by John Neporadny, Jr
Longtime fishing guide Sam Heaton has seen a lot of innovations in trolling motors throughout the years.
When I asked him to list some of the major improvements he has witnessed over the years, he asked me if I wanted to go all the way back to the days of paddling. So we decided to limit the list to innovations in recent years to prevent this column from turning into a novel.
Electric-steer trolling motors with GPS compatibility are becoming more popular with the crappie fishing.
“The first greatest innovation of trolling motors was the composite graphite shaft,” Heaton says. “That stopped a lot of the shaft bending and electrolysis and a lot of the bad stuff that was going on. Plus it made trolling motors a lot quieter.”
The second innovation Heaton lists is the system that breaks current into smaller spurts to improve battery life (known as the Maximizer for Minn Kota motors). He claims this system improved battery life by as much as 40 percent. Heaton believes crappie anglers need more battery life from their trolling motors than the bass guys who run from spot to spot throughout a day. “A crappie guy is going to stay on the fish and work those fish and he is going to be using his trolling motor 6 1/2 to 7 hours in an 8-hour period and not worry about cranking up and running to different areas,” he says.
Heaton notes the change from three-speed to variable speed control is an improvement that is especially critical for crappie fishing. “To control your depth (when spider rigging) you have got to keep those lines straight down, so you have to be able to play with your speed,” he says. “If you go too slowly the wind pushes you backwards and you tend to hang up more. If you go too fast you are pulling up the line.”
The newest technology that is catching on with crappie anglers is the ability to network a trolling motor with GPS. “You don’t even have to drive a trolling motor any more,” Heaton says. “You have to be able to network with your depth finder. The GPS compatibility with your trolling motor is a huge advancement in trolling motors.”
The Minn Kota iPilot and MotorGuide Pinpoint are auto-pilot systems that coordinate trolling motor operation with GPS navigation. These systems allow anglers to lock their trolling motor onto a fishing spot, record and retrace paths and set a cruise control. “That is where the crappie guys seem to be going lately because it has so many features that are just perfectly suited for them,” says Minn Kota Senior Product Manager Dave Maryanov. “Spider rigging is a perfect example. You have to be able to maintain a very slow troll so the cruise control on the iPilot is a key for the guy spider rigging.” He also suggests the Spot Lock feature of the iPilot is helpful for anglers vertical fishing over specific beds.
Maryanov has noticed the 80-pound thrust Minn Kota Terrova with i-Pilot is the company’s best seller for the crappie crowd. MotorGuide spokesman David Golladay recommends the Xi5 wireless trolling motor with its Pinpoint GPS as best suited for open water crappie fishermen.
For Heaton and other crappie anglers who like to fish shallow in weeds and timber, a strong cable-steer trolling motor with a weedless prop and a sturdy mount is still the best option. The most popular models for this style of crappie fishing are the Minn Kota Fortrex, Maxxum and Edge and the MotorGuide Tour Edition, X3, Freshwater Edition and hand-control VariMax.
The power of a trolling motor is a key consideration when buying either an electric- or cable-steer model for your boat. Heaton suggests picking out the right power for a trolling motor based on the weight and length of the boat. He recommends a 12-volt trolling motor for a boat 16 feet long or less; 24-volt motor for 17- to 18-foot boats; and a 36-volt trolling motor for boats 19 to 21 feet long.
Since wind plays a factor on many crappie fisheries, a trolling motor with lots of thrust is essential. Maryanov notices several crappie anglers are buying 24-volt trolling motors with 80 pounds of thrust. “It really has more to do though with how much battery space they have in their boat,” says Maryanov. He notes crappie anglers are “gear hogs” who like to store plenty of tackle in their boats and don’t always have a lot of space available for three trolling motor batteries.
Shaft length of the trolling motor is another factor to consider when looking for the right trolling motor for your crappie rig. “I like to have a shaft long enough that if I am in rough water the trolling motor cannot break the surface and make any noise on the surface,” Heaton says. The veteran crappie angler suggests having at least a 52-inch shaft for a cable-steer trolling motor and a 60-inch shaft for an electric-steer model.
Since boat hulls vary in size, Heaton recommends measuring from the top of the gunnel to the water’s surface and then adding 18 inches to determine the right length shaft for your trolling motor. For example, if the boat measures 40 inches from the top of the gunnel to the surface, after adding 18 inches Heaton knows a 58-inch shaft will be best to prevent his trolling motor from cavitation and breaking the surface when the boat is bobbing in the waves.
The same trolling motors rigged for fiberglass bass or multispecies boats will also perform well on aluminum crappie rigs. Heaton advises that an aluminum boat owner needs to buy a quiet trolling motor with a sturdy mount that minimizes vibration. “A guy that runs an aluminum boat has to be super conscious about vibration and noise,” he says. “If you get a bunch of vibration in that aluminum boat that aluminum is going to conduct those sound waves up and down the hull and you are not going to be very effective fishing.”
Today’s trolling motors definitely can make anyone a more effective angler.