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What Is a Trolling Motor and Why Do I Need One?

What Is A Trolling Motor?

A trolling motor is a small electric powered outboard engine that is typically mounted on the bow or transom of a small boat, providing a secondary mode of propulsion. It consists of an engine that is enclosed in a water proof casing which attaches to a prop shaft that, when submerged, prevents engine overheating. A propeller is attached to the other end of the shaft. This provides advantages for fishermen that larger gasoline powered engines cannot provide: precise boat control and quiet operation. It allows the helmsman or fisherman to precisely maneuver a boat so an angler can cast a fishing line and bait to an exact location. For example, if a fisherman spots heavy insect activity close to the water surface of a lake, it might be an indication of heavy fish activity. He can then deftly position the boat in that area in hopes of capitalizing on a feeding frenzy. The other advantage relates to the small size and electric operation. Trolling motors do not have the loud rumble of a 75hp engine, and will not scare off fish upon your arrival, especially when running along shallow areas of a lake. The bottom line is the better your ability to both control the boat and remain silent, the greater your potential to catch a lot of fish.

Trolling motors are suitable for freshwater lakes that prohibit gasoline powered engines and are usually 12v or 24v although larger sizes are available. The smaller size is an advantage to a fisherman because, as mentioned, it means that the boat can quietly motor up to a school of fish without scaring the fish due to loud engine noise. Unlike gasoline powered outboard engines which are rated by horsepower, trolling motors are rated by pound thrust instead. No direct conversion from thrust to horsepower exists as other variables such as boat speed affect the comparison.

Water type plays a critical role in determining whether to get a freshwater trolling motor or a saltwater trolling motor as they are designed for either freshwater or saltwater usage.

They can be controlled and steered in one of three different ways: by hand, by foot or by wireless remote. The correct steering method comes down to personal preference.

Hand Controlled trolling motors are transom motors mounted next to the larger gasoline powered outboard motor. They can also provide the primary means of propulsion for canoes and very small boats. They are equipped with an extendable tiller and twist handle for controlling thrust.

Foot controlled trolling motors clamp onto the deck at the bow and provide a foot control allowing the fisherman to steer, thrust up, down or stop. The foot pedal is attached to the bow mounted motor via cable. This configuration provides certain advantages for a freshwater or saltwater fisherman. It allows the fisherman to sit in a chair at the bow of a boat and dedicate both hands to operating the rod and tackle box while steering the boat simultaneously. Because the motor pulls from the bow versus pushing from the stern, the fisherman can often position the boat more accurately so he can cast the line in a precise location.

Wireless remotes are offered on higher end models and allow a fisherman to move freely on the boat and still be able to steer, and accelerate/decelerate. Some remotes, such as Minn Kota’s i-pilot come with GPS navigation and memory. The GPS navigation allows you to electronically anchor yourself in place. You can record a successful fishing path and replay that path later not having to worry about course correction due to currents or wind. This is particularly useful for fishermen who seek to run along bass migration paths from deep water to shallow water.

How do I Choose a Trolling Motor

Many different models exist. In addition to the choice between hand controlled (transom mounted) or foot controlled (bow mounted) motors, boat size and water type will determine which model you should get. The greater the distance between the water line to the mounting deck, the longer the required shaft length. Some motors are designed for saltwater and some for freshwater. A selection guide can help determine which motor is correct. For a complete selection of trolling motors, visit

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