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October 26, 2001

Electric Glide

Electric trolling motors are not just for bass boats anymore.

Our freshwater buddies chasing bass in every patch of water deep enough to float a johnboat have enjoyed the many virtues of electric trolling motors for decades. Smooth, quiet and highly maneuverable, these motors allow anglers to sneak up on skittish fish in some very tight places - and get out again. Although a few perceptive souls started using freshwater motors in the salt many years ago, the results weren't very encouraging: Most freshwater models couldn't withstand the harsh environment for more than a year before succumbing to corrosion. It was only a matter of time before advances in anti-corrosion technology and a more accepting attitude among saltwater traditionalists allowed for the proliferation of trolling motors in the marine environment.

Where to Put It
Shallow-water fishermen are the neat-freaks of the saltwater fishing world. Decks must be kept clear of all debris and obstructions, especially when someone on board is flailing away with a fly rod. So trying to position something as big and unwieldy as a trolling motor on the pristine deck of a flats skiff can give a guide the shakes. "I'm one of those guys who has this freaky thing about drilling holes in a $20,000 boat," says Capt. Rick Murphy of Miami, Florida. Like most guides, Murphy mounts two motors on the back of his skiff via the two "ears" that bolt to the platform tower.
"I use the two 24-volt RipTides with 70 pounds of thrust in back during tarpon season to help me move into position on schooling tarpon and to move away from other anglers when I'm hooked up," Murphy says. "The motors let me do this quietly without starting up the outboard."
Once tarpon season ends, Murphy concentrates on snook and redfish and his motor requirements change accordingly. "Plugging shorelines and creek mouths for snook and reds is really a lot like a bass-fishing situation, so I put one of my motors up on the bow," says Murphy. To avoid any hole drilling, Murphy opted to build his own removable bracket that attaches to his pop-up cleats.

On the Trim Tabs?
Whether you choose bow or transom mounts, each comes with its own set of problems. Bow mounts are big and ugly and clutter up the deck, while transom mounts have limited maneuverability and have to be lifted and repositioned every time you change spots. These problems led Richard DeVito, owner of Southern Marine in Stuart, Florida, to develop a line of trolling motors mounted on trim tabs last year. "I'd been fooling around with other major brands for so long that I thought there had to be a better way to mount them and keep the noise in the back of the boat away from the casting deck," says DeVito.
DeVito's Lenco motors mount on special trim tabs with a slight angle to keep the trolling motors up and out of the wake when the boat's running. "The secret to the whole system is our electric tab piston," says DeVito. "It allows the trim tab to move 4-1/2 inches, while conventional hydraulic pistons only have a 2-1/2-inch range of motion." The extended range offered by the piston dips the motors deep enough to work and gets them high enough out of the wash to avoid causing any handling problems. As an added bonus, the piston goes through its full range of motion in just five seconds.
Lenco now offers the motors in 65- and 85-pound thrust models, and the extra power gives this system incredible maneuverability. I saw a video at the Miami Boat Show of an angler working an 18-foot Mirage in and out of boat slips and actually spinning the boat on its center.

Smart Motors?
Another recent innovation on the trolling motor scene is the advent of trolling motors that can "see." Pinpoint Systems of Tulsa, Oklahoma, make positioning motors that use five sonar transducers placed in the motor's lower unit to follow bottom contours, shorelines or creek beds. The units also come with an optional screen that allows you to use the motor as your depth finder, fish finder and autopilot all in one.

Advantages/Disadvantages
On the downside, trolling motors can cavitate in rough water if your shaft is too short, causing noise and spooking fish. "A lot of people over-use their motors, especially at high speeds," says Murphy. "When you're speeding along with all that power, you have to be careful of causing a bunch of noise from the hull slap." And let's face it, they're not that attractive or out of the way when mounted on the bow or transom.
But there are many more reasons to use a good trolling motor in salt water than there are reasons not to. Electric motors allow you to cover more ground in a day than most people can with a push pole, and the motor doesn't get tired. They are also great in deepwater situations where you'd have trouble using a pole. Poles can also make noise when you're over hard bottom, while trolling motors hum quietly along. When hooked up to fish, you can get 70 or 80 pounds of thrust moving you in the direction you want at the flick of a switch - a great advantage when you're trying to keep a snook out of the mangroves.