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Beginners Guide to Trolling Motors

Beginners Guide to Trolling Motors

Beginners Guide to Trolling Motors: If you are interested in fishing activities, a trolling motor is one of the most vital items you will require. But you may not know what they are, what they do, or how to look for one. Consider this article to be your guide on them. After reading this guide, I recommend checking out my top trolling motor picks to see if one fits your needs.

Their world can confuse you, particularly when you go online and purchase one without any prior information. However, purchasing the correct motor means that your fishing experience will be comfortable.

What is a Trolling Motor?

Simply put, this is a self-contained unit, which contains components such as electric motor, controls and the propeller. It is usually fixed on to your boat, either at the stern (back area) or the bow (front area). You often lift them from the water to reduce drag when the primary motor of the boat is operating.

What are the uses of trolling motors?

They are used as secondary power sources when you want to move or steer the boat in a precise manner, and this helps you to locate fish more accurately. The trolling motors that are best for this purpose are bow motors. Also, trolling motors are fantastic options for a main power source on an inflatable boat.

They are also used for game fishing – they are a secondary propelling source aside from the primary motor. The best motors for this are transom motors, and you mount them along the primary motor or on areas of the boat called brackets. These I pilot trolling motors will take your fishing game to the next level.

What to Look for in a Trolling Motor

There are three types of trolling motors – engine, bow and transom motors. What you choose depends on where you usually like to out and where you like to fish. Like anything in life, they have their own benefits as well as drawbacks.

Here is a rough guide on each of the motors.

Bow motors

These are the most popular type of trolling motor, because they are very easy use by serious fishermen who have either large or medium sized boats.

These motors are more convenient for you if you fish on the fore-deck of a bass boat or an open bow-rider. In the case you want to prevent damage as a result of grounding, it is best to go for a spring-loaded mount. These will enable the motor to swing away on impact from water.

On very small or light sailboats, trolling motors usually act as extra engines and they are mounted on the back area where tillers operate them.

One of the benefits in their operation is that it is very easy to control them, compared to transom motors. This is due to them pulling the boat through the water, so the steering becomes more precise. Therefore, if you want easy maneuvering of your boat as well as accurate steering, then bow motors are the best option. They also have added ranges of control options, such as foot controls, hand controls and wireless remotes, and they come with larger feature sets compared to transom ones.

The drawbacks to them are that they are more challenging to install on your boat because they occupy a lot of space, and they tend to be more costly (due to the features, for the most part).

If you want to install them, just keep two things in mind – you need to install them at the front of the boat, and you also need a flat deck.

Transom motors

Transom motors are very popular with smaller boats because of their ease of installation, and they are more affordable. Bow motors normally require drilled plating on the bow of your boat, but the difference with transom motors is that it is easy to attach them to the stern of your boat using a simple clamp.

It is also very easy to operate them from the back of the boat, and they tend not to clutter the deck because of cords or foot pedals, unlike bow mounts.

These have areas called brackets, which adjust quickly to changing heights and angles. This enables the shaft of the motor to be immersed at correct depths. The only drawback is that they do not have many control options due to their simpler build. Also, they do not offer you the accurate control that a bow motor does. But for their ease of use, they are good if you are just starting out with motors or you have a smaller boat.

Engine motors

These are mounted on the cavitation plate of outboard motors. They serve only when you want to add thrust and the steering to the boat. This happens through the outboard motor because the trolling motor is directly connected to it. As for the motor direction and the thrust settings, these are controlled through a wired remote.

These are a very good option for you if you have a multi-purpose boat. They are especially helpful when the vessel does not have adequate space for traditional trolling motors. When the engine is off, the motor is submerged, and when the engine is on, the motor comes out of the water with the outboard. The benefit of using them is that they save space on your boat, and they are also easy to install.

The drawback to them is that they tend to be more challenging to control, compared to transom or bow motors. They also lack many features that bow mounts come with, and the fact that they utilize electric power to create thrust makes them more costly than the other motor varieties.

Considering all these motors, what do you therefore need to know when buying one?

