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Arriving at your fishing spot quietly greatly increases your chances of catching fish.

That is precisely what trolling motors are designed for. They make it easy to move your boat with minimum noise and effort as you move to the next fishing spot.

Trolling motors range from simple hand-controlled models to more advanced ones, equipped with GPS, wireless controls, and fish finders.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most important questions you should ask yourself before deciding which motor to buy.

Let’s get started!

1. Where Do I Mount It on My Boat?

Depending on the type, trolling motors can be mounted on your boat’s bow, transom, or engine.

Bow mount trolling motors are especially useful if you fish on the foredeck of your boat. One of the advantages is that they are straightforward to operate, as you can steer the bow of your boat very precisely. They also often come with more sophisticated features and controls, such as GPS or wireless steering.

The drawback is that they are a bit more difficult to install than transom motors, as they require a horizontal surface at the front of your boat to be fixed. They also tend to be relatively expensive.

Transom mount trolling motors are very easy to install, usually less expensive, and that’s what makes them very popular among smaller boat, dinghy, and canoe owners. You attach the trolling motor to the boat’s transom using dual clamps, next to your outboard motor or instead of one, and that’s it! You’re good to go.

Engine mount trolling motors are fixed to the cavitation plate of outboard motors. You don’t have to stow or deploy them. They are remotely controlled and steer together with the outboard. The main advantage of this position is that it requires less space. Smaller boats may not have enough room to fix a trolling motor on the bow or transom.

2. Pick the Right Thrust for Your Boat

Thrust is the most important thing to consider when buying a trolling motor because it tells you if it is powerful enough to push your boat at the right speed. It is measured in pounds (lbs) and gives you a rough idea of the motor’s performance. If your boat is heavy, you will need more thrust to move to get it moving.

How to calculate how much thrust you need?

Boat weight is the single most important factor here. A generally agreed rule is that for every 100 lbs, you will need at least 2 lbs of thrust. For example, if your boat weighs 4000 lbs, fully loaded, you want 4000/100 * 2 lbs = 80 lbs of thrust for your trolling motor.

Water conditions, where and how you use your motor should also impact your decision. You need relatively little thrust on flat lakes, where the above-calculated minimum thrust will be just fine. If you tend to fish in areas with fast currents and significant waves, you should pick a higher thrust and more powerful trolling motor, which will perform well in adverse conditions.

3. Calculate Your Battery Runtime

This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and depends directly on two things: the capacity of your battery and the current draw of your trolling motor.

Battery capacity is measured in Ampere hours or Ah and current draw in amperes (amps). If your battery has 100Ah capacity and your motor draws 20 amps of current, then you can calculate its run time by dividing 100/20 = 5 hours.

However, this is only a theoretical number because depending on the type of battery you use, you will never want to deplete it to 0% of capacity. For example, if you have a standard lead-acid battery, you should really only use 50-70% of its Ah capacity if you want to keep it in good shape.

The current draw of your motor depends on the speed you set it to and how heavy your boat is. If you use your trolling motor at lower speeds, you will have a significantly lower current draw and much longer run time.

Weather and water conditions will also affect how long your motor will run. It is harder to push a boat against the current, choppy waters, or into the wind, which means higher current draw and shorter run time.

4. Choose Between Different Steering Options

Electric steer

These models offer more control options, such as using wireless remote and GPS positioning that help you get where you want to be and focus on fishing.

Cable steer

In these models, a multi-function foot pedal and the motor are directly linked via a cable. It’s a less sophisticated system than the above but more responsive and very popular with bass fishermen.

Hand steer

These models use a tiller handle for direct control, very much like traditional outboards.

5. Do You Need Saltwater Capability?

Each trolling motor description should state clearly whether you can use it in saltwater. Saltwater is much more corrosive than fresh water and requires different materials.

For example, Minn Kota and Motorguide saltwater motors are built with premium-grade alloys, coated with zinc, and painted with corrosion-resistant polyester paint. Each model comes with a sacrificial anode fixed to the prop. This will ensure your motor will last much longer.

It is important to note that if you use a freshwater trolling motor in saltwater, it will often void your warranty.

