November 01, 2013

For decades the work horse of any trolling boat has been the gasoline kicker motor. A “kicker” does an excellent job of trolling at both fast and slow speeds making it useful for every popular species, fishing presentation and time of year.

Gasoline kickers are still wildly popular among trollers, but slowly the playing field is changing and anglers are exploring new and different ways to troll for walleye, salmon, trout, musky and other popular Great Lakes species. One of those evolutions is to incorporate not one, but two motors into the trolling regiment. Sound expensive? Not really considering how most anglers set up their fishing boats these days.

My Rigs As An Example

About seven years ago I turned a page in my trolling efforts and stopped putting a small gasoline kicker on the back of my boats. Instead of depending solely upon a kicker motor for trolling, I now use both an electric motor and also my primary outboard engine for trolling chores.

The question is why did I suddenly make such a radical change in my trolling set up? The simple answer is that outboard motors these days are better able to idle down to slower trolling speeds and also maintain those slow speeds for hours without fouling the plugs.

Just a few years ago there weren’t many four stroke or two stroke outboard motors larger than 75 HP that would troll down to under 3.0 MPH for trolling. Many of the bigger V6 engines popular on walleye and bass boats wouldn’t idle below 3.5 MPH making them next to useless for primary trolling chores.

All that has changed with the advent of electronic fuel injected engines that are computer controlled to dole out gasoline and/or gasoline/oil mixtures that precisely match the burn rate required for optimum performance at all RPM rates.

The Evinrude E-Tec two stroke outboard is the leader in this field. Not only are E-Tec engines the leader in high end performance, they use a computer to mix gasoline and oil precisely to match respective engine RPM’s. Essentially the E-Tec uses more oil in the gas when the engine is at high RPM and less oil in the gas when the engine is idling at slower speeds conducive to trolling. This process allows the E-Tec to enjoy exceptional top end performance one moment and to function as a trolling motor the next!

Just as impressive, the E-Tec uses very little oil and creates near zero smoke and lower emissions than even four stroke outboards! To be completely truthful even a stock E-Tec outboard can’t idle down to speeds below 2.0 MPH in most instances. When it’s necessary to troll slower, I simply use a bow mounted electric motor to maintain slower trolling speeds for things like spinner fishing or pulling dodger/fly combinations.

Trolling for kings, the author commonly finds himself trolling across the grain in order to maintain a productive depth. Two motor trolling makes this task easier and the fishing more productive.

Power drive style electric motors are best suited for slow speed trolling applications because unlike the cable driven models, they can be pointed in a specific direction and allowed to troll along on course without needing constant adjustment to the course heading.

Both Minn Kota and MotorGuide produce power drive style motors suitable for open water trolling applications. Depending on the size of the boat involved a 12, 24 or 36 volt system will be required for a full day of trolling chores.

Kicker Issues

Okay, so primary outboards can now troll down to speeds commonly used for fishing crankbaits, spoons and even spinners. Why not continue to use a gasoline kicker motor for these chores?

In a couple of words the answer to this question is Four Stroke. Most kicker motors these days are four stroke technology that burns straight gasoline. While four stroke provides good gasoline economy and low emissions, these engines are exceptionally heavy for their size and horse power range. How heavy? A typical four stroke kicker motor is often as much as 75 pounds heavier than a comparable two stroke kicker.

There are a number of problems with heavy kicker motors. For one they tend to make it impossible for smaller boats to achieve maximum running performance with the extra weight on the transom. Secondly, four stroke outboards are notorious for not idling smoothly. These engines tend to speed up and slow down making it difficult to maintain a consistent trolling speed and the manual linkage adjustments on these engines make it literally impossible to find the “sweet spot.”

About the only way to get a four stroke kicker to idle and troll smoothly is to purchase an expensive after market throttle control system and have it installed by a certified outboard mechanic. So in short, four stroke kickers have issues that can be corrected, but not without spending more cash.

What About

Two Stroke Kickers?

It’s getting pretty tough to find two stroke kicker motors these days. Most manufacturers have abandoned two stroke technology in favor of four stroke engines. In part, this is because even the big engine manufacturers don’t make their own four stroke engines designed for kickers, but instead have these engines built and private labeled by other manufacturers who specialize in small four stroke outboards.

You mean the Mercury kicker on that boat isn’t even made by Mercury? Yup…. The Evinrude 15 horse power HO is an exception to that rule. This E-Tec is a true two stroke kicker with all the bells and whistles including a heavy duty mounting bracket, electric start, power trim and it’s available in both tiller and remote steering options.

