If you’re seriously enough into fishing to spend days on your pontoon boat, on a lake, throwing bait and waiting patiently for the big catch, then time has come for you to consider buying a trolling motor. This is the one item you need in order to maneuver smoothly and precisely, without scaring the fish with the noise of a gasoline-powered engine. You can use it for trolling, i.e. dragging bait around, as well as for the fine adjustments your boat may need while fishing. What’s more, you can also use it for whatever a normal engine can be used for, even on areas where gasoline-powered engines are prohibited.
It’s not that difficult to purchase a trolling motor, considering there are not very many brands and models available. However, there are a couple of factors that, put together, could lead to either the supreme fishing experience or a supreme waste of money. As such, we’d like to offer you a couple of recommendations for every step of a purchase. Read the guide below and make your choice!
#1: Pick the right brand
When shopping for a trolling motor, you’re in fact shopping for a brand name. There are two companies at the top, both of which offer good quality engines and both of which are possibly compatible with your needs. Motor Guide and Minn Kota have some serious competition going on, so if one comes up with some amazing new innovation, you can expect the other one to bring to the table something even better in the very near future.
An important factor which could contribute to your decision here is whether you already have a fish finder. The reason is that fish finders and trolling motors generally have specific compatibilities, due to collaborations between manufacturers. If you get a trolling motor with GPS, then you will have to consider this, as there are certain advantages to this compatibility. For instance, your fish finder can chart maps for the trolling motor, which you can then control via a handheld control panel – a pretty nifty feature when you need to be moving fast. As a concrete example, Lowrance fish finders are compatible with the Motor Guide models, while Humminbird finders work with Minn Kota.
The bottom line of this is that you absolutely mustn’t make a rushed decision. Many people take fast decisions based on little experience or a few reviews they read, which almost always proves to be unfeasible in the long run. Take your time, analyze what you need, ask people with experience, and choose the brand that works best with your boat and other accessories.
#2: Choose a model
After you’ve selected your favorite brand, it’s time to take on the most difficult task here – picking the right model. There are a few things to consider here as well, so let’s take it one step at a time:
The first thing you must think of is where exactly on the boat you want to place the motor. There are three basic options: bow mount, transom mount, or engine mount. Each of them comes with its perks and drawbacks, but the most important thing here is whether you’ll be using the trolling motor for its designated purpose, that is, dragging bait. If you plan to do so, then it’s highly recommended to install the engine on the bow.
Agreed, this installation can be a bit cumbersome, as many pontoons don’t have a front lip which can be used to this extent. However, many owners agree that it’s worth taking your boat to a specialized shop and having the front gate modified, as it’s a pretty easy and inexpensive operation that will allow you to get the best control your trolling motor can offer.
Of course, you’re also free to mount it elsewhere too. If you’re fishing for bass or something similar, you won’t need to do any actual trolling and a transom-mount motor will most likely do the job just fine. At any rate, a trolling motor is very useful for making those ever so slight adjustments without having your fish get away.
Well, yes. Just like in a couple of other different contexts, length is pretty important. When it comes to trolling motors, you want to make sure that your shaft is not too short, especially since it’s pontoon boats we’re talking about.
As the bow of a pontoon boat is generally higher than the rest of the deck, you may want to get a longer than average shaft if you’re planning to mount it on a bow. As a rule of thumb, you should take the distance from the mount to the water and add 18-22 inches to it. Usually, this will give you anywhere between 48” and 60”. As said above, longer is better and, as such, the most common sizes for pontoon boats are 55” and 60”, though you can probably get away with a 50” shaft in many cases.
Another thing you really don’t want to be skimping out on is thrust. Many owners buy a cheaper motor with lower power only to regret it afterwards. Honestly, an engine is expensive enough as it is, so you really don’t want to buy it twice.
The general rule for boats is to divide the total weight of the boat by 50 in order to get the number of pounds of thrust necessary. Let’s take, for instance, an average 22’ pontoon boat: loaded with gas and a couple of people, we could round the weight to a nice 3000 pounds. Divided by 50, you get 60, which is the number of pounds of thrust your motor needs to produce.
