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by Mike Giamportone

Fishing the Great Lakes and attached waterways present challenges that most other  bodies of water do not; fast moving deep rivers, negative effects of exotic foreign species, and large wide open water that with just a little wind, can churn up some mighty big waves. Combine these conditions and not only are conventional fishing methods challenged but otherwise terrific fishermen can be humbled

"Even recreational boats can be transformed into fish-catching machines"

For many Great Lakes fishermen, bigger boats are desired for safety and comfort or sanitary reasons. These boats allow us to go out for many hours at a time with our families, in changing weather, and catch quite a few different species of fish. Larger boats, many times made of heavier fiberglass, deep V-hull or boats that just set higher in the water are usually the way to go. But it doesn't matter fishing the Great Lakes or not, proper bait presentation requires precise boat control if you want to catch more fish and catch them consistently. 

On larger fishing boats, gasoline-trolling motors are common. The problem is they can be smoky, noisy, cause you to breath exhaust fumes all day, and could scare fish. While kicker motors are relatively not too expensive, the second fuel tank, space lost for mounting, how to steer them, and the added weight can make them less than desirable. 

Many fishermen have to choose between a perfect fishing boat that sets lower in the water and has an electric trolling motor or a larger boat with the comforts a cabin, head, and the security they provide. Just try to find a trolling motor with a shaft long enough to reach the water in a fiberglass boat that makes your family feel safe out in the middle of one of the Great Lakes. Extremely long-shafted trolling motors are either non-existent or impractical for many of these kind of boats. 

Fishermen that once thought their boats could not have an electric trolling motor can use what my friends have coined “my secret weapon”. Even recreational or boats with an inboard/outboard (I/O) can be transformed into fishing machines with precise boat control using an engine-mounted trolling motor. 

Since 2000, Minn Kota has offered two models of engine-mounted trolling motors, a 12-volt 44-pound thrust model and a 24-volt 54-pound thrust unit. Both bolt on your existing outdrive's anti-cavitation plate. Except for voltage and maximum thrust, their features are identical: a small hand-held Variable Speed Control Box, Weedless Wedge propeller, and Minn Kota’s Maximizer battery saving circuitry. Whether you have an outboard motor or I/O, an engine-mounted trolling motor will give your boat the silent control that will definitely help you catch more fish.

Why This Secret Weapon Is Needed

The explosion of foreign exotic species accidentally brought into the Great Lakes in just the last 15 years has changed fishing, as we once knew it, forever. These species are finding their way into smaller bodies of water so even if you don’t fish the Great Lakes, sooner or later you may also be affected. We now have to learn how to overcome the effects of Zebra Mussels and Gobies if we want to catch fish consistently during daylight hours.

My engine-mounted trolling motor has definitely allowed me to do just that. Zebra Mussels are small clam-like creatures that filter massive amounts of water removing nearly all phytoplankton (algae). Since the water can be clear enough to see 20 feet at times, this makes catching some species of fish very difficult during the day, including my favorite, walleye. Zebra Mussels multiply very fast and continue to spread to many other lakes and rivers throughout the US and Canada. 
Without high winds, waves, or storm run off, our favorite fishing sites could be clear as pool water due to this constant filtering.Gobies are small, bottom-dwelling fish that have a relentless appetite. They are strictly sight feeders that devour eggs and fry of many species including walleye, smallmouth bass, and perch. The good news is Gobies eat young Zebra Mussels. The bad news is when the water is clear, if live bait (except leeches) is allowed to rest on the bottom during the daylight for even just a few seconds, you either catch a gobie or your hook will be picked clean long before the specie you are targeting has a chance to see it. 

Changed My Fishing Forever

Walleye are known to "turn on" and feed heavily around dusk and dawn. My fishing log clearly confirms this. The log also established that daylight fishing was erratic, but usually picked up on cloudy days with when the water had some chop. Walleye tournaments are held during the day so I knew it had to be possible to catch good numbers of walleye during the day with the right presentation, wind, clouds, chop, or not. 

While drifting in water with current, dragging crawler harnesses behind bottom bouncers for walleye is my favorite method of fishing. My entire family can do it with great success. I frequently would use sea anchors (drift socks) to speed up or slow down my drift depending on the wind and current. In water that runs North to South, my log showed drifting on days with brisk north winds were the most productive! Fish supposedly lie low on days with northerly winds and catching them is said to be almost impossible but my records showed just the opposite. The north wind pushed my boat (and bait) faster than the current by itself and I thought that might be a key factor in the day’s success. 

To prove my theory I waited until the wind was calm, water was almost gin clear, and it was safe enough to put my 12-foot aluminum boat that has an electric trolling motor in the big, fast running St. Clair River. While my wife and I trolled crawler harnesses downstream for walleye, the “regulars” handline trolling our favorite area gave us many funny looks and chuckles. Handline trolling for walleye is so effective it has been banned in many professional walleye tournaments! It is very popular in large, fast moving rivers from small boats. Handliners tend to troll very slowly upstream while holding on to a metal line to present various lures near the bottom. They also watched both of us limit out quicker than we ever had before. This proved my hunch that a controlled drift downstream in water with current can catch walleye during the daylight. That day I ordered my engine-mounted trolling motor for my fiberglass boat. 

In water with current walleyes typically lie behind or in some kind of structure or current break. They face upstream waiting for their next meal to come to them. Studies suggest that fish can see five times as far as we can in water. Imagine if you can see your bright colored spinner blade at five feet, if large enough, it will be seen by walleye as far as 25 feet before getting to them! But only if it is in front of the upstream facing walleye. So trolling upstream in moving water is usually not as productive as moving with the current since the walleye will see it longer before getting to its’ strike zone. 

Since installing an engine-mounted trolling motor on my 20’ boat, we now fish exclusively for walleye during the daytime and catch fish consistently using a controlled drift. With proper boat control and the right presentation, like me, you may never fish at night for walleye again!

In areas that snags are a problem or when the water is very clear resulting in Gobies trying to get my bait, a little turn of a knob and my boat speeds up. Most fishermen in my area would not believe that I could fish with night crawlers and have days where I never catch a single Gobie. I no longer have to rely on the current, wind, or drift bags to maintain boat speed. A controlled drift keeps me at the specific depth and speed the fish are biting for that time of day.

" Like me, you may never fish at night for walleye again! "

Not Only For Walleye Fishing

Boat control like that of smaller boats is now possible for larger boats without the noise or fumes of a gasoline kicker motor. Imagine how easy it is now to silently slip the current while vertical jigging. Even perch or bass fishing no longer requires putting the anchor up and down several times a day. It is possible to hold a spot until it no longer produces, then silently move into a new spot that does. 

Fishing for Salmon while trolling without a sound also has its advantages since baits don’t have to be placed so far from the boat. Even trolling in the roughest water my engine-mounted trolling motor rarely breaks the water’s surface since it is on the rear of the boat. This year we have caught walleye, perch, small mouth, rock bass, pike, trout, and salmon while using this trolling motor. It has opened up a whole bunch of new ways to fish with our “Great Lakes” boat. 

Some Engine-Mounted Trolling Motor Specifics

There are three main components that come with an engine-mounted trolling motor: Motor/Prop assembly, Electronics Module, and the Handheld Control Box. You will of course have to supply the deep cycle battery(s) and battery charger. 

The Trolling Motor requires 13” of water measured from the waterline to the top of the anti-cavitation plate. I found it very easy to mount. Just hold the trolling motor in place, mark and drill four holes in the anti-cavitation plate above the existing propeller. Then run the wire from trolling motor to electronics module. All the required stainless steel hardware was supplied. 

The Electronics Module is 8" x 8" and manages (pulses very fast) the flow of electricity from the battery through the module to the trolling motor. This prevents the motor from getting hot and greatly extends battery life. Minn Kota claims up to fives times more battery life per charge with this controller as long as trolling speed is kept below 60%. It is recommended the Electronics Module be mounted near battery compartment, has good airflow, and as best as possible, mounted away from water or moisture. 
The Control Box is small and very easy to use. On it is the directional switch and variable speed control knob. Measuring only 2½” x 3” it’s 18-foot cord allows you to place it just about anywhere you like. Velcro is supplied for mounting if desired. If I had one suggestion for Minn Kota, it would be to mark the knob in a couple places so that you can return it to exactly where you had it before. As you can see in the photo, I marked my knob at about 1/3 and 2/3 speed. On most days around 1/3 power is all that is needed but when trolling into a stiff wind, the 2/3 setting is required. 

Minn Kota's engine-mounted trolling motors can push quite heavy boats. The 44-lb. thrust model is recommended for up to 18' boats and the 54-lb. model is recommended for up to 20' boats. My 20' Bayliner Trophy weighs a little over 4,500 lbs. when loaded with 87 gallons fuel, three people, and fishing tackle. At full thrust I can maintain my position in ~4 MPH river currents or troll at lower speeds for about 5 hours before noticing any change in my deep cycle batteries, but rarely do we stay out that long. Since installing the engine-mounted trolling motor, we frequently limit out in a fraction of that time! 

As a boat gains speed, it raises out of the water or planes out. This gets this type of trolling motor entirely out of the water and eliminates drag and unnecessary wear. Engine-mounted trolling motors deliver many of the same advantages of other trolling motors without affecting your boat’s performance or having to be manually lifted out of the water every time you run your main motor. 

The only disadvantage I can see with an engine-mounted trolling motor is steering. There is no handle or foot directional control. So either you must fish near the steering wheel or add a tiller handle to the main motor which is what I did. By bolting some thin metal conduit to my engine cover I could slide a fiberglass handle inside of it
The conduit was then drilled with the handle in place and fastened with a lynch pin. This way it could easily . be removed for fully trimming and trailering the motor. The handle and conduit were painted gloss black to match the motor. Then I glued a cheap watch and golf stroke counter (fish in the cooler) on the handle to keep track of things.
With 3 or more people in my boat, I fish from the captain’s seat and steer with the wheel. When there are only two of us fishing or I am busy landing a fish, the tiller handle is used to maintain the course or productive depth for the time of day. 

You should have no problem purchasing one of these Minn Kota engine $600 at any of -mounted trolling motor for $450 to the major outdoor, fishing, or marine suppliersDon’t forget to save a little /catalogs. This is less than many bow-mount units! money for one or more deep cycle batteries and a chargerwhen ordering these units though, they are . Be sure to plan ahead becoming popular and can be in short supply depending on the time of year. 

The “regulars” handlining now ask what colors and type bait I am using! Like the charge card commercial asks, "Cost? Priceless." After my boat and depth/fish finder, my engine-mounted trolling motor was absolutely my best fishing investment I have ever made. I will never own another boat without one. 

The key to consistently catching fish is proper bait presentation, which is tied directly to precise boat control. Don’t let the wind or weather determine how good your fishing is going to be. As others fishermen in and around my boat will attest, there may be one thing that we can do to change fishing as we know it; an engine-mounted trolling motor.

For more details on Minn Kota's engine mounted trolling motors, go to http://www.minnkotamotors.com

If you have questions or comments about my engine-mounted trolling motor or fishing the upper St. Clair River or Lower Lake Huron, contact me at walleyefishingmike@hotmail.com
See how I tie crawler harnesses or clean fish with an electric knife, click here.

This IS the results of using our "Secret Weapon"

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