Skip to main content

Virtual Captain

GPS trolling motors were just the start. Check out what's happening now.

On a famous stretch of Florida river, two anglers from Iowa put on an impressive display of high-tech boatmanship. They didn't win the tournament, but they certainly won my curiosity. John Schantz and Scott Hunt were fishing Lake Monroe, a wide area of the St. Johns River in Sanford. It was a cold February

morning during the 2013 Crappie Masters Florida State Championship. I watched from another boat as John, a mechanic, and Scott, a farmer, landed braggin'-size crappie while using one of the new GPS trolling motors: A Minn-Kota with iPilot.

In Florida Sportsman Magazine we've discussed GPS-enabled trolling motors in past columns. As of fall 2013, all three major trolling motor manufacturers offered them: Minn-Kota, Rhodan and MotorGuide.

Basically, you can push buttons on a wireless remote control to tell these motors to hold your boat in position, steer a compass heading, trace a recorded track and other functions. Aboard a deep-vee Alumacraft, Scott and John were slow-trolling a 9-foot depth contour—the edge of a river channel. Water

temps were in the low 60s, too cool for crappie to move toward shoreline vegetation, where they spawn. In conditions like this, crappie often suspend near the bottom in deeper water.

At the bow, the anglers had a Terrova iPilot-equipped trolling motor, 80 pounds thrust. At the stern, they had a pair of gunnel- mounted Perotti Bilt rodholder stems accommodating four rods each. With long poles positioned in the rodholders, Scott and John were able to run eight crappie jig rigs (tandem, 1/16-ounce Zip Jigs, their favorites) 30 to 40 yards astern. Distances are alternated to prospect various depths. The length of the poles, and the angle of deployment, gives a separation of about 2 feet between the lines. To a casual observer, it's a complex arrangement, with awesome fish-gathering potential—and awful risks of tangles.

Importantly, the iPilot system frees up eyes and hands to manage lines and landing of fish (I watched Scott and John pull in two slab crappie before I moved on). A digital controller on a neck lanyard allowed one angler to make tiny adjustments in trolling speed, between .8 and 1.1 mph, to find the best pace for the fish. The route itself—iPilot handled the steering. They'd pre-recorded two different tracks for the tournament.

In the wake of the event: Another leap in technology.Minn-Kota was the first to connect—or Link, in their parlance—trolling motor control to a GPS/fishfinder unit. With a compatible Humminbird GPS unit, fishermen such as John and Scott may now highlight a series of waypoints or routes on a digital chart, and then direct the trolling motor to work that line—in forward or reverse, today, tomorrow, or even next year. Hundreds of such tracks may be stored and recalled on the GPS. For freshwater pros, a LakeMaster Digital

GPS card installed in the Humminbird GPS can be sourced to lock the trolling motor onto a particular contour line. Neat stuff, to say the least.

MotorGuide and Lowrance have partnered on a similar system, Pinpoint Connect. Expected availability is spring 2014. I caught up with John recently and he said the guys upgraded to the new Link system, allowing full control of the trolling motor through the remote device or their 1198 Humminbird GPS unit. John said they're also been using the Follow the Contour feature on LakeMaster cards. FS

What's It Cost?

Select Minn-Kota trolling motors factory-equipped with iPilot Link retail for about $1,200 to $2,000, depending on thrust (55 to 101 pounds) and other features. Note that an iPilot or iPilot Link accessory upgrade may be available for your existing troller—check at To enable the Link feature, you'd need a compatible Humminbird GPS/Sonar Combo. At the top end, the 1198c Side Imaging model, with 10 ½-inch screen, sells for about $2,799.99. The LakeMaster Digital GPS Map Cards—of particular

interest to freshwater anglers—are sold for different regions. The Southeast Region includes lakes and rivers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, for $124.95.

Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Trail

These are fun events for 2-person teams. Many of the regulars are family

members (husband/wife, father/son, etc.) or close friends looking for an excuse to hit the road and catch some fish. The prizes are modest compared to the big bass leagues. Local events such as the Sanford, FL, tournament might pay $3,500 for top spot, or offer a trolling motor or other prize. The anglers are skilled and well-equipped, but everyone's smiling

at weigh-in.

Two Florida events are

coming up soon:

Jan. 24-25 Harris Chain of Lakes, Tavares, FL

Feb. 1 St. Johns River, Sanford, FL

See for more.

First Released Florida Sportsman December 2013

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

The Inception of the Custom Hydra-Stepp

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

Custom Fiberglass Interior and Seating Install

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

Lower Unit Gear Oil Change and Spark Plug Inspection

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

Tips for Servicing Your Outboards Lower Unit

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

How to Install a Thru-Hull High-Speed Pickup Livewell Properly

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

Jackson Coosa FD Walk Through

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

The Ultimate Hobie Mirage Outback Kayak Build

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

How to Reinforce a Fiberglass Transom for Outboard Engine Bracket

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

Flush Mounting Electronics for a Custom Dash Panel

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

SIONYX Nightwave Marine Camera – ‘See the Light'

Tie your line to leader in under a minute.

How to Modify Double Uni Connection for Heavy Leader

Florida Sportsman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now