(Trolling Motor) War — What is it good for?

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The pre-ICAST story of note has clearly been about the new entrants into the trolling motor market. That’s an arena that in the tournament bass world has been a two horse race for a few decades, with the Minn Kota Ultrex taking a commanding lead over the past few years. Now, with other companies entering the fray, there’s real competition.

I’d like to think that is good for the consumer, although somehow I doubt that prices will go down. I’m certainly not accusing anyone of collusion, but once that two- to three-thousand range was broached, and the components and circuitry reached a certain point, there’s no turning back in our industry.

Could one of them become a prohibitive favorite by offering the motors at a reduced price as a loss leader (making up some of that loss by bundling them with paired electronics)? Probably, but don’t expect it to happen.

I have nearly a quarter-century of trolling motor ownership under my belt, and while Spot Lock and the like were only recently added (despite Pinpoint technology being available but little-utilized in the 90s), I have seen an overall improvement in their durability, reliability and effectiveness.

As I’ve written before, my first bass boat had a 43-pound thrust Johnson troller on the front. When that one had problems, I got it fixed and then kept it in my tow vehicle as a spare for the new 56-pound thrust model I replaced it with. I also learned to carry a spare steering cable, because those suckers broke at the connection if you looked at ‘em funny.

My second boat, a year-old model that I bought from a gentleman in Tennessee, had a Motorguide Tour Edition with the then-“revolutionary” Power Gator Mount on it. I could raise and lower the trolling motor from the console so it was in the water by the time I got to the front deck. In super-skinny water, I could “tilt” the motor up a little without adjusting the shaft to keep it barely in the water (I can still do that, just with an empty water bottle, not mechanically). Ultimately, everyone I knew (including myself) who had a Power Gator on their boats ended up hitting a stump or otherwise getting it stuck and stripping it out, defeating the purpose. I eventually swapped mine out for a conventional mount.

The biggest problem with that motor, however, was not the mount, but the motor itself. When subjected to a heavy rain, suddenly it gave you full throttle at the touch of the button, no matter how you had the dial set. It was jarring to hit the pedal, thinking you were going to get 20% thrust, and instead get the full monty. I recall that at several rainy tournaments there were pros who taped hotel shower caps to the head of their motors to keep them from getting inundated. Once again, I bought a spare to deal with the issue, and ended up swapping it out on the water multiple times.

After that I had two other Tour Editions, both of which worked flawlessly, and last year I purchased an Ultrex with my new boat. I also purchased a Fortrex – given my past history, I wanted to be covered in case the new one crapped out. So far the Fortrex has remained boxed in my tow vehicle, but I haul it every place I go.

The biggest advantage of my most recent motor is not any of the high-tech features, but rather how well it comes through grass. I love the Spot Lock and other high tech attributes, but they don’t make me nearly as happy as the fact that every time I stomp the button it does what it’s supposed to do. Power Gator? It wasn’t nothing but a heartbreaker. Don’t miss it at all.

So how will this just-started trolling motor war affect the market? That remains to be seen. People like me live in a bubble where we see these high-priced rigs all around us and assume that they’re the rule, but more likely they’re the exception. The average consumer is unlikely to be able to justify the expense of a $3,000 trolling motor, and I’m certain that worldwide, far more that cost a grand or less are sold than the top of the line models. Ultimately, the issue is whether the arms race will improve overall reliability as well as offering shiny features, and also whether that reliability trickles down throughout a manufacturers’ lineup. It doesn’t matter if you have Spot Lock if the trolling motor is sprawled out across the deck of your boat, and weedlessness is meaningless if the thing runs out of juice after an hour. Sexy gizmos and gadgets are nice, but the true test will be which motor can survive a rainstorm, make it through rough water, or run into a rock pile and keep on ticking — especially for those of us who don’t have service crews at our beck and call. Otherwise, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.