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July 27, 2013

Proving Pods Catch Fish

Can pod drives lay down a clean trolling alley and raise fish?

(Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.)

When it comes to offshore trolling, twin-diesel inboards have long reigned supreme, proven to lay down clean trolling alleys and raise fish. For many veteran trollers, there’s nothing better. Or is there?

The advent of diesel pod drives from Mercury Zeus, Volvo Penta IPS and ZF Marine has introduced major advantages. Unlike the straight-shafts, twin pods can swivel independently, providing directional-steering thrust that results in superb control. An integral joystick allows for precise low‑speed maneuvers.

Thanks to horizontal thrust (versus the ­downward-angled thrust of inboards), less drag (as a result of less running gear) and twin counter-rotating propellers (for less prop slippage), pods are also more efficient than straight-shafts. You don’t need as much horsepower to cruise at the same speed as with inboards. That also equates to more miles per gallon.

On the Troll

Yet, do pods troll well? Do they lay down desirable wakes? Can they raise fish?

The answer to all three of these questions is an ­unequivocal yes, according to Paul Spencer, founder and president of North Carolina-based Spencer Yachts. Established in 1996, Spencer builds custom sport-fishing boats from 37 to 87 feet in length. In recent years, Spencer has equipped a number of boats with pod drives, giving the builder a chance to compare the two types of propulsion systems.

“To me, pods fish every bit as well, if not better, than inboards,” says Spencer.

It starts with the trolling alleys, which tend to be cleaner with pods than with inboards, he says. Less hardware in the form of prop shafts and rudders also means less turbulence, less white water, and cleaner wakes.

Also, because pods provide better steering control, a helmsman can shut down one engine and troll on the other, eliminating 50 percent of the prop wash, Spencer explains.

Raising Fish

Determining whether pods raise fish as well as inboards is tough to quantify. Yet Spencer points to successful boats as evidence that pods can hold their own in competition.

“One of the first boats we built with pods was a 49-footer, and it was among two pod-drive boats that competed in the Custom Boat Shoot-Out in Abaco, Bahamas, which was limited to 40 boats,” he says. “While neither won, one boat led for a while, and both placed near the top.”

Spencer also proudly points to the biggest sport-fishing boat his company has built, the 87-foot Betsy, which has four 1,150 hp Caterpillar C18 diesels, each connected to a ZF Pod 4000 drive. In 13 months, the crew of Betsy caught and released more than 250 blue marlin, most of them in waters off the Dominican Republic, he says.

Betsy also proves that super-yachts are not exempt from marlin fishing, and pod drives are the reason. Spencer explains, “It’s far more maneuverable than the same-size boat with inboards.” Pods allow the captain to keep a hooked marlin where it can be fought from the stern.