Know if the Trolling Motor is for Salt Water or Fresh Water

This is the most important aspect to look out for, because you can run the risk of ruining your motor if you use it in the wrong conditions. When looking at trolling motors, there are indicators that show that the boat is for fresh or salt water. The reason for this is because of their build. Freshwater motors cannot handle the harsh conditions of salt water. Saltwater motors have added protection that keeps them from saltwater damage. Here is a more in depth article about using a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater.

Because of this, saltwater motors are more costly compared to freshwater motors, so it is better to spend some extra money to purchase a salt water motor that is of good quality, if your fishing ground is in that environment. This salt/freshwater trolling motor from Amazon is my personal favorite.

Thrusting power

The most vital part of a trolling motor is the thrust. Without it, the boat cannot be propelled forward or backwards. It is mostly measured in pounds.

The thrust power that your boat needs will depend on your boat size; so when looking at thrusting abilities, make sure to know your boat weight – do not just limit it to the actual boat, use the total weight. This will include weight of the people as well as equipment that your boat can carry.

To calculate the weight, use the total boat weight and divide it by 200 pounds – this is because for every 200 pounds of boat weight, you will need 5 pounds of thrust power to be comfortable. After getting the result, take it and multiply by 5. An example for a 2000 pounds boat, you need:

2000/200*5=50 pounds. This means that for your boat that weighs 2000 pounds, you will need a motor that gives a thrust power of at least 50 pounds. You can however go by other calculations of using 2 lbs of thrusting power for every 100 lbs of boat. Although, I would highly recommend taking the extra power.

Battery size of the Trolling motor

Before you spend your money on a trolling motor, keep the size of the trolling motor battery as well as its voltage in mind.

Batteries here do not mean car or truck batteries – these are too weak to sustain the needs of the trolling motor over long periods. Trolling motor batteries come in three voltage sizes, which is 12 volts, 24 volts and 36 volts.

You cannot use a 12 volt battery for a trolling motor that requires 36 volts power. However, you can combine three 12 volt batteries to create a 36 volt one. If you want to replace your trolling motor, examine the battery power and purchase according to what you need. I personally use a 12 volt battery and it works fantastic for my needs, It can be found here on Amazon.

The length of the shaft

This will ultimately depend on the size of your boat. For longer boats, they will require longer shafts, but if you have a shorter boat, then you can get a short shaft.

One thing to note – if you are using an engine mount trolling motor, you do not need to consider shaft lengths. For transom and bow mounts, you need to lower the shaft under water to between 15 and 19 inches, or else the boat will not move smoothly over the water and there will be a lot of propeller noise. This will not be advantageous for you especially if you are fishing. Nobody likes scared fish!

How to Measure a Trolling Motor Shaft

Finding the right shaft length is very important because it will end up determining your fishing experience. It gets even more vital if you own a bow motor. You want the shaft to be long enough so that it keeps the propeller submerged (which means less noise, and a good fishing experience), but you do not want it so long that it drags on the bottom or becomes difficult to stow.

Shaft length: how to select it

For bow motors, it is vital to get the correct length. This is because bow-to-water distances will always vary in different bots, and bows move more on water, compared to transom.

If you are not sure on what to look for, begin by measuring the length from the horizontal mounting point up to the waterline, and then add 20” to this figure.

As a general rule, you want either equal or longer shaft lengths than this figure, but you do not want less. For extra consideration:

If you steer the hand controlled motor when standing up – add 12” to the recommended lengths (we have compiled a guide). This adds comfort and ease of steering through raising the motor tiller.

The bow to waterline distance The shaft length to get
0 inches-10 inches 36 inches
16 inches-22 inches 42 inches
22 inches-28 inches 48 inches-52 inches
28 inches-34 inches 54 inches-62 inches

If you frequently fish in harsh waters – you should add 5 inches to the recommended lengths in the table above. This is because the propeller needs to stay submerged in spite of additional rough water conditions.

Shaft lengths for transom mounts

This is not as important as for bow motors, though it is good to double check. Check the table below for a general guide.

