January 26, 2021
It had to be done,” said an exasperated Capt. Scott Fawcett, referring to a couple of years ago, when he was getting pushed around by the growing numbers of bay boats using spotlock technology on their trolling motors to stay directly over the bait schools while everyone else played bumper cars, motoring and drifting to stay on the bait.
“If you can't beat them, join them,” said Fawcett. “And that's exactly what I did.”
The Stuart, Florida captain, said this as he walked to the bow of his 31-foot Contender to deploy his 87-inch shaft Minn Kota trolling motor.
Trolling motors, and the benefits of their integrated GPS technology, aren't new to offshore fishing. We covered this in the December 2019 issue, but the continued growth of the number of large offshore boats mounting them to their bows for kite fishing for sails, wreck fishing in 200 feet and other fisheries is noteworthy. Powering this growth has been the growth of the trolling motors themselves, both in terms of size and available thrust.
“We simply can't build our new 96-inch shaft, 120-pound-thrust trolling motor fast enough,” reported Kyle Hagen, Vice President of Rhodan Marine Systems, when we spoke in late August. “We're building them as fast as we can and our customers still have a 4- to 6-month wait. We don't even have them listed on our website.”
Hagen pointed out that the larger 36-volt systems are clearly the fastest growing segment in his business. “The 96-inch model isn't just a longer shaft, it's an entirely new trolling motor with many new features,” he explained. One of the new features is a standard quick release so it's easy to remove when you're not using it. Hagen mentioned that some people have bought a second mounting bracket to stow the motor below the console when not in use. The retail price is $3,499.
Minn Kota, for over 85 years, has been engineering products to better position anglers on the water. The company had not, at press time, announced anything longer than an 87- inch shaft, but according to Brad Henry, brand manager for the company, “We continue to look at new designs and listen to the needs of anglers in this category of boat.”
Just as Fawcett predicted, as soon as he pressed anchor on the remote for the trolling motor, over the massive bait school of threadfin hearing, we began to see boats drift by while we stayed in place, catching bait. The common perception is the bait is moving, but in reality, in most cases it's you and the boats that are moving, not the bait.
“It's the exact same thing offshore fishing deep wrecks,” Fawcett explained. “I can instantly start fishing when I mark the fish, while others struggle to anchor or take their chances with one and done drifts. As soon as I mark fish, I hit spotlock and I'm fishing. No more drift and hope or time spent anchoring. On a recent nighttime snapper trip, I was ‘anchored up' with my trolling motor as a friend came over to set up nearby. By the time he figured out his anchor heading, set up, dropped his anchor and got in place we had caught three more mangrove snapper. Twenty minutes later the bite started to slow so I pushed ‘Go To' on my GPS screen and we headed 200 feet up the reef line. My friend, seeing us move, and begin catching fish, wanted to move too, but decided to stay, because of the work involved in re-anchoring. Needless to say he caught far fewer fish than we did that night.”
And just like you, I'm thinking, how can I add a trolling motor to the bow of my high gunnel offshore center console? Well, you need room for it when it's in the stored position. And you have to feed it, with amperage. Lots of amps. In most cases large offshore boats will need a minimum of 36 volts, and most likely that means three 70-plus-pound batteries snuggled into your console.
Tony Eden, of Boattronics, in Jacksonville, FL was rigging on the average three large center consoles per week with 36- volt trolling motor systems.
“In what just a few years ago seemed like an oddity on offshore boats 30 miles out, now is the norm,” Eden said. “I've rigged several 35 Contenders, 36 Yellowfins and even a 37 Freeman. Before long I can see these systems becoming factory options for large center consoles.”
Eden practices what he preaches. In a current episode of Florida Sportsman Project Dreamboat we feature his restoration of a 2002 31-foot Contender where he installed a 96-inch shaft 120-pound-thrust trolling motor.
For boats 30 feet and larger, Eden's typical setup consists of three 100AH deep cycle AGM group 31 batteries. These are 70 pounds and cost approximately $250 each. Where weight and space are an issue, but not cost, you can go with lithium 50AH cells that weigh about 15 pounds each while costing $600 each.
