New electric trolling motors from the likes of Garmin, Lowrance, and Minn Kota are getting anglers all kinds of charged up!
Electric trolling motors used to be little more than exactly what the name infers: small electric motors that anglers used to propel their boats while fishing. And though modern models certainly fulfill this very same purpose, the latest generations are more than mere motors: They’re full-blown systems integrating components ranging from propulsion, to fishfinders, to GPS, with the boat as a whole.
This evolution may explain why the biggest news at the 2019 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trade (ICAST) show, the largest fishing tackle show in the world, was of electronics manufacturers Garmin and Lowrance jumping into the motor game. Both introduced premium new models — with premium price tags — that incorporate a slew of new technology and will likely change the way we think about electric trolling motors.
Systems launch These new models, the Garmin Force ($3,199.99) and the Lowrance Ghost ($2,999), share a number of commonalities. Both utilize brushless motors, can run on either 24- or 36-volt systems, include internal GPS, have built-in and upgradable fishfinder transducers, are lift-assisted with dual gas struts, and can be controlled via either foot pedal or the multifunction displays (MFDs) they're integrated with. Both claim substantial energy efficiency gains over existing electric trollig motors, and both are also designed for freshwater use only.
Garmin's version, Force, not only won the Best Boating Accessory ICAST New Product Showcase award, but was also voted the Best of Show winner out of all the new products on display. And its integration with Garmin systems owned by Johnson Outdoors), is pushing to expand its presence in the saltwater electric trolling motor market. In fact, they seem to be pushing to expand that saltwater market to an entirely new level.
Electric trolling motors have long been utilized by saltwater anglers in the south, specifically flats and bay anglers running boats with relatively low-slung bows in shallow-water fisheries. But the past few years have seen a significant expansion in their use, particularly in Mid- and North-Atlantic regions where anglers tend to run bigger boats with taller bows in more open waterways. The advantage of GPS virtual anchoring abilities (“Spot-Lock,” in Minn Kota parlance) is, from an angler's perspective, a huge asset. It holds the boat in place regardless of wind, waves, and currents (with some limitations, of course). That means that once a hotspot has been located, less fishing time is lost to constantly drifting and repositioning the boat in-between casts.
Shaft length, however, has always been a limiting factor. Not only is a longer length needed to accommodate the taller bows, but due to sea conditions in the open waters where these boats are used – versus the reservoirs, lakes, and protected shallows where electric motors have traditionally been found – much greater pitch and roll has to be taken into account. To hold a boat bobbing around in a choppy sea, the shaft needs to accommodate both the bow's height above the waterline and all the rising and falling it does in the waves.
At the ICAST show, Minn Kota introduced a new Riptide Terrova model with an eye-opening 87-inch shaft length. That's a full 15 inches longer than its 72-inch shaft, which was previously tied with MotorGuide's 72-incher as the longest shaft length available on the market from a major production manufacturer. (Boutique trolling motor manufacturer Rhodan offers an 84-inch shaft length motor). With this longer shaft, Minn Kota says center-console boats up into the 28- to 30-foot, 10,000-pound class can be reliably Spot-Locked in place.
It's My Party
What all three of these new electric trolling motor models share in common is that they're designed to integrate with specific boat-wide proprietary electronics systems. They all seamlessly communicate with MFD displays, chartplotters, fishfinders, and in some cases other electrically actuated equipment. And in some instances, you don't even need wires to get the conversation started. These are electric trolling motors that become one with your boat and give you the ability to have a far more integrated platform – but it'll be either a 100% Garmin, Lowrance, or Minn Kota/Humminbird platform.
This leaves only MotorGuide playing the field. MotorGuide currently produces motors that will integrate (with certain limitations) with Lowrance or Simrad MFDs and Mercury Vessel View displays, and includes integrated transducers that support 83/200-kHz traditional sonar for Lowrance, Simrad, Mercury, Garmin, Humminbird, and Raymarine displays, and 455/800-kHz down-scanning for all of these except Raymarine. But to get the newest, most completely integrated systems, you'll have to choose the electronics manufacturer and the electric trolling motor manufacturer together, as a package.
For now, the Force is only available in 50- and 57-inch shaft length models and the Ghost in a 47-inch length. But you can bet that there will be more choices on the way and a fair chance of saltwater models to come in the future as well. It's also a good bet that Minn Kota's uber-long shaft and big-boat abilities will eventually be matched by other manufacturers, if the popularity of rigging larger saltwater center-consoles with bow-mounted electric trolling motors continues to grow. One other bet you can make: as the tech continues to evolve and improve, more and more parts of your boat will be linking together to create a fully integrated fishing machine.