Ted Peck: Simple tips for trolling motor maintenance
When I was a kid, all trolling motors were made of wood. They were about six feet long and came in pairs. We called them “oars.”
By the early 1970s, electric trolling motors and rudimentary electronic fish finders were gaining acceptance as important tools for serious anglers. Today, trolling motors and fish finders can actually communicate with each other using GPS information downloaded from satellites, allowing hands-free travel along precise depth contours while a fisher works happily along the shoreline.
As we fish into the 21st century, there are a number of amazing fish finders on the market, but essentially just two companies still make trolling motors: Minn Kota and Motor Guide.
Quantum leaps in technology have improved both ergonomics and product reliability. But trolling motors still break down occasionally—invariably when you need them most.
Some repairs, like replacing circuit boards, are beyond the pay grade of even the most tech-savvy angler. But many other problems are forehead-slapping simple and can be fixed while you're still out on the water.
Minn Kota has a toll-free phone number stamped on every motor to access tech support during normal business hours. This company also has a network of more than 300 service centers nationwide to repair this vital angling tool and a handy smartphone app.
Steve Jennerman's phone number is on speed dial on my dumb phone. “J-Man” could be the poster boy for Minn Kota service, which I believe is the finest service in the fishing tackle industry.
Jennerman has been a Minn Kota technician for five years, servicