When it comes to bowfishing from a boat, one of the most important pieces of equipment is the trolling motor. To choose the right trolling motor for your boat, you'll need to do a little research and take your personal preferences into consideration. In this article, Jake shares his thoughts on choosing a trolling motor for bowfishing.
Let's start with the basics. There are two styles of trolling motors that are used most often while bowfishing, bow mount foot control and bow mount tiller. Bow mount foot control trolling motors are controlled by a pedal you stand on and bow mount tillers are controlled by your hand. Both are mounted on the front of the boat and pull the boat through the water.
Everyone has their own favorite, but most use a bow mount tiller trolling motor when bowfishing. Having both feet planted on the deck is said to help with accuracy and is more comfortable on long days on the water. When I did a poll online, 67% preferred a tiller style while the other 33% preferred the foot control style.
After you’ve decided which style of trolling motor you want, you'll then need to determine the thrust required to properly move your boat through the water. Thrust correlates directly to power, not speed. Think of thrust as a force applied to move your boat. Heavier boats need more thrust to move them through the water while lighter boats can get away with less. You can’t go wrong buying a trolling motor with far more thrust than required for your boat. But buying a trolling motor with not enough thrust to properly maneuver your boat will lead to very frustrating fishing.
There are several online calculators to determine what thrust is required for your boat. Keep in mind that most of these calculators ask for the dry weight of your boat which is the weight without any gear, fuel, or fish. If bowfishing, you will need to add in all factors that add to the weight of the boat when calculating the proper thrust. A front light deck, generator, a couple buddies and a 50 gallon barrel full of carp add more than a few hundred pounds. You could have over 1,000 lbs added to your boat that will increase the amount of thrust needed for your application.
This brings up a concern about weight. When determining the total weight of your boat, gear, fish, buddies, etc., you need to make certain you are below your boats maximum weight capacity. Every boat has a weight limit. You should be mindful of the weight you're adding to your boat when deciding how big of a trolling motor to put on your boat. Trolling motors can require several batteries. As you go up in thrust more batteries are necessary. If you want to run a long period of time on the water, you might add more batteries to help maintain the proper power for a 8 to 10 hour shoot. After you add the weight of the batteries that you would need for your application, you might find out that running too big of a trolling motor limits you to having less gear or less buddies and could make your boat unsafe. Unfortunately, there is no magic thrust-to-weight calculator that I've found for bowfishing applications. You need to use good judgement, research, and have safety in mind when determining how much thrust you want for your boat.
My suggestion is to go with the highest thrust that is safe for your application. I’ve been in boats where the wind overpowered the trolling motor, making fishing extremely difficult and draining the batteries quickly. Ask around on bowfishing forums and do your research before you make the commitment to buy a trolling motor. The bowfishing community is very open and will share what they do and how they determined what set-up was best for their application. Forums can be very useful for a beginner.
After you've determined the type and thrust, another factor to consider is the shaft length. You cannot determine the proper length without knowing where your going to mount it on your boat. Generally there are two places to consider, either on the platform or on your boat bow itself. Once you've made that decision then you need to think of comfort and safety. If using a tiller style trolling motor, you don't want to be bending over all day steering the boat because the trolling motor shaft is too short. If this happens you can get a tiller handle extension, but that increases the radius needed to turn the boat which could be unsafe if shooting with another buddy on a small platform. The best bet is to get the right size that you need. You want the proper length in order to use the equipment as it was designed. The tiller handle should be high enough where you can comfortably maneuver your boat with confidence. This height is different for everyone so measuring is key to getting it right. Whether using a tiller or foot control, the power motor and propeller need to stay just under the water line. You need to get the height just right so the motor stays under the water in waves and not too low to hit bottom on shallow runs. Most trolling motors are very adjustable and you can tune them in by moving the shaft up or down a a few inches as needed. Here is a handy guide. (https://www.trollingmotors.net/blogs/selection/86935495-shaft-length-guide). Remember to add in the height of your platform if using one!
For me, I’ve owned my fair share of fishing boats over the years. Experience has led me to believe that an under-powered or outdated trolling motor can ruin a good day on the water. Technology for trolling motors took a giant leap recently with the integration of Bluetooth technology, wireless devices, and quieter motors. Once you experience something better, it’s hard to go back to the old standard. My favorite trolling motor for fishing (walleye, bass, perch) while using a spincast reel was the Minn Kota PowerdriveV2 with the wireless/bluetooth I-Pilot remote. This was an awesome set-up for jigging or trolling. Having the ability to anchor on a GPS location or jog left or right to stay on the fish was priceless. You could also set a direction and troll for hours without having to constantly make adjustments. I thought Minn Kota nailed it… until I wanted a foot pedal. The PowerdriveV2 is all or nothing if you go wireless. It’s either a wireless/bluetooth remote or a wired foot pedal, but not both. Having a foot pedal is what I prefer when bowfishing, so my Minn Kota PowerdriveV2 I-pilot set-up was not an option for my new bowfishing boat.