Waterline distance Length of shaft
0 inches-10 inches 30 inches
10 inches-16 inches 36 inches
16 inches-20 inches 42 inches
Above 22 inches Consult the manufacturer

General rules to remember

The rule of submergence

It is important to submerge the top of the motor at least 12 inches. This will give the boat adequate propulsion, and it also ensures that the motor is not noisy, so this does not scare the target fish away.

Pick longer lengths, always.

When you have a choice between two lengths, always go for the longer one. The reason for this is because it is easy to adjust longer lengths through the depth collar adjustment that comes on all trolling motors. However, short shaft lengths are impossible to adjust downwards.

How you measure the shaft

When you are trying to know the length of your existing shaft, or you are trying to make measurements on your vessel, it is good to know the exact measurements of the shaft.

To do this, take the measurements from the base of the motor head up to the top point of the propeller housing. Place the trolling motor on the ground, making sure the shaft faces upward. The ground should be a dry, hard surface.

Record this distance, keeping in mind that the length of trolling motor is in increments of one foot or sometimes halves – translates to 36 inches, 48 inches and 60 inches.

Pro tip: when you want to determine the length that the trolling motor requires for fitting various boats. It is best to measure the distance from the water surface up to where the trolling motor is mounted. After getting the figure, add 18 to 24 inches to get the required shaft lengths.

What Kind of Mount do you Need for a Trolling Motor?

Selecting a trolling motor and installation

The advantage of engine trolling motors is that they offer you large amounts of space. However, you still need to know the right-sized motor for the boat, as well as making sure it is compatible and installing it on the outboard motor.

Selecting the motor

Some engine motors are only different due to their thrust power, so you do not need to worry about choosing from different feature series. You only need to choose on how strong you need or want your motor to be.

As the same with all trolling motors, the weight of the boat should be the primary consideration when selecting the motor thrust. When calculating the boat weight, ensure that you include the weight of additional gear as well as passengers and fuel.

Make sure it is compatible with the outboard

Engine mount motors are installed to the cavitation plates of the outboard motor. This is unlike bow mount motors that are installed directly to the deck. This is the mount I use from Amazon for the trolling motor on my inflatable boat.

Because there are a wide variety of outboard motors in addition to their mounting methods, it is good for you to make sure that the engine mount model that you choose is accommodated fully by your outboard.

If you are not sure on how you can determine compatibility, you can follow these rules as a guide:

The 13 inch immersion

This relates to the cavitation plate of the outboard. This plate must be at least 13 inches beneath the waterline. This makes the motor to be fully submerged deep enough so that trolling motor cavitation is prevented – cavitation leads to the boat having reduced power and increased noise that scares your fish away. This is my favorite trolling plate from Amazon.

As you measure the motor shaft, make sure to note the following aspects:

The minimal distance is 13 inches

This is the distance that the motor requires so that it functions well. If the distance is less than 13 inches (even at 12 or 11 inches), you will likely get problems with the performance.

Do not measure tabbed distances

When you measure the distance, ensure your outboard is not tabbed. That is, it is sitting straight down in the water. This is because you will likely use the trolling motor when the outboard is in the untrimmed position, so this is where you should start to measure from.

Make sure you have plenty of mount footprint

When you have confirmed the ample cavitation submersion, you want the citation plate is long enough to mount the motor. After all you do not want constraints as you install it.

All good cavitation plates always have adequate length for providing enough support to the motor, though it is good to check. Ensure that the cavitation plate has a 3 inch or 3.75 inch ribbon on either side of the outboard where you will mount the motor.

Examine the outboard spine clearance

This is a very important step, and you should not fail to check it. Make sure that the motor spine – this is the part that sticks up in the middle of your cavitation plate – will not interfere when you mount the trolling motor.

Engine mount motors usually have a gap in their middle area that takes care of this spine. However, you want to make sure that you have plenty of clearance.

Doing this is very easy – you just need to get the rear mounting locale by measuring 3 inches or 3.75 inches backwards from the cavitation plate front, depending on the motor. You then measure up 7.25 inches. As long as the 7.25 inch measurement clears the motor spine, there should not run into any problems.

