Trolling motors are an essential part of most fishing boats, but they are also the part of the boat that gets the most abuse, as they regularly bump into rocks, logs, and other hard objects.
Also, in addition to physical abuse, trolling motors are more exposed to water than most other boat electronics, which presents an especially serious problem in a saltwater environment.
Because of these challenges, it’s essential to maintain your trolling motor properly, to ensure it will serve you well for many years.
We recently spoke with professional fishing guide Eric Bartlett (founder at Boat & Skiff), who uses trolling motors on a daily basis, and in this article we’ll go over his best tips for taking care of your trolling motor effectively.
Regularly inspect and clean your trolling motor propeller
If you like to use your trolling motor in shallow water, you can be sure that weeds, fishing line, and other debris will get wrapped around the prop on a regular basis. In many cases, you can actually feel the difference in trolling motor performance when something gets wrapped around the prop while you’re fishing.
Since this is such a common occurrence, it’s a good idea to make a habit of regularly checking the prop for anything that might have gotten wrapped around it. Eric says he likes to do this at least 3 or 4 times every time he’s out with his boat, and more often than that if he notices the trolling motor isn’t performing optimally.
Also, if your prop bumps into rocks, its blades can get scratches or nicks, and Eric likes to use sandpaper to smooth these down as much as possible.
Regularly inspect the prop pin of your trolling motor
When using a trolling motor around rocks or hard bottom, it’s unfortunately very common for the lower unit, skeg, and propeller of the trolling motor to bump into rocks while you’re fishing. And the most common problem caused by this abuse is the prop pin getting bent out of shape.
In order to deal with this, Eric likes to check the prop pin every time after he notices that the trolling motor bumps into rocks or other hard objects. The prop pin is the weakest link of the propeller, and gets bent out of shape quite easily.
Luckily, prop pins are cheap, and easy to replace. So it’s a good idea to always keep a supply of spare prop pins on hand, so you can exchange a damaged one as soon as possible. However, keep in mind that you need to take the trolling motor out of the water in order to do this.
Protect metal parts from corrosion
Especially if you use your trolling motor in saltwater, the metal parts will tend to corrode very quickly if you don’t take care of them correctly. Because of this, it’s important to protect them with anti-corrosion lubricant, which Eric likes to do on a daily basis before going out on the water.
The best option to use for this is a aqueous based silicone spray that you can either spray directly onto the metal parts, or spray into a soft cloth which you then use to wipe all the metal parts of the trolling motor.
Rinse trolling motor with freshwater after use in saltwater
Saltwater exposure is the number one enemy of every electric trolling motor. So even if you’re using a trolling motor built for use in saltwater, such as the Minn Kota Ulterra, it’s essential to rinse it with fresh water after every saltwater exposure.
Doing this really helps to extend the life of your trolling motor, as it minimizes the corrosive effect of saltwater as much as possible. Also, never moor your boat with its trolling motor deployed in saltwater, as that will ruin it in no time at all.
Finally, if you use your kayak trolling motor in shallow freshwater lakes with a muddy bottom, you should also rinse the trolling motor after use, as that will help to get rid of the silt that tends to seep into the cracks, and which can eventually end up clogging the internal mechanics of the motor.
Regularly check trolling motor wires and cables for damage
Especially bow mount trolling motors (and to a lesser degree also transom mounted ones) are highly exposed to wear and tear, it’s also quite common for their wires and cables to get pinched, nicked, or even cut. This can even happen if you’re not careful when you stow the trolling motor on its cradle, as the wiring can get caught underneath it.
Because of this, it’s important to check the wires and cables of your trolling motor after every trip, both visually and by running your fingers along them to check for abrasions and nicks. Small lesions can be covered with electrical tape, but if there’s more serious damage, you’ll probably have to replace the cable.
Regularly check trolling motor battery connections
Among the most common issues that come up with trolling motors is power problems, and the number one cause of these are faulty connections with the batteries. Sometimes these connections get loosened during use, but sometimes they are also subject to corrosion (especially if exposed to saltwater).
So check your battery connections frequently, and especially if there is a power issue with your trolling motor, the first troubleshooting you should do is to check the battery cables and connections. And if you notice corrosion, make sure to replace the parts as soon as possible.
Recharge trolling motor batteries after every use
While some trolling motor batteries can be used for several trips without running empty, it’s always better to keep them fully charged as much of the time as possible in order to prolong battery lifetime. Because of this, Eric recommends charging your trolling motor batteries after every fishing trip, even if it’s just a short one.
Use a trickle charger for off-season storage of trolling motor batteries
Many anglers don’t use their boat during the cold season, and as a result of this the trolling motor batteries aren’t used for several months in a row. The problem with this is that they will lose their charge completely during this time, and this destroys their ability to hold a charge afterwards.
So while most high quality trolling motor batteries can last for years before needing to be replaced, if you let them run completely empty, and store them in that state for an extended period of time, they will stop working after just one season.
In order to prevent this, it’s best to hook up the batteries to a trickle charge during the off season. Minn Kota has a great option for this, which measures the charge of the battery, and regularly tops it up when necessary.