6. Why Is Motor Voltage Important?

While 12V trolling motors are usually the cheaper option, they offer less thrust than their 24V or 36V counterparts. Higher voltage systems tend to be more powerful and more efficient due to the lower current flowing through the cables at the same power output. This leads to less energy being wasted as heat.

Another thing to consider is the number of batteries. A 12V trolling motor requires just one 12V battery. For 24V and 36V systems, you will need to connect 2 or 3 batteries in series. More batteries of the same size mean more capacity and more range available.

As a rule of thumb, trolling motors with 55 lbs of thrust or less operate on 12 volts (single battery), those with 68-100 lbs of thrust run on 24 volts (two batteries), and those above 100 lbs of thrust require 36 volts in total (three batteries).

7. Calculate the Right Shaft Length

Selecting the right shaft of your trolling motor is absolutely vital. The shaft must be long enough for the propeller to stay submerged at least 16″ below the water line regardless of water and weather conditions.

You don’t want the propeller to get out of water in choppy waters or/and sucking in air from above the waterline when it is not deep enough. It will cause noise, loss of power and can shorten the life of your motor.

See our shaft length guide for more helpful information.

8. What Features Are Important?

Here is the quick overview of most popular features found on trolling motors today:

Variable Speed Controller

A variable-speed motor has a smooth power delivery in forward and reverse. These motors draw less power than those without them, especially at lower speeds. No energy is wasted, and you get more run time off your battery.

Autopilot

Autopilot allows your trolling motor to steer on its own in the set direction. It uses a compass to keep a steady heading and can be used in many ways, for example, trolling along a shoreline, a ledge, or shelf.

GPS Navigation

GPS trolling motors let you steer, control speed, lock onto fishing spots, and more just by pressing a button on the remote.

It is usually available as a standard on premium models and as an option on others.

Fish Finder Integration

High-end trolling motors let you control your trolling motor’s steering and speed directly from your fish finder screen. You can Spot-Lock, go to your fish finder’s waypoints and even automatically follow depth contours.

Sonars and Transducers

These motors have built-in transducers that send images to your fish finder. They are fully integrated with the lower motor section, which means there are no additional cables or connectors involved.

Lift-Assist

All manufacturers use various designs to make stowing and deploying their motors as easy as possible. Some use a spring-loaded mechanism. Others have a stainless steel gas spring which makes lifting your motor much easier and safer.

Auto Stow and Deploy

A few premium models, notably Minn Kota Ulterra, went one step further. Instead of a lift-assist mechanism, they offer a 100% automatic stow, deploy and trim system for your motor. All you need to do is to press a button on your remote or the foot pedal. Easy.

9. Biggest Trolling Motor Brands

There are currently tens of companies specializing in trolling motors.

Minn Kota is often credited with inventing an electric trolling motor and manufactures them since 1934! Their motor range is the most diverse, offering bow mount, transom mount, and engine mount motors with saltwater versions available.

MotorGuide is another big name with over 50 years of innovations related to trolling motors and accessories.

Lowrance and Garmin are relative newcomers to the trolling motor market. Their models are expensive but are very well designed and built. It’s not surprising as both of them have been involved in making fish finders and marine electronics for years.

Haswing is a Chinese brand that makes powerful and budget-friendly motors. They typically don’t come with sophisticated navigation and software features.

Newport Vessels specialize in hand-controlled trolling motors, which are very attractively priced.

Your Questions

Do trolling motors scare the fish?

Any noise can scare the fish away, and although electric motors are much quieter than petrol outboards, they still make a sound. Although some models are louder than others, especially if they come equipped with a planetary gear transmission, even the quietest models will still make a sound as the prop goes through the water. The only thing you can do to lower the noise level is to slow down.

Does more thrust mean more speed?

Not necessarily. Thrust is all about pulling power, not speed. That’s what trolling motors are designed for. You need a high thrust trolling motor to move a large boat at a reasonable speed (3-4mph) or keep it in a fixed position. However, if you want to go fast, you will have to use a much more powerful outboard or inboard engine.

Do trolling motors have reverse?

Most of them do, besides the smallest the simplest usually hand-controlled models.

Do trolling motors come with batteries?

Usually, they don’t, although some dealers can offer the whole package that includes the motor, batteries, and wiring.