Trolling Motors On Big Boats – Does This Really Work?

We’re seeing trolling motors mounted on larger and larger boats, but is it really a smart move to put an electric on the bow of a 30-footer?

Minn Kota
Minn Kota offers big boaters a great option for virtual anchoring.

At last summer’s ICAST fishing tackle trade show, Minn Kota introduced the longest-shaft mass-produced bow-mount electric trolling motor available to date. Their newest incarnation of the Riptide Terrova sported an 87-inch shaft length. Yes, 87-inches, which Minn Kota said would be appropriate for boats up into the 30-foot, 10,000-pound range. That opens up an entirely different class of boat to using a bow-mount. But, do you really want to put an electric motor up on the bow of a 30-foot boat run through open bays and the ocean?

Rhodan, a smaller company out of St. Petersburg, Florida, though not mass-produced is also a player in the large trolling motor craze.  They announced their 96″ shaft at that same ICAST and many boaters already use their previous 84″ models.

First off, in the interest of clarity we need to stipulate for anyone who’s not familiar with these rigs: no one uses them for trolling. This name is merely a hold-over, and on today’s boats, a bow-mount electric is generally used for two purposes. The first is for stealthy maneuvering and creeping along slowly in areas where fish can get spooky, like the shallows. The second is for position-holding via GPS. Most high-end electrics have virtual anchoring abilities (Spot-Lock in Minn Kota parlance, or GPS Anchor according to Motorguide) which allow you to merely press a button to hold your boat in place, while the motor and its GPS receiver do all the work.

electric trolling motors
This Judge 27 is hovering in place via Spot-Lock while the anglers cast for speckled sea trout, in the Tangier Sound.

We’ve spent many days fishing aboard boats equipped with bow-mounts, including the Judge 27 pictured here, and can attest to their angling value. Most important is the ability to hover in place silently without having to fight with an anchor, or risking making a ton of noise while deploying it. With a couple of button-presses you can shift position by 10 or 20 yards and then freeze in place again, casting into untapped waters without having to drift and motor back up nor yank that noisy anchor and go through that whole process over again.

In a nutshell, fishing with one of these things is downright sweet.

It’s similarly sweet when bottom fishing in deep water. Again, you can forget about the whole anchoring hassle. And on top of that, you can bounce your way along a reef or wreck and hit it far more efficiently if you have an electric on the bow. But… can these things really handle the job?

electric trolling motors
Bay and flats boats have enjoyed the benefits of electric trolling motors for years. But when it comes to larger boats, it’s relatively new.

Unequivocally, the answer is yes. While it’s true that the (uber-convenient) auto-deploy/retrieve systems do encounter issues with being blasted by salt spray and bounced around on the bow, the motors themselves are up to the abuse. And they’re also up to the task. We also fished the Judge pictured above in the open Chesapeake, and the 112-pound-thrust motor had zero issues holding the boat in the wind and current for relatively extended periods of time. The captain also noted that even running over 250 charter trips through the season, he didn’t run out of juice once single time with a common three-battery, 36-volt bank.

Are there down-sides? Of course, there are. Adding three 12-volt batteries added a lot of weight to the boat, and it now needs to be plugged in after every trip, unless you go with an onboard 12-volt charger like the Stealth system. The bigger factor—and this will be the case with many larger saltwater rigs—is that the boat wasn’t designed to have an electric trolling motor mounted on the bow in the first place. This means that some customized installation is often in order with this genre of boat, which naturally adds cost. In the case of the Judge, it required bolting on a substantial mounting plate, which the captain notes can make docking a bit more difficult since it protrudes out well beyond the rubrail. In some other cases cutting or modifying bow rails, adding backing plates under the deck, and crafting other sorts of custom mounts may be necessary.

big trolling motors
Since most boats in this class aren’t designed with electrics in mind, customized mounting arrangements are often necessary.
trolling motors
Rhodan trolling motors are on the cutting edge of accuracy and dependability for big boat electric motors.

Is having the bow-mount electric worth the hassle? Again, unequivocally we say yes. The fishing advantages are phenomenal, the units can take the abuse, and they’re up to the task. Just don’t expect to go trolling with them.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...