How to Install a Trolling Motor

Installing trolling motors is really straightforward, but you require the right tools for the job. Here are some general items that you will need to install them, as well as other parts.

The items that come with the trolling motor:

Power leads with their terminal battery ring connectors

Trolling motor and its control – this can be the foot pedal, hand tiller or remote control.

Additional equipment can include:

Batteries – these can include from one to three 12 volt batteries, and this really depends on the trolling motor.

Always go for deep cycle batteries. Avoid starting batteries for your motor because full discharging and recharging them will ruin them within a short time. I use this trolling motor battery from Amazon.

Battery changer – this will recharge your trolling motor batteries after use. I like this charger from Amazon, although it is a little more pricey, you get what you pay for.

Terminal ends – these are very important to connect the terminal ends on the motor power leads. If you do not have them, you can use some other type of battery connectors.

Jumper wire – this mostly applies to when you have a 24 volt or 36 volt motor. They are short wires that you use to connect your trolling motor batteries in series. For added safety, purchase the same wire gauge as the rest of your trolling motor system.

Some recommended equipment:

Trolling motor receptacle and plug – these enable you to quickly disconnect the wiring of the trolling motor, and this is recommended during charging. This receptacle is on Amazon for a great price.

Circuit breakers – these will enhance the safety levels of your trolling motor in case the prop is caught on water obstacles such as rocks. This circuit breaker from Amazon will work great for all 12, 24 and 36 volt systems.

Quick releases – these allow for easy removal of the bow-mount trolling motor, regardless of the occasion – storage, service, boat cover, or family days. I like this one from Amazon. However, make sure the one you purchase will fit your motor.

Extensions – because power leads on trolling motors are usually three to five feet, additional wire lengths for batteries will be required for installation. To know the length of wire that you need, measure the distance from the trolling motor location to the batteries. Once you know this length, there are certain guidelines for the wire gauge to use.

Lastly, getting a battery case will solve many of these safety concerns all in one – rather than buying everything individually. This is a great battery case from Amazon that I wish I knew about beforehand.

Bow and transom mounts

Tools needed – wrench kit, drill, screwdriver

Steps

  1. Bow mounts have two parts – the starboard and the port. Decide which side you want to mount the motor on. Both of them can be used as mounting bases, so this really depends on your preference and your fishing method.

When you mostly steer the boat from the port side, it is better to mount the motor on the starboard side and vice versa, and this will enhance visibility. You should also consider when and how you fish when you decide where to mount the motor.

  1. You can remove the plate panels by removing the screws that are keeping them in place. This will reveal the mount holes in most motors.
  2. Assemble the motor before mounting the locations of the holes. Do this by attaching the motor shaft and the head assembly to the mount. Once you do this, you can set the motor in the stowed pose along the bow of the vessel, parallel to its side.
  3. Once this is done, place the shaft very close to the centre line of the boat. This is because, when the propeller and shaft are off centre, it becomes very hard to steer the boat, and you can also encounter drifting problems more often.
  4. Place the front of the mount in such a way that permits the motor to deploy and clear the bow tip. This of course, is different for different motors, though it usually needs either a slight overhang, which is less than one inch, or a flush pose with the side of the vessel.
  5. When the motor is in the stowed pose, examine the motor head location. You need to ensure that it does not happen to overhang on the boat side. This is because you do not want to run the risk of breaking your motor head in case it bumps into vertical surfaces such as docks. You can do this through a straight-edge by positioning the mount so that the motor head stays in the boat boundaries.
  6. When you have double-checked the position of the mount, proceed to drill two holes on the bow from the hole pattern in your mount. It is even easier if you have someone to hold the mount for you so that it does not shift during fixing. When you have finished drilling, secure the motor through the two holes, and you can then drill the remaining holes without worrying about shifting mount positions. Pro tip: you can even remove the motor head and shaft to make your drilling process easier.
  7. You will mostly have access to the bow or the boat’s underside so that you fasten the nuts and bolts to keep the motor in place. However, in some cases, this is not possible. In the event you cannot access the underside of the mount platform, there are some no-access bolting nuts that will keep the motor in place without underside access.
  8. Once you have finished securing everything, you can re-attach the side plates.

