Originally featured in Great Lakes Angler, August/September 2018
I’m old enough to remember when anglers put a kicker motor on their fishing boats for two reasons.
The primary reason for the kicker motor was to handle trolling chores, but outboard motors weren’t as reliable as they are today. That kicker motor was also looked upon as being a life line should the main outboard break down.
I’d like to say I’ve never had to depend on the kicker motor to get in, but that wouldn’t be the truth.
Thankfully, these days outboard motors (big and small) are trustworthy to the point I have no fear chasing fish 20, 30, 40 or more miles off shore!
Dependable outboard motors have taken a lot of the worry out of Great Lakes fishing. Ironically, a growing number of the serious fishermen are still equipping their boats with two or more outboards.
While outboards have become more trustworthy, the engines used as primary power do a rather poor job of slowing things down enough to be classified as useful trolling motors.
Getting a V6 outboard to idle down slow enough that it can be used for trolling doesn’t always work.
For certain kinds of fishing that require pulling a lot of gear that creates friction in the water like downrigger balls and cables or diving planers, the typical V6 can be slowed down to that magic 2.0 to 2.5 MPH nicely.
However, for other types of fishing that require slower speeds or when fishing requires putting less gear in the water, the V6 isn’t much help in the trolling department.
Throwing out a sea bag to slow things down is always an option, but the truth is adding a four-stroke kicker motor has lots of advantages for the multi-species angler.
Gasoline powered four-stroke kicker motors have a great reputation for being:
- easy to start
- stingy on fuel consumption
What four stoke-kicker motors aren’t good at is holding a precise idle and trolling speed over long distances.
The problem isn’t with the outboard motor itself, but rather with the manual throttle linkage controls that come standard on four stroke-kickers. To achieve more precise and consistent RPM levels requires adding an after-market digital throttle control.
The Panther Marine Troll Master Pro, Magma Manufacturing ControlKing and the iTroll by Innova Design are examples of after-market digital throttle controls that dramatically improve the ability to set and maintain specific trolling speeds.
ELECTRIC TROLLING MOTORS
Gasoline kicker motors were once thought of as the only practical means of moving a boat over long distances for the purpose of serious open water trolling. That simply isn’t true anymore with the latest generation of electric trolling motors.
The cable driven, foot controlled electric motors of yesterday are rarely seen these days on “multi-species” boats. In their place are a new breed of wireless controlled electric motors that bring to the party a host of features invaluable to anglers who love to do it all.
Wireless electric motors are perfect for the angler who fancies himself a salmon troller one day, then slows it down for walleye trolling the next and just for kicks jigs up some structure loving smallmouth in his spare time.
A number of unique features make wireless electric motors versatile enough that they get used virtually every day on the water.
In addition to providing wireless controls, modern electric motors use a rheostat to accurately control trolling speed. In addition, these electric motors use Global Positioning System technology to follow a desired compass heading, drive directly from waypoint to waypoint, plot specific routes, hover in one spot and even duplicate productive trolling passes over and over again.
Adding GPS technology to an electric motor is the best thing to happen to boat control since the invention of the anchor!
Not only does the electric motor function as a hands free auto-pilot, it enables trolling speeds to be set and maintained much like the cruise control feature in your car. Thanks to GPS controlled wireless electric motors, small boat owners now have the same luxury of boat control once reserved only for bigger boats equipped with helm style auto-pilots.
Even better this technology is affordable and is available in 12, 24 and 36 volt electric motors suitable for V-hull style boats ranging in size from 16 to 22 feet in length.
TWO HEADS IS BETTER THAN ONE
They say that two heads is better than one. In this case two “power heads” is better than one. Combining both a gasoline kicker motor with a wireless electric motor is the best of both worlds for the Great Lakes angler who wants to troll for a host of species including salmon, trout, walleye, musky and more.
The gasoline kicker motor provides the primary forward propulsion and does so while only drinking a few ounces of fuel per hour. Meanwhile, the wireless electric motor is used to tweak and dial in trolling speeds, maintain a specific course or to navigate to known waypoints and routes.
For faster trolling speeds routinely used when targeting salmon or musky, the kicker motor is simply idled up to generate the necessary speeds. When it’s time to slow things down for fishing lake trout or live bait rigs for walleye, the kicker motor can idle down to around 1.0 MPH if necessary.
All kicker motors feature a tension setting arm that allows the motor to be set to run straight forward and then locked down. This prevents the motor from vibrating and inadvertently changing course.