Easy, right? Well, no, actually. In fact, pontoon boats have different hydrodynamics to the average boat due to them not having a V-shaped hull but rather the catamaran or trimaran construction. In practical terms, this translates to not being as easy to move as a V-hull boat. What does this mean? Well, this is indeed simple: you need more power. For a 3000-pound boat, you’d be way better off with 70-80 pounds of thrust, powered by three 12V batteries.
What we know it’s good
We couldn’t just let you off without giving you some actual recommendations after that entire “how to” thing. To be impartial, we’ve selected two trolling motors from each of the abovementioned companies’ offer. Here’s what we’ve got:
Motor Guide Xi5: the ever popular. With different shaft lengths and thrust levels, the variations of this model are compatible with boats 14’ to 24’, covering the entire range of pontoon boats as well. What’s so awesome about it? The composite shaft, which they claim is stronger than steel, the two-blade propeller, and the seriously useful GPS features, such as cruise control, anchor mode, route record/playback, as well as a few other nice things which we’ll let you discover for yourself.
Motorguide 55FW FB X3: another model from this brand we recommend is the Motorguide 55FW FB X3. It has pretty similar features to the one above, but it’s significantly cheaper, mostly due to the fact that it does not have the nifty GPS compatibility. However, if you’re old school and prefer to do everything manually, the Motorguide 55FW FB X3 will be the perfect trolling motor for you – especially since it ensures precise response steering. Get your own, or find out more about this trolling motor here:
Minn Kota Endura C2: Here’s another trolling motor, and much like the second Motorguide one we mentioned, this one is a cheaper alternative perfect for those on a tighter budget. This model will work best on smaller pontoons, as it accommodates 36” shafts. It also has 5 forward speed settings and 3 reverse ones. Despite putting out quite a bit of power, the motor is still pretty quiet, which won’t scare the fish to miles away from your ‘toon. A two-year warranty is included in the price, and you can shop the Minn Kota Endura C2 here:
Minn Kota Terrova: pretty much like the other one, besides the different fish finder compatibility. It also has the iPilot system, a GPS-based program which allows for pretty great freedom of movement for both man and boat.
What’s great about both these trolling motors is the ease of use and the many functions they offer, as well as the possibility of wireless control via dedicated remote or compatible fish finder.
#3: Additional accessories
Since your trolling motor will not be powered by your boat’s engine or by your elbow grease, you also have to look for a couple of batteries that do their job, as well as a proper charger to keep them going. Here’s how you should go around it:
Many people wonder whether they can use normal car batteries for a trolling motor. Well, the answer is no. You can, technically, hook two car batteries to your motor and it will work, but expect a boatload of trouble as car batteries are not designed for long, draining use – they’re cranking batteries, which means they’re made for short bursts of power and immediate recharge from an alternator. Moreover, they tend to do quite poorly in high-vibration environments, something particularly true for the wet-cell (sulphuric acid electrolyte) batteries most cars use today.
What you need for your ‘toon is a pair or even a trio of deep cycle batteries. They have stronger, thicker lead plates, designed to endure a whole day of continuous discharge before being recharged. Since they will be the only source of power for your motor, this is the type you should get. There are also dual-purpose batteries, which can perform OK either way, but deep cycle batteries unquestionably take the cake here.
Exactly what brand of batteries you want is more of a matter of personal preference and space available on your boat. You will, however, need at least two batteries, since there’s a good chance you’ll be using them during the course of a full day. If you want a recommendation, we found that VMAX Tanks MR107 is a very good choice for a pontoon boat, and you can find it on Amazon as well.
Of course, your batteries need to be charged. It can get pretty annoying, especially if you have to climb up and down the pontoon every time to switch the contacts to another battery. What’s important here is to make sure that your charger is marine-graded, i.e. resistant to the respective environmental factors, and it has the right connections for your batteries. Getting a “smart” charger wouldn’t hurt either, as it can prolong battery life by quite a bit.
If you choose a three-battery setup, we recommend you the Minn Kota MK 315D. You can get it on Amazon for around $150 and it’s specifically designed to do the job and do it well. For any other number of batteries, we think the NOCO Genius GEN1, 2, 3, and 4 are great options. Starting from $100 for one bank and reaching $300 for 4 banks, this model is a great pick if you plan to test different battery setups.