I like this mount from Amazon for my inflatable boat. You will pretty much follow the same set of directions except you are attaching the motor to this mount. However, make sure you buy the right one to suit your needs, this one only works with Intex boats. Here is a very long guide I have written about inflatable boats that might be able to help you out.

Engine mount motors

The process is fairly easy, and has the following steps:

  1. Keep the engine motor on the outboard cavitation plate. Ensure that you position it as close as you can to the outboard, and if necessary, slide it back. The legs or the mounting bracket for the engine mount require some moderate flexing so that they accommodate the outboard’s motor spine.
  2. As you hold the motor in place, drill six 3/8 inch holes, using the motor hole pattern. It is even better if you can find someone to hold the motor for you.
  3. Insert an insulator pad between the engine mount motor and the cavitation plate.
  4. Insert the six bolts and then secure them from below.
  5. Pass the cable through the cable hooks and the boat, but make sure to level enough loosening in the cable to enable easy raising and lowering of the primary engine.
  6. As you finish wiring the motor, ensure that you utilize the provided adhesive heat shrink. This will reduce the chances of corrosion to the motor parts.

How Fast Does a Trolling Motor go?

One of the most common thoughts people have about trolling motors is the bigger, the better. This is NOT true! Here is a tip, however – trolling motors are chosen by thrust and prop pitch, not speed. When you change the prop pitch, you can exchange the boat acceleration for top speed.

What this means is that higher thrusting power will NOT move a boat faster, necessarily. In fact, two 50 pound thrust motors do not really move your boat faster than one 25 thrust pound motor. High thrust 12-volt motors are best for heavier, bigger boats that have large loads.

The maximum speed that a trolling motor has is 5 miles per hour, and this is regardless of the thrust amounts it has. Smaller boats will reach the speed with most motors, while larger boats may require larger motors to get to this speed.

Well, what is the difference between horsepower and thrust?

Horsepower is the measure of “work” performed by the motor, while thrust is a static measure of force.

One horsepower is equal to 550 pounds of work for every second.

If you thought there was a direct correlation of horsepower to thrust, think again – there is no direct relation. On the contrary of what many people think, fifteen pounds of thrust does not equal one horsepower.

How does thrust relate to speed?

Thrust is only a measurement of pulling or pushing power, so high thrust power does not really men higher speed. Speed is a factor of motor R.P.M. and prop pitch.

What Batteries are Needed in Trolling Motors?

You may not think much about it, but reliable trolling motor batteries will help you get the most of your boat when you go for fishing adventures. Similar to most electric motors, there are specific batteries that are needed for trolling motors, and these will discharge electricity over long periods.

To choose the best batteries, there are certain factors you need to keep certain factors in mind:

Deep cycle batteries versus dual purpose batteries

Both of these batteries have designs that slowly release large percentages of their total capacity over time. This is different from starting batteries, which discharges large amounts of power quickly to start up engines. This definitely means that you cannot use starting batteries for your trolling motor.

You can use dual purpose engines for two purposes – starting engines, as well as deep cycling. They’re good to giving trolling motors and other 12 volt devices consistent power supplies. They offer good, but not great, performance for deep cycling. They are best if you want only one battery for your boat, meaning both its inboard and outboard motor and the trolling motor.

On the other hand, deep cycle (DC) batteries specifically release their electrical capacity over a long period. This is why they end up lasting much longer than dual-purpose batteries when you use them with a trolling motor. They give excellent performance as well, even from small DC batteries. They are best for when you are looking for batteries specifically for your trolling motor.

In light of this, what should you look for in a trolling motor battery?

Amp Hours: This measure is used to rate deep cycle batteries. It is a measure of the amount of charge that is within the battery, which allows one amp of current to discharge over one hour.

What this means is that the number of amp hours the battery has is a measure of how much electricity it can store. Because this will set the time you can use it for your motor, it is very important to know the specifics. For dual-purpose batteries, it is unfortunately not always easy to know the amp hours, making it challenging to know the total time that they can power the motor.

