offshore boats (25-32ft)||54-62″|
|Offshore boats (32-36ft)||72″|
The amount of power the trolling motor has and its ability to move your vessel is called thrust. Thrust is measured in pounds. Depending on the length and weight of your boat the amount of thrust required will vary. The amount of thrust in pounds can range between 30lbs and 120lbs. When selecting a trolling motor, a guide for selecting the thrust is as follows:
|Small boats up to 1200lbs||30lb|
|Flats boats and Bass boats up to 2500lbs||40-55lb|
|Bay boats up to 3800lbs||70-80lb|
|Offshore boats greater than 3800lbs||101-112lb|
Within the above-given ranges, I would highly recommend using the highest amount of thrust within each category. As long as you have the ability to store the batteries, having the extra power is always best. This extra power will allow you to run the trolling motor on a lower speed setting, allowing you to conserve battery.
The size and the amount of thrust your trolling motor has will determine how many batteries are required to operate it. All trolling motors operate on 12-volt batteries. Large models will require you to run these batteries in parallel to create 24 volts or 36 volts. Before making a purchase and after examining what size motor you need, you should think about where you can store batteries. One battery does not take up a lot of room, but 3 will take up some considerable space.
The amount of voltage required be determined by the amount of thrust as follows:
|Amount of Thrust||# of batteries (12V)||Total Voltage Requirement|
|55lbs or less||1||12V|
|101lbs or more||3||36V|
As mentioned above, most of the trolling motors on the market now include an anchor mode. This mode is sometimes referred to as “spot lock.” This feature has quickly become one of my favorites and as a fishing guide, I use it almost daily.
The ability to hit a button and have the trolling motor lock you in place by using GPS is an absolute game-changer. This will save you the time of throwing an anchor and will allow you to anchor quietly if you have located an area holding fish.
Even when fishing offshore or in inlet passes with heavy currents, the trolling motor is able to hold you in place with incredible accuracy. If you are making a trolling motor purchase, this feature is a must-have!
Compatibility with other electronics
The technology integrated into a trolling motor is far more than just an electric motor. Features of these motors include the ability to remember your tracks, autopilot, and even integrate with your GPS/fishfinder unit.
With compatible models, you can control your trolling motor right on your GPS unit. This will allow you to scan the bottom for fish and quickly spot lock or record a track on the trolling motor directly from the GPS unit. If you are an offshore fisherman, this is a very handy feature.
The last piece of advice I would offer when selecting a trolling motor is to purchase a removable bracket. The removable bracket will allow you to quickly remove your trolling motor to store when not in use or avoid being stolen.
Removing the trolling motor will leave nothing more than a small puck on the bow of the boat allowing you to have a clean look when the trolling motor is not in use.
For a flats fisherman who may switch between poling a boat or using a trolling motor, the ability to take off the trolling motor will decrease the weight inside of your boat. It will also help you avoid fly line snags when fly-fishing.
Which trolling motor is the best?
There are three main players within the trolling motor market. They are Minn Kota, MotorGuide, and Rhodan. All three of these companies make a quality product and you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Rhodan is a relatively new company but has quickly made a reputation for being reliable and having a great warranty. MotorGuide has been around the longest and although their innovation of new features is behind the others, their motors withstand saltwater abuse the best out of the three.
Minn Kota is not only reliable, but they continue to innovate and raise the bar within the industry. I have also personally abused my Minn Kota and will attest to the quality. That being said, I would shy away from Minn Kota’s Ulterra model with auto-deploy/stow. Although this is a great feature, it doesn’t appear the bugs have been completely worked out, and have heard of a lot of these models going to the shop for repair.
My recommendation for a trolling motor is the Minn Kota Riptide Terrova model with Ipilot feature. See my Recommended Products section for a more in-depth review.
If you enjoy fishing alone or prefer to throw lures when fishing, then a trolling motor is a must-have on the boat. The ability to quietly move around without disturbing the fish is essential for any fisherman.
Even for the offshore fisherman, a trolling motor is a great tool. The ability to anchor using the trolling motor saves you the headache of having to throw and pull up an anchor at each spot. Trolling motors have reverse functionality, so you can get in and out of spots easily.
Trolling motors are a great purchase, but make sure you have done your homework to avoid selecting the wrong size or being underpowered. If you are in the market for a trolling motor, I highly recommend the Minn Kota Riptide Terrova model.