ICAST 2019: The ‘year for the trolling motor’

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Lowrance debuted the Ghost trolling motor at the show.

Lowrance debuted the Ghost trolling motor at the show.

Lowrance and Garmin are debuting trolling motors at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades this week in Orlando, Fla. These are the first freshwater trolling motors for both companies, which are hoping to upset a market that has been marginally competitive.

Lowrance unveiled the Ghost, and Garmin introduced the Force on Monday, the first in a line of trolling motors.

“It sounds like it’s going to be the year for the trolling motor at ICAST,” Garmin sales and marketing director Dave Dunn told Trade Only Today.

Minn Kota and Mercury have been the trolling motor market-share leaders. “They’re definitely going to see a lot of new entrants to their domain, where they had unhealthy market share for a long time,” said Lucas Steward, Navico’s trolling motor product group owner. (Navico is Lowrance’s parent company.)

“We were aware that this market was going to get crowded as we got into it because it was so lopsided,” Steward said. “Going up against [Minn Kota parent company] Johnson Outdoors is nothing new for us. We’ve been fighting that battle with Humminbird. It’s good healthy competition.”

Garmin debuted its Force Trolling Motor at ICAST, which operators can control with a wireless remote using only gestures.

Garmin debuted its Force Trolling Motor at ICAST, which operators can control with a wireless remote using only gestures.

Garmin and Lowrance said customers wanted new entrants into the trolling motor market, and both said the demand for a quieter, more powerful and durable product was echoed by anglers.

“We have quite an extensive pro staff now that we didn’t have five years ago,” Dunn said. “We had great sounding board. The number-one thing we heard back was durability. That’s really where we started.”

Integration was another key point, Steward said. “The main reason we got into trolling motors was, our pro anglers and customers asked us to for a long long time,” he said. “What they’ve got on their Lowrance displays with great sonars and charts, having those things paired together with their trolling motors gives the best opportunity for them to position themselves on the fish.”

The Ghost and the Force use brushless motors designed for quiet operation, and are more powerful than other trolling motors. Garmin says the Force is 30 percent more powerful than other freshwater trolling motors, and Lowrance says the Ghost generates 25 percent more thrust than competitors.

Ghost is designed to work in 24- or 36-volt systems with up to 97- and 120-pounds of thrust, respectively, and allows for battery and charger upgrades, according to a statement.

The Force also operates at either 36 or 24 volts, and Dunn said the Force delivers comparable thrust when running 24 volts to competitors running at 36 volts.

The Ghost has fly-by-wire steering control. “It’s controlled through a foot pedal while anglers are casting,” Steward said. “The quick response is designed to feel like a cable-steered trolling motor. It feels the same as if it had a mechanical cable running it. When people first try it, they’re wowed by the muscle memory feel, but now it actually goes faster, it’s quieter, and it’s kind of delighting them in some ways they didn’t expect.”

Garmin’s Force has a wireless foot pedal that also feels like a cable sphere, and a remote the angler can wear around his neck, Dunn said. “You can use gestures to control the motor,” he said. “You can point to a spot, and your motors will drive to it. It has a wireless remote you can hang around your neck, and say you see a fish flip on your starboard side — you can point to the spot, and the motor will start driving there.”

The technology could have future uses with hybrid boats and bay boats with trolling motors, Dunn said, hinting that a saltwater version may be ahead. “We’re thinking way into the future even though this is the first jump-off for this remote,” he said.

Lowrance, which has a contract with Mercury's MotorGuide, will continue to work with other trolling motor suppliers and vendors so customers “will have their pick,” Steward said.

For Garmin customers who still want to use a Minn Kota, the company offers adaptor cables, but plotters won’t connect directly to the motor, Dunn said. “All the software will be done through Wi-Fi, so people will use their phones to update software,” he said. “It’s going to be very software driven, and you can do all that from a smartphone or tablet.”

Developing the motors required a lot of resources and engineering, Steward said. “We’ve been working on this for almost four years, and you can see why no small company would just jump into this market,” he said.

Both companies say their motors should will benefit customers. “The trolling motor is one of the most critical pieces of equipment on a freshwater fishing boat, and it can singlehandedly be the difference between a good or bad day on the water,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin worldwide vice president of consumer sales, in a statement.

“Between the Lowrance version and the Garmin version, we’re really going to upset the market and shake things up a little bit,” Dunn said.

Garmin's Force starts shipping in August, and Lowrance's Ghost begins shipping in September.

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