A general rule is that small batteries measure about 25 to 50 Ah, and larger cycle batteries tend to be 100 Ah.

Power system: Most batteries you will get are 12 volts. If you have a trolling motor that requires power of 34 or 36 volts, you will need two or three batteries to power it. Be aware of the requirements of your battery system.

Maintenance of the system: Most modern AGM batteries do not require maintenance on your part, so they are easier to own compared to older batteries. They are also safer to use regardless of their position, whether upside down or right side up.

Certain deep cycle and dual purpose batteries have a thick plastic casing to protect the battery from vibration. This, in addition to AGM technology, has excellent features that lengthen the life of the battery.  This is my favorite battery for my trolling motor which can be found on Amazon for a great price.

With consideration to all the factors mentioned above, I have put together this list of the best trolling motor batteries.

How to Charge a Trolling Motor Battery

Before you think about charging your batteries, make sure you do some maintenance, even on the so-called “maintenance-free” batteries. Make sure you charge them immediately after fishing sessions. This is because when they sit for long times under partial charge, their performance and life begins to drop due to sulfates.

Charging them eliminates this problem, at least temporarily, because it returns sulfates to the electrolyte solution from the plates, though not all of it leaves. The sulfates will eventually build up on the plates, and this will ultimately lead to internal resistance to charging. For this reason, you can add a “cleansing agent” to wet-cell batteries. On the contrary, you can always apply a preventive oil on your battery to make sure this doesn’t happen for a long time. I use this one from Amazon, it is very cheap and does a great job so far.

The second thing to check is signs of corrosion on the battery terminals because it leads to incomplete charging. It can be caused by overcharging, heat, overfilled, or when the battery releases gases during charging. You can clean this through a solution of water and baking soda, then coating the area with electrolytic grease when cleaned.

Before you put the battery cable on the terminal, apply a thin bead of silicon on the base of the battery post and then install a felt battery washer. Afterward, you can coat everything with grease to prevent contact with the battery gas.

When dealing with wet cells, open the cell caps and check the electrolyte levels before you begin charging. 1/8 inch of fluid should cover the battery plates. The fluid level should not be at the top of the cell but should be about 1/4 inch below the mouth of the cell. This will allow for the electrolyte to expand when hot. If the cells are down, carefully fill them using distilled water.

To get the most from the battery, it is vital to measure the charge that you are giving by examining the battery charge level. For example, 40 percent charge on 100-amp battery requires 60 amps of charge. If the charge rate is 10 amps, the battery will charge in six hours. You do not want to leave it for too long – too much time ultimately damages the battery. This is probably the best bank battery charger on the market which can be found on Amazon. 

In What Water Conditions can You use a Trolling Motor?

The answer ultimately depends on what fishing grounds you use. Trolling motors have different designs and specifications, all catering for salt water and fresh water conditions. Some of the factors to consider include:

Are the waters fresh, salty or rough?

What is the boat style – is it deep or shallow?

Do you want a bow, transom or engine mount motor?

Saltwater motors have added protection that prevents them from corrosion from the salt water, and this will make them more expensive. To lengthen the life of your equipment, make sure to wash your motor and fishing equipment thoroughly with fresh water, and do this immediately after fishing excursions.

How to Repair a Trolling Motor

Switches – this is one of the biggest issues in trolling motors. The switch is not easily adjusting to your demands according to your speed.

Armature – water can get in the case, or the brushes can wear out (especially in 24 or 36-volt batteries).

The shaft has two parts – the outer casing, and an inner structure known as the armature. Examine the shaft fires and find out whether the armature is broken or okay because problems can easily start from there.

Once this is done, clean the armature and put a new bearing in it, as well as adding some new seals to prevent leaking of water into the motor.

Final Thoughts

Trolling motors are very good when you are an avid angler because you definitely need a tool to help you move through the water. Just make sure to choose a proper one, considering your fishing ground and requirements, and maintain it as much as possible.

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