There is another option that I considered which is called stick steering (often referred to as a Sexy Stick). This is where a stick is mounted on the trolling motor foot pedal to control the trolling motor by hand. Some people do sell stick steering kits (you’ll have to look in bowfishing forums), but most I’ve seen are homemade. Using a modified foot pedal with a steering stick or a tiller style trolling motor seem to be the most popular choices to use while out bowfishing. I have an old Minn Kota Edge that I believe is a solid choice for stick steering.
For my bowfishing boat (1860 Crestliner), I want an awesome trolling motor. I loved all the features my last Minn Kota PowedriveV2 had so I started researching all that Minn Kota had to offer. Minn Kota has come out with a few new options in recent years that solve my foot pedal and wireless remote dilemma but, unfortunately, the price point for these units turned me away. Garmin also makes good units but most are even more expensive than the Minn Kota equivalent models. For these reasons, I decided to jump ship to Motorguide. The Motorguide Xi5 has all the features I want and keeps the price point around $2,000. According to several thrust calculators, my application calls for a 45-55 lb thrust trolling motor. Due to all the gear and added weight I will have, I’m looking at the 80 lbs or 105 lbs thrust models which would still be safe for my application.
With the season fast approaching, I’ll need to decide quick If I’m going to spring for the Motorguide Xi5. I loved my Minn Kota PowerdriveV2 I-Pilot and feel I need an equivalent for my new bowfishing set-up. I still have an old Minn Kota Edge 70 lb freshwater trolling motor that has tons of hours on the water and was purchased at a fraction of the price of a new Motorguide Xi5. Spending more money doesn’t guarantee a better time on the water or more fish, but new technology can sure make things easier.
I’ve ran my Minn Kota Edge through some of the toughest water, almost abusing it. I never cared because I knew it could take it, and it had already paid for itself over the years. Springing for the Motorguide Xi5, I might be leery of running it through a few places I’ve been bowfishing before. I could easily put a steering stick on my Minn Kota Edge or run it as is and be happy, but the allure of new technology is pretty enticing.
With my trolling motors I've always ran plastic propellers. I think its part of the reason my edge lasted so long. The propeller being a weak point, can break before damage is done to the motor. This can be a good and a bad thing though. You always need to carry a spare propeller! You could be stuck out on the water if you hammer the prop on a rock and it breaks. Having a spare is very important to getting you home safely. Another concern with plastic blades is that they don't cut through vegetation well. Running in heavy vegetation that gets wrapped around your trolling motor can put a tremendous amount of stain on your trolling motor. If this is your scenario, most trolling motors can be retrofitted with metal or plastic two or three blade propellers that can help cut through vegetation verses getting wrapped up in it. Depending on what type of water you mostly find yourself bowfishing in will determine what is best for your application.
Keep an eye out for pictures and links as we put together our new tournament bowfishing boat this year! Time will tell if we spring for the new Motorguide Xi5 trolling motor or go for a cheaper, older but tried and true option.
A few other things to consider when choosing your trolling motor:
12V trolling motors generally offer lower thrust. Going with a higher thrust will get you into a 24V option. If the motor isn’t working its hardest because you’ve gone a bit overkill in thrust, your batteries should last longer with a 24V option. Also remember that more batteries means more weight. Keep your boat safe and under its weight capacity!
Charging all your batteries can be an issue if your boat is not set-up properly. Adding an on-boarding charger to your boat will be key. You need to make certain your boat is properly equipped to add the extra electrical equipment. If you are not up-to-speed on the dangers of doing electrical circuity wrong, this is where using a professional would be wise. I highly recommend you seek out a local shop for electrical upgrades.
More thrust DOES NOT necessarily mean more speed. Thrust is force, not speed. Higher RPMs will lead to more speed.
Do your research and know what you want before spending your money. Buying a used trolling motor can save you quite a bit if you're on a budget. I bought several used models over the years before I bought a new shiny one from the store.
Mounting and deploying can be difficult with a bowfishing platform. Consider all your options and your current boat set-up before you purchase. Modifications may be necessary if you have limited space. Also keep the trolling motor shaft length in mind when determining where to mount it.
My current bowfishing set-up:
1860 Crestliner SC, 60 HP Mercury 4 stroke, Aluminum deck, Champion generator, Ustellar 60W LED flood lights (120V) *Trolling motor soon to come* (24V)
Additional resources for trolling motors:
Trolling motor guide based on size and type of boat.
Trolling Motor Thrust Guide
Trolling Motor Shaft Length
Trolling Motor Buying Guide
Good Read All About Trolling Motors