BIG MOTOR LITTLE MOTOR
Combining a four-stroke kicker motor with a wireless electric motor offers anglers the advantage of better boat control, more precise trolling speeds and also the ability to duplicate productive trolling runs. In some situations the same advantages can be enjoyed using the primary outboard for trolling chores in combination with the wireless electric motor.
When trolling 2.0 MPH or faster, the primary outboard can usually be idled down enough to reach these speeds. Simply deploying the wireless electric motor makes it possible to tweak trolling speeds, maintain a particular course, navigate around other boats in your path and stay on active fish pass after pass.
THE WIRELESS-ONLY OPTION
For some types of open water trolling, the wireless electric motor is capable of providing all the power needed.
Good examples include fishing lake trout using attractors like the dodger and Yakima Spin-n-Glo combination or slow speed ice out trolling situations for spooky species like brown trout or Atlantic salmon. Trolling spinner rigs for walleye is another good example of a trolling situation that the electric motor can handle alone.
Trolling with just the wireless electric motor also eliminates the background noise of the kicker motor or primary outboard. It’s surprising how quickly an angler can get addicted to trolling using only the wireless electric motor.
THE WEAK LINK
Wireless electric motors are great, but what are the down sides? When using electric motors to assist in open water trolling chores, the weak link is the amount of available deep cycle battery power. Wireless GPS guided electric motors do a great job of improving boat control, but they can’t function without adequate amounts of battery power.
Deep cycle batteries intended for use with electric motors are produced in three sizes including 24, 27 and 31 group categories. The only practical choice for extended open water trolling chores are the largest amp hour 31 group batteries.
A 20 foot “multi-species” hull equipped with a 36 volt wireless electric motor and three 31 group batteries will troll at approximately 1.5 MPH for about 10 hours. If a gasoline kicker motor or primary outboard is used to supplement the propulsion power, that same set up will troll all day at faster speeds and have battery power to spare.
ON-BOARD BATTERY CHARGERS
In order to get the most from the deep cycle batteries used to power wireless electric motors, multi-bank waterproof charging units are required. Most of the major manufacturers of “multi-species” boats are wisely factory equipping their products with either 10 or 15 amp multi-bank charging systems. It takes time to charge large amp hour 31 group batteries. Boats equipped with five amp charging systems take longer to charge the batteries, creating a potential situation where the batteries are not fully charged at the start of each fishing day.
SHAFT LENGTH CONCERNS
One of the problems associated with using wireless GPS driven electric motors, is some boats are simply not conducive to mounting an electric trolling motor. Many boats are simply too deep to use traditional electric motors and other boats don’t have a practical place at the bow to mount one of these electric motors.
Both MotorGuide and Minn Kota, the two most popular brands of wireless electric motors, offer 60- and 72-inch shaft lengths for deep V style boats. The 60-inch shaft is adequate for lower sided V hulls and the 72-inch shaft models work nicely on deeper hulls.
The MotorGuide Xi5 comes standard with a two blade prop. By upgrading to their after-market aluminum three blade prop, the motor requires less water depth over the power head to operate without blowing out. Because the aluminum prop has less flex than the standard plastic prop, it provides more propulsion at lower power settings. This in turn allows the electric motor to be operated at lower settings that help extend run times.
Some of the best days walleye fishing in the fall coincide with calm weather. Consistent crankbait fishing gets started when the water reaches 50 degrees and stays hot literally until ice forces and end to the trolling fun.
One of the author’s favorite fall fishing tactics is to team up subtle action stickbaits with Snap Weights to get these otherwise shallow diving lures down deep.
KEY FOB, FOOT CONTROL OR GATEWAY
Minn Kota and MotorGuide both provide a key fob and traditional foot control for their wireless electric motors. The Minn Kota key fob provides digital trolling speed indications. MotorGuide uses a different after market system known as Gateway, which essentially links the sonar/GPS into the wireless electric motor using a standard NEMA 2000 cable. This process allows the features of the electric motor to be controlled via a Lowrance touch screen sonar/GPS unit.
SUMMING IT UP
More anglers every year are opting to rig their trailerable fishing boats with both four-stroke kicker motors and wireless GPS guided electric motors. Once you’ve spent a little time enjoying the benefits of “two motor trolling” you’ll wonder how you ever managed without this fish catching technology.
- Written by Mark Romanack/Fishing 411 TV