How to Use a Trolling Motor

using a trolling motor basics

Several types of fishing boats, especially bass boats and bay boats/flats boats, have electric trolling motors. And many anglers add them to other types of boats, as well. The funny thing is, even though we all call them “trolling motors” they’re used more often for stealthily maneuvering and positioning a boat than they’re used for actually trolling.

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So, how do you use an electric trolling motor? Well, to answer that question, we need to break them down into a few sub-categories—but first, let's take quick look at the basics.

5 Tips for Using a Trolling Motor

Regardless of what kind of trolling motor you have, there are a few tips for using them that may prove useful across the board:

  1. If the propeller ventilates when the boat bobs up and down on waves, set the lower unit deeper in the water. Most trolling motors have a set-screw or thumb-screw that allows you to slide the shaft through the mount to gain or reduce depth.
  2. When fishing in shallow, weedy areas, it’s not uncommon for trolling motor propellers to become fouled. If your boat seems to be sluggish or you feel extra vibrations coming from the trolling motor, try giving it a quick burst of power in reverse. If that’s not enough to clean off the weeds, you may need to tilt the motor up and manually clean off the propeller.
  3. Always remember to tilt up a bow mounted trolling motor when you’re approaching a boat ramp, or the propeller may become damaged on the concrete.
  4. If you have a transom mounted trolling motor and want to use it to hold your boat in the same position in a breeze, it’s often easiest to turn the boat around, put the trolling motor in reverse, and hold the stern into the wind (assuming there aren’t large or dangerous waves). That way, the bow will sit down-wind and you won’t fight to counter-steer against it.
  5. If you regularly run out of battery power before you’re done fishing, consider using the motor at slower speeds. Just like a gasoline engine, top speeds are usually the least efficient and running at three quarter- or half-throttle can make a big difference in running time.

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Types of Trolling Motors

  • Bow Mounted
  • Transom Mounted
  • Tiller Steer
  • Foot Pedal Controlled
  • Digitally Controlled

Bow Mounted Trolling Motors

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Bow-mounted trolling motors are those used least often for trolling, and most often for quietly maneuvering your boat in and around fishing spots. With the thrust located on the bow it’s much easier to keep the boat steadily pointed into the wind or current, as you cast at those hotspots. These are most common on bass boats and bay boats, and while a few bow-mounted rigs utilize tiller steering, far more are controlled with either a foot pedal or digitally.

As for how you actually use them, it depends somewhat on the type of control system but it all boils down to applying thrust to either hold your boat in place:

  • Control its drift;
  • Creep slowly along a shoreline as you cast to it;
  • Or power it from one hotspot to another.

Since maximum speeds for most trolling motors is just a few MPH, if a hotspot is more than a couple hundred yards away most anglers will pull the trolling motor up and out of the water via a pull-chord, and use the gasoline outboard to move those longer distances.

Transom Mounted Trolling Motors

Transom mounted trolling motors are usually aftermarket add-ons held to the transom of the boat with clamps. These work well when you actually are trolling, and your main goal is simply to move through the water at one to three MPH to give your lures or baits the proper presentation. In some cases transom mounted electric trolling motors may be used for the boat’s primary propulsion.

Small jon boats, dinghies, and other lightweight boats get by just fine without a large gasoline engine, and on inland lakes with restrictions on gas motors, a transom mounted electric trolling motor may be the only option.

These are a bit different than using bow mounted motors, mostly in that they commonly have tiller steering controls; more about those in just a moment. The other way they differ, however, is in how the boat reacts to wind and current. Since the pivot-point for the thrust is located at the very back of the boat, it’s easier for these forces to push the boat off-course. More counter-steering may be necessary than it would be with a bow mounted motor, especially when you’re heading into a stiff breeze that tries to blow the bow of the boat around.

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Tiller Steer Trolling Motors

Tiller steer controls for electric trolling motors are no different than those found on small gasoline outboards.

  • Grab the tiller and turn it clockwise to increase speed, or turn it counter-clockwise to reduce speed.
  • Turn counter-clockwise beyond the tiller’s starting point, to go into reverse.
  • Some trolling motors have a number of speed settings, and you’ll feel a click in the tiller handle as you move up through them.
  • Some others offer “infinite” speed settings, which essentially just means that rather than clicking to specific power outputs, every gradual bit of throttle change translates to smoother, more gradual changes in power.

Here’s the number-one thing you need to know about how to use a tiller steer trolling motor: when you push the tiller to the left, the bow of the boat will move to the right. Push it to the right, and the bow of the boat will swing to the left.

It may seem a bot confusing at first, and many people do have difficulties the first time or two they try using tiller steering. Most boaters quickly become accustomed to it, however, and in many cases the ability to quickly shove a tiller to one side or the other actually offers the ability to change course or abruptly maneuver a boat faster than you can when steering with a wheel.

Another important item to bear in mind about using a tiller steer trolling motor is that tilting it up out of the water on their clamp-on mounts is a bit different than pulling other types of trolling motors up out of the water. Many bow mount electrics which utilize different types of control systems are on mounts which have a pull-chord you use to swing the motor up. A tiller steered sort of system, on the other hand, usually has some form of button or lever which you’ll have to manipulate with one hand while you swing the motor up or down, with your other hand.

Foot Pedal Controlled Trolling Motors

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Foot pedal motors are very popular among bass fishermen, since their hands-free operation lets you cast and reel even as you maneuver the boat. Using them is quite simple, and most people get the hang of it in an afternoon of fishing. Different brands and models do, however, have different ways of working.

  • In some cases, you rock the foot pedal forward or backward to turn the engine left or right;
  • Apply more or less pressure to go faster or slower.

Some other foot pedals have left and right sides that can be depressed to steer, and some have separate speed dials you move your foot to when you want to go faster or slower.

Digitally Controlled Trolling Motors

Some of the nicest, newest trolling motors on the market are controlled via modern tech.

  • In many cases you can use a handheld remote that hangs around your neck on a lanyard, and using the motor is as simple as clicking buttons with left and right arrows to steer, and pressing or holding forward and reverse arrows to apply thrust.
  • In some other cases you interface with the motor’s controls via an app, and use your phone for a remote.
  • And in others, the motor and your boat’s marine electronics communicate via either Bluetooth or WiFi and the motor’s controls are displayed right on your multifunction display.

As you might expect these digitally controlled trolling motors are quite advanced, and as a result, they come with some rather impressive perks. Some feature autopilot functions, and some of these can even be set to slowly follow a contour line on your chartplotter or a series of waypoints. Others have internal GPS and at the press of a button, they can sense your exact location and apply whatever power and steering are necessary to hover your boat in place with a “virtual anchoring” feature. And still others can be remotely deployed or raised out of the water with the press of a button or the swipe of a touchpad.

Choosing the Right Trolling Motor for You

It should be quite evident by now, there’s a wide range of trolling motor types out there and learning how to use any one specific trolling motor can be quite a different experience as compared to learning how to use another.

If you’re not sure which type of trolling motor or how much power would be best for your boat, see What Trolling Motor is Best For You?

Read Next: How to Use a Fish Finder

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