June 04, 2020
Many of my fondest fishing memories are of the twice-a-year trips I enjoyed with my dad and his buddies when I was a kid. During the long Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, we would venture from the concrete jungle of Chicago to the relative wilderness of central Wisconsin and Buffalo Lake, which is little more than a slow, weed-choked portion of the Fox River. Our group would hit the water in leaky 14-foot rowboats equipped with crumbling bench seats and powered by smoke-belching 5-horsepower outboard engines in pursuit of largemouth bass, northern pike, the lake’s abundant panfish and the occasional bullhead.
We had two choices for fishing-boat control when it was time to dress hooks with bait: anchor up using a cement-filled coffee can tied to a tattered rope, or try to drift along Buffalo Lake’s extensive channel system cut through the expansive vegetation by ever-operating weed harvesters. “Try” is an apt description for our efforts, as the slightest gust of wind would send us careening into the greenery, fouling hooks and frustrating anglers. But I still loved every minute of it.
Boat control has come a long way since our days on Buffalo Lake. Now anglers can access an increasing array of tools for positioning a boat in shallow or deep water, precisely navigating to and from productive fishing grounds, and even controlling speed for hyper-accurate trolling presentations—all this thanks to the tireless efforts of electrical, mechanical and software engineers who love to fish just as much as we do. There’s no better time to leave your frustrations in the rearview mirror and join the push-button boat-control revolution.
Locking a fishing boat into one precise location is perhaps the most fundamental of all boat-control tasks. From a stationary fishing platform, we can present baits to a localized school of finned adversaries or saturate a key piece of structure with repeated casts to trigger the fish lingering there. Happily, the back-breaking days of chucking obtrusive, heavy steel anchors with their requisite chains and ropes into the water are behind us. Contemporary anglers deploy either an electromechanical shallow-water anchor or a GPS-based boat-positioning system on a bow-mounted trolling motor.
At the heart of shallow-water anchor systems, such as the Minn Kota Talon and the various Power-Pole models, is a rigid fiberglass spike deployed at the stern and lowered through the water column until it becomes fixed in bottom sediment. The spike penetrates into the bottom to hold the boat in place against wind, waves or current. One shallow-water anchor locks the stern in place but still allows the bow to swing in the wind. Anglers who demand more rigidity in their fishing-boat placement will appreciate a tandem shallow-water anchor configuration with both port and starboard spikes.
An electronic GPS "anchor" coupled to a bow-mounted trolling motor is the boat-positioning tool of choice in water that is too deep for a shallow-water anchor system. Such devices, like the Spot-Lock feature on Minn Kota trolling motors and the anchor-lock tool found on Garmin Force motors, actively control steering and prop speed to lock the motor’s GPS-defined position in place, even when environmental factors conspire against it. Because of the inherent uncertainty associated with GPS position determination—typically 2 to 3 meters—electronic anchors can have a little more “wander” than rigid shallow-water anchors. However, their versatility and ease of use make GPS anchors extremely practical.
GPS-based boat-control systems integrated into bow-mounted trolling motors can do far more than simply lock the boat in place. Indeed, comprehensive libraries of elaborate navigational tools are available for Minn Kota, Garmin and Lowrance motors. In most cases, these features can be accessed using a handheld wireless control or through a networked fishfinder.
For example, the Minn Kota i-Pilot and i-Pilot Link systems, available on an array of electric- and cable-steer motors, allow anglers to navigate in a straight line with an autopilot feature, record and replay user-defined courses, follow a hyper-accurate Lakemaster depth contour, and much more. When combined with the electronic anchor function, these tools allow anglers to spend more time fishing and less time wrestling with common boat-control tasks.
Precision Speed Control
Any angler who has pulled spoons, hard baits or jigs for salmon, trout, walleye or even crappie recognizes the importance of speed control in any trolling application. Whether you troll using a bow-mounted trolling motor or a transom-mounted kicker, electronic tools are available to help you dial in your speed and trigger more fish.
Many of the bow-mounted, GPS-enabled boat-control systems also provide a speed-control option, helping you to set and control your speed in precise, 0.1 mph increments. At the other end of the boat, long hours spent pulling baits or high trolling speeds like those used when targeting muskies often call for kicker-based propulsion. Accessories like the TrollMaster or iTroll allow anglers to establish a precise throttle setting for the kicker to troll at the perfect boat speed, regardless of wind, wave or current influence. These kicker-control tools can operate with wired or wireless interfaces, providing even more convenience for trollers.
The push-button boat-control revolution in fishing boats will continue to accelerate as we progress through the 2020s. These advanced tools let us focus on the fish instead of the boat and, ultimately, put us in control of our catch rates.