The Evinrude 15 HO is designed for boats in the 20 foot and larger class such as pro walleye boats and a host of other Great Lakes style fishing boats.

Gps Guided Electric Motors

The newest wave of power drive style electric trolling motors are also equipped with a GPS tracking system that allows these motors to pick a course heading and stay on that heading. These engines can even duplicate a productive trolling route and or be programmed to troll from waypoint to waypoint.

The Minn Kota iPilot and the new MotorGuide Xi5 are a couple of serious trolling animals. Both of these products are highly useful in open water trolling applications. Not only can these electric motors provide primary power for trolling, they can also be used as supplemental power for turning and navigating the boat along a trolling course.

A GPS guided electric motor in combination with a primary outboard and or kicker motor provides the angler with a host of trolling options that literally boggle the mind. Just to set the stage, keep in mind that these electric motors can be used for primary power and by turning them the opposite direction as the main outboard, they can be used to reduce and or fine tune the trolling speed on the big engine.

These electric motors are being designed to interface with sonar units further providing more trolling function and duplication on the water. The Minn Kota units will interface with Humminbird sonar and the new MotorGuide will interface with Lowrance sonar units for now.

Cavitation Plate

Mounted Electrics

In addition to the electric motors designed to mount on the bow of a fishing boat, there are electric motors designed to mount to the cavitation plate of a primary outboard. These electric motors are steered by turning the outboard motor left or right, but in most instances they are simply used to provide a slow and steady forward propulsion.

Ideal for downwind and slow speed trolling chores, a growing number of anglers combine both a cavitation plate and bow mounted electric trolling motor to hyper control speed and also to steer the boat on course or around other boats when fishing in traffic.

Don’t Electric

Motors Die Quickly?

Lots of anglers are afraid of using an electric trolling motor for fear the batteries will die before they are ready to quit fishing. On my 20 foot Starcraft Fishmaster 196 equipped with a 36 volt electric motor, I enjoy about 10-12 hours of continuous fishing on a single battery charge. My smaller Freedom 18 has a 24 volt system and it provides me about eight to 10 hours of continuous fishing when using just the electric motor for power and longer if I combine the electric and gasoline engine while trolling.

One of the keys to using these electric motors as primary trolling power is to equip boats with the largest capacity deep cycle batteries available. The standard 27 series batteries normally used in fishing boats will suffice, but the larger capacity 31 series batteries are a better option.

Slowing Down

The Big Engines

If you own a fairly modern V6 outboard, there is a good chance you can slow down the trolling speed by controlling engine RPM rates using after market technology. In the case of Mercury the technology is called Smart Gauges and in the case of Evinrude the technology is called ICON. In both instances the RPM rate of the engine can be micro adjusted to achieve slower trolling speeds and more precise trolling speeds than is possible with the stock linkage controls.

Both of these systems must be installed by a certified outboard mechanic. In addition to better controlling slow RPM speeds, these systems have other advantages like monitoring fuel burn and interfacing this information on your sonar unit or special gauges mounted in the console.

Hydraulic Auto-Pilots

The advancements in electronics isn’t limited to just electric motors. The newest wave of hydraulic auto-pilots designed to mount to V6 outboards are also useful trolling tools.

My boat is also equipped with a Simrad AP2403 auto-pilot which is used most often when trolling for trout, salmon or walleye at speeds of 2.0 or faster. This system allows me to hold a course even when trolling upwind or across the grain “trolling in the troth” while fishing precise structure.

In these situations I’m doing my best to stay in a particular water depth regardless of which way the wind or currents may be pushing the boat. Because the Simrad unit is hydraulic and ties directly into the power steering system on my outboard, this system can be controlled down to individual degrees of compass heading adjustment!

Summing It Up

Two engine trolling is the newest way that open water anglers are targeting walleye, salmon and a host of other species. The era of the “kicker motor” isn’t dead, but these engines are not as essential to fishing success as they were once thought to be.

Modern auto-pilot style electric motors and primary outboards capable of trolling to slower speeds have cut into the need for accessory kicker motors. The good news is trollers have never had it so good. The ability to troll at literally any speed and to also maintain a desired course takes trolling from an art and turns it into a fish catching science.

For More Information

Minn Kota…,

MotorGuide…, Lowrance…, Humminbird…, Evinrude…, Mercury…