In the old days, a trolling motor was nothing more than a steerable margarita blender. And there were only two main players in the arena: Minn Kota and MotorGuide. A third outfit, Rhodan Marine Systems, focused on the smaller saltwater segment.
Now there are also trolling motors from Lowrance and Garmin, with both having entered the market in the past year. They brought new designs that feature brushless motors and enhanced wireless connectivity. Minn Kota and MotorGuide responded with new models for the 2020 model year, as well.
With so many heavyweights in the ring, the competition likely will spark an acceleration of innovation, with the consumer being the real winner. Here’s a look at where the products and features stand today.
In 1934, Minn Kota produced the first commercial trolling motor that could propel a boat, allowing anglers to maneuver stealthily. Subsequent models were more powerful and could be controlled with a foot pedal.
The biggest breakthrough happened in 2009 with i-Pilot, which let a boat’s GPS/fishfinder control the motor. Not only could a driver use autopilot to follow a series of waypoints or navigate to a place where fish were on the sonar display, but he also could engage a feature called Spot-Lock, which acted as a virtual anchor. A remote control let the driver navigate from anywhere on the boat.
For the 2020 model year, Minn Kota unveiled the Riptide Ulterra ($3,000) designed for use in salt water. It reportedly has an industry-longest 87-inch shaft for use on 30-plus-foot boats, primarily as a virtual anchor.
MotorGuide, founded in 1961, introduced its GPS-based Xi5 trolling motor in 2013, with salt- and freshwater versions. The Xi5’s biggest advancement was its Pinpoint navigation system with Anchor Mode, which allowed skippers to make 5-foot position changes in any direction with the press of a button.
New for 2020, MotorGuide’s Tour Series includes eight Tour and Tour Pro trolling motors for fresh or salt water. All models have a metal control pedal and a Zero-G hydraulic ram assist system to make deployment easier. Cable adapters let the Tour Series’ built-in transducers interface with Lowrance, Garmin and Humminbird multifunction displays.
MotorGuide’s calling card remains its price point: Units start at $140, and the Tour Pro model retails for $2,700. (It can be fitted with a Universal HD+ transducer.) The least-expensive Tour model has a 24-volt, 87-pound thrust motor and a retail price of $1,550.
Rhodan is a smaller, custom trolling motor company that offers a saltwater-ready, 84-inch-shaft model ($3,000) for boats up to 35 feet. Its units rely on an internal GPS and don’t interface with chart plotters or fishfinders. However, Rhodan plans to release a module to connect with Simrad and Lowrance plotters.
In 1991, Rhodan was the first company to develop a GPS-based anchoring system. It employed a bulky, complex electronics array to thwart the U.S. military’s intentional introduction of errors for security.
New models are considerably more compact, and Rhodan uses a remote control rather than a foot pedal for steering and virtual anchor deployment. A bonus benefit of these long-shaft units is that they can be used as bow thrusters when docking.
Lowrance was the first to market with a brushless trolling motor: the Ghost ($3,000). It has no moving parts within the motor itself, a design scheme that should increase longevity. Brushless motors are also quieter, with none of the electronic interference that often shows up on a GPS screen.
Lowrance says the Ghost creates 25 percent more thrust and can run 45 percent longer than comparable, brushed trolling motors. One of the biggest differentiators of brushless technology is that it can be used with 24- or 36-volt systems without alterations. The motor interfaces with Lowrance units and those of sister companies Simrad and B&G.
Other features include a standard integrated hybrid dual imaging transducer in the nosecone, with CHIRP and DownScan imaging. It can be removed to upgrade to a 3-in-1 transducer ($344) that adds SideScan. However, the Ghost does have limitations. It is designed for fresh water; running one in salt or brackish water will void its three-year warranty. Though the freshwater market is where the bulk of trolling motors are sold, the saltwater market is the fastest-growing segment.
Garmin’s Force is a brushless trolling motor that the company says has a 30 percent greater thrust advantage over brushed motors. It won the most recent ICAST Best of Show Award thanks to such features as gesture control — steering that allows the user to manipulate direction by pointing the controller in the desired path.
Like the Lowrance Ghost, the Force motor has a wireless foot pedal that can be used anywhere on the boat, and a dedicated switch that activates the virtual anchoring feature, along with programmable switches that can enable other devices, such as a Power-Pole anchor. The 57-inch-shaft version sells for $3,200, and a 50-inch model retails for $3,100.
The Force’s nosecone has integrated CHIRP traditional and ultra-high- definition ClearVü and SideVü scanning sonars, which wirelessly interface with select Garmin electronics.
This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue.