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How to Choose a Trolling Motor

Here are some tips for figuring out how to choose a trolling motor, which is crucial to the success of any boating angler.

Fishing by boat on a lake or river requires a quiet approach. It can be hard not to scare off fish when you come thundering into a fishing hole with your loud gas powered onboard motor that's spouting smoke and stirring up water. Trolling motors are electric and much quieter than gas powered motors. They provide anglers with increased maneuverability to stealthily approach fish. And they are downright handy for the fishing method in their namesake, trolling.

Choosing the ideal trolling motor can be tricky. There's a lot to choose from, and you need to pick the right motor for the size and type of your craft. A lot of fishermen will tell you to buy the biggest trolling motor you can, but there's more of a science to it. Follow this guide to learn how to choose the best trolling motor for you.

We'll look at trolling motors based on four aspects: thrust, voltage, bow vs. transom, and hand held vs. foot controlled.


Thrust is the measure of how much the motor propels the boat through water. The measurement is pounds of thrust. The bigger your craft, the more pounds of thrust you'll need from your trolling motor. Cabela's suggests that for every 200 pounds your boat weighs, you'll need 5 pounds of thrust. So, to determine how much thrust your boat's trolling motor will need, add its estimated weight to its maximum weight capacity, divide by 200 and voila!, you'll know the required thrust amount.

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How much battery power do you need in your trolling motor? It depends on the size of your boat. Trolling motors come in three voltage varieties: 12 volt, 24 volt and 36 volt. 12 volts run off of a single 12 volt battery. They are the least expensive and least powerful type of trolling motor. 24 volts run off of two 12-volt batteries and 36 volts are powered by three batteries.

Fishermen who use large fishing boats frequently should use a 24 or 36-volt trolling motor. Alternatively, anglers who fish for short periods of time and sporadically throughout the season can get away with using a 12-volt battery. 12-volts are also good for kayaks, canoes and dinghy boats. It all comes down to how much power you need in the water.

Bow vs. Transom

Trolling motors are available as bow mounts, which are installed on the front of the boat, and transom mounts, which clamps onto the stern. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but it basically boils down to this: bow mounts afford the boat driver with more maneuverability, but they are more suited to larger craft. Transom mounts can fit on any craft (although, they're better suited for smaller boats), but have less control and maneuverability. A lot of fishermen who have bass boats like to use bow mounts.

Here's a rule of thumb to help you pick between the two: If your boat is 14 feet or longer, use a bow mount. If you have a smaller craft such as a kayak, dinghy or canoe, use a transom. 

Shaft Length

Make sure to factor in the length of the trolling motor's shaft before you make a purchase. Longer boats need longer shafts, while smaller boats should have a shorter shaft.  Here's some other helpful tips from Cabela's to help you determine the length of your motor's shaft: First you'll need to take some measurements with your boat in the water. If you're using a transom-mount, measure the distance from top of the transom to the waterline. For bow mounts, measure from the top of the bow to the waterline. Take that measurement, add 18 inches, and you've got the proper shaft length your trolling motor will need respective to your boat.

Foot and Hand Controlled Motors

To use your foot, or not to use your foot. That is the question when determining how you want operate your trolling motor. The most basic trolling motors are hand controlled motor, while the fancier ones have foot pedals or even remote units.

Foot pedals free your hands up for movement on the deck, which can be handy for bass fishermen who are constantly moving on the deck and casting from the bow. The downside to foot operated pedals is that they are more expensive, can take up more deck space, and sometimes have a slower response time.

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Hand controls work from the bow of the boat. The downside with hand control motors is that they require you to have your hands on them, but hey, that's not that big of a drawback in the long run.

High Tech Stuff

Okay, you made it this far, so you must be looking for the real good stuff. You're in luck. New scientific innovations have pushed trolling motors to the forefront of modern technology. Not really, but you can get your hands on some pretty cool new motors. These include digital displays that show water depth, speed reading and other pertinent information; self-directional motors that move the boat in a straight path according to wind speed, shorelines and depth contours; and built in battery gauges that let you know how much juice is left in the motor.


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How to Choose a Trolling Motor