By Ron Presley
The trolling motor must be mounted securely enough to withstand use at high speed, trailering in the stored position on bumpy roads, and the constant deployment and retraction of daily use.
Choosing an electric trolling motor raises plenty of questions about size and performance. The answers depend mostly on how you fish, how big your boat is, and how much power you need to push it.
For spider rigging, dock shooting and vertical jigging most anglers prefer the hands free operation of a foot controlled trolling motor. This system allows anglers to go to the rod on a bite, or hold the rod by hand, while controlling the boat with their foot.
Long line trollers often choose the autopilot type of operation. Anglers can set a designated path or general direction and automatically cover long spans of water at a set speed without worrying about tending to the trolling motor. The more sophisticated models can even follow contour lines on a chart. The best of all worlds would be to have both types.
Other anglers, for reasons of economy or simplicity, remain loyal to the tiller type of trolling motor. The old fashion tiller operation still gets the job done and helps put crappie in the boat.
The size and weight of the boat dictates how powerful a motor you need. In general, aluminum boats weigh less than fiberglass boats, reducing the thrust needed to propel them. Just remember though, fishing on calm water is much less demanding than facing heavy current or windy conditions. The biggest thing to avoid is choosing too little thrust, because you will be forever reminded of your bad decision.
Mounting Your Motor
How you attach the trolling motor to your aluminum boat is critical. Most of today’s aluminum boats are designed to accept trolling motors on the bow by simply drilling a few holes and bolting the motor to the deck.
The Triton X18 C 2014 is a good example of a modern aluminum boat with a solid flat deck over the bow suitable for securing a trolling motor without modification. A solid and stable mount can be accomplished simply by bolting the motor to the deck. The Triton X18 also includes 3 seat bases up front to accommodate either one or two anglers on the bow. It makes a great boat for spider rigging. The Triton boats are an example of how manufacturers have become more accommodating to angling needs by making it easier to add accessories like trolling motors.
War Eagle aluminum boats are another example of boats made for fishermen. They have a built in bracket for foot controlled trolling motors with 24V wiring as standard equipment. The bracket raises the motor above the rail cap to give plenty of clearance. The bracket may be used on either the right or the left side.
This Minn Kota Edge is bolted directly through the deck of this Triton aluminum boat. No custom brackets are needed.
Tennessee fishing guide and retired commercial and custom aluminum boat builder, Jim Duckworth, knows some of the tricks for mounting. “I have been dealing with aluminum boats for 35 years,” says Duckworth (fishingtennessee.com). “Mounting trolling motors and depth finders on factory boats was a big part of my business.”
Duckworth tackles a trolling motor mount on older aluminum boat by installing an aluminum plate between the motor and the hull, cushioned on a bed of clear marine silicone. “I like to beef that area up. I use .196 aluminum plate at least as wide as the trolling motor and a couple of inches longer in front and in back. On the bottom side I use the largest aluminum washers I can between the lock nuts and the underside of the deck. This installation will transfer the flex energy from trailering down a bumpy road, or operating at high speed, to a bigger area and make for a solid mount without creating cracking.”
The most convenient placement of a trolling motor on a pontoon boat is down the center of the deck.
Silicone is an important part of the installation. “The silicone will hold almost as much as the bolts,” clarifies Duckworth. “It also creates a soft seal that will keep things quiet in case a bolt loosens. Those creaking noises can spook your fish.”
Each boat design is different and may require a few adjustments to the procedure described. Nevertheless, mounting of the trolling motor is of critical importance to achieving the best performance in steering and energy transfer.
For best steering performance the deployed motor should position the shaft as close to the centerline of the boat as possible.
Security conscious anglers prefer a removable trolling motor. Manufacturers make quick-release trolling motor mounting brackets that allow the motor to be removed easily. Sometimes you just want to clear the deck, but other times you want to take it off and store the motor to prevent theft.
The quick-release mounts have basically the same footprint as the trolling motor and can be installed the same way as described above to achieve the same strong mount on aluminum boats. In fact, a properly installed quick-release mount adds yet another layer of energy transfer to the installation.
Pro angler and crappie guide, Kent Driscoll, is one of those anglers that elected to install a quick-release bracket. The B’n’M pro staffer fishes from a War Eagle 861 Predator. The quick-release mount gives him the advantage of security, but also the ability to match his trolling motor to the type of fishing he is doing. “I have two Minn Kota trolling motors on my boat with Minn Kota removable brackets,” explains Driscoll. “I use a Terrova 80-pound thrust motor for long line trolling and pulling crankbaits. The hands free remote and autopilot feature are the key to pulling and cranking, I can run 8 poles by myself.”
For dock shooting, jigging, and spider rigging Driscoll uses a Minn Kota 80-pound Fourtrex on a removable bracket. “Your hands are free to fish while controlling the boat with your feet,” explains Driscoll. “Having two trolling motors, so I can match my motor to my techniques, is awesome. Once brackets are installed, you simply pull one pin to remove or replace the trolling motor. An added benefit of two trolling motors is the availability of a backup if one goes bad.”
Powering Your Motor
Many pro anglers simply advise shoppers to buy the biggest trolling motor they can afford. It is good advise, but most everyday anglers need to take their time and choose wisely. When you select the size motor you want you are also choosing how many volts of power you will have to provide to operate it. You are also choosing how much storage you have to provide in the boat for the batteries. Small Jon boats only require a 12V system to provide the thrust they need and only one battery needs to be stored.
Most larger aluminum fishing boats, because they are lighter than fiberglass boats, perform well with 24V systems. If this is your choice you are adding the weight of two batteries and the corresponding storage requirement.
Driscoll recommends no more than 24-volt trolling motors for aluminum boats. “Aluminum boats weigh roughly half that of fiberglass boats. If you have a good set of 31 series batteries 24V will last you all day, 36V is really not necessary.” If most of your fishing is on calm water with little current or wind to fight, 24V systems are more than adequate.
If you carry a lot of heavy gear, however, or normally fish in fast current or windy conditions you may need a 36V system. Thirty-six volt systems can give you more than 100 pounds of thrust and last longer than 24V systems. Modern technology has changed the options now available for those needing a 36V system.
David Howell, of Toho Marine and Outdoors in St. Cloud, FL advises anglers, “If you want to upgrade your 36V battery system from 3 batteries to one you have the option of lithium batteries. Three regular lead cell batteries weigh about 80 pounds each. One 36V lithium battery weighs less than 30 pounds. Do the math. Lithium batteries provide a savings of about 200 pounds and a savings in storage space equivalent to two normal batteries.” Just as aluminum gives anglers lighter boats, like the Tritons David sells at Toho Marine, lithium batteries help keep them light.
As modern anglers add more and more electronics to their boats, the lithium batteries are a real boon. “If you wanted to add a Power-Pole or a Talon you would have room for a pump,” explained Howell. “You would have room for other things besides batteries, like a spare prop, a drift sock, or maybe just more tackle.”
Electrical gadgets like trolling motors continue to change the landscape of one of man’s oldest sports. They allow anglers to approach fishing areas quietly while controlling the boat better than ever before. The high-end models can follow the bottom contours on a chart and turn around and do it in the opposite direction. All the time the angler is free to use both hands for fishing. Aluminum has made high performance boats lighter, more economical, and available in a price range where more and more anglers can afford them.
Just as aluminum boats run the gamut from simple, small Jon boats to larger high tech, high performance boats, the trolling motors available to propel them do the same. From the simple clamp, on stern mount versions, to the sophisticated GPS models, modern trolling motors are available to fit any type of fishing application. So whether you are spider rigging, long lining, dock shooting, or using a cane pole there is an aluminum boat and an electric trolling motor for you. The likely result will be more fish in the boat and on the dinner table.