For these larger boats, Eden also recommends tying in a charger into the system which allows you to charge the trolling motor batteries while out on the water. The charging system, which is available from several manufacturers, electronically prioritizes your cranking batteries first, getting them to 13.6 volts, then supplies amperage to your house batteries and finally any leftover charge gets sent to your bank of trolling motor batteries. But, again, the cranking batteries are completely separated from the trolling motor batteries.
Eden doesn't recommend the single 36-volt lithium battery that you can find on the market for around $2,500. He feels more comfortable with a bank of three batteries over the single. Brad Henry of Minn Kota agrees that a bank of three 12-volt batteries is the way to go. “It is also important to select a quality marine battery and to properly maintain these batteries to ensure you get the most out of the trolling motor. A quality power system will ensure you get a full day of use out of your motor.”
Eden mentioned that he hasn't had a single bracket failure. He uses aluminum plates to sandwich the fiberglass, but still is able to use a quick release mount. But he did say most people simply leave the trolling motor on the boat fulltime. He was quick to recommend that all trolling motors over 72 inches should be supported at the head. “You can use a factory-made Ram Mount, but more and more people are opting for a custom-made rod holder mounted support bracket, fabricated to line up with the boat's rod holder placement.”
All trolling motors over 72 inches should be supported at the head using a factory-made mount or custom bracket.
Eden says that most people opt to install the additional batteries in the console, but if you don't have room there, and wish to use a forward compartment, lithium batteries are the way to go to reduce the weight you're putting in the bow.
As Fawcett buzzed around the cockpit, biting splitshot sinkers into place on his kite he said, “I use a kite for sailfish as much as I can, but conditions aren't always perfect so you're constantly trying to adjust your boat's drift speed and angle. In the past I'd use a sea anchor to help control the angle of my drift, trying to keep the bow of the boat into the wind, but that meant you always had to fish around the sea anchor, not always easy to do. Now, with the trolling motor kite fishing is so much easier. I can easily control the speed and angle of the drift, plus I don't have a sea anchor to fish around.”
And as if on cue, Chris Russell, fishing with us for the day, screamed, “Sail!” and we were hooked up with a fish that was a hundred yards out and tail-walking away. Amazingly, Fawcett was able to keep the kite in the air while Kyndra, Chris' daughter, put line back on the reel, and brought the fish boatside for a proper release.
“With the 87-inch troller I've only had the props cavitate a couple of times, and that was in sea conditions you wouldn't want to be in,” Fawcett commented. “I typically keep the trolling motor all the way down. And I typically keep the throttle at a little over half speed, so all I'm normally adjusting during the day is the direction and anchor position.”
After a few hours without another sailfish in the spread we headed to a wreck to give the trolling motor, and angler, another test. In the case of the angler, 24-year-old Kyndra, who wanted to pull on a goliath grouper, had her work cut out for her, and the mission was accomplished in short order. As soon as we arrived to the shallow wreck, we spotlocked into position and lowered a chunk of bonita. As a warmup, Kyndra bested an 8-foot nurse shark on a fairly light grouper rod with 30-pound braid and 100-pound mono leader.
After the shark fight, Scott pressed “Go To” on the Humminbird GPS, which is integrated with the trolling motor, and it brought us right back to the spot. Within minutes Kyndra was hooked into a goliath. After about a 5-minute battle, and well off the wreck, the relatively small 10/0 circle hook came unglued. Kyndra still wanted to best a goliath, so Scott hit “Go To” and again we motored silently right back to the spot. After one more miss, the game was over. The goliaths were no longer interested in playing. Next time, Kyndra.
No giant grouper to the boat, but it was clear that wreck fishing with the trolling motor was better, and easier, than trying to drift or anchor on it.
Captain Fawcett further extolled the virtues of the bow-mounted electric: “I can't tell you how many quality bottom spots I've found while fishing for sails. Sure, anyone can mark a spot while your fishing to go back to another day, but I can instantly anchor on the spot and begin fishing it. And with side scan if I see a sailfish off to the side, I can use the trolling motor to move the boat getting my baits, which are behind me, in line with the fish.
“Shoot, by adding the trolling motor to my offshore 31-center console it became an ‘inshore' 31 center console. It changed my life. I take inshore charters now. Fishing bridges, docks and jetties are now part of my regular routine. I'm fishing my 31 much like I fished my 18-foot center console years ago. For me installing the trolling motor was like getting a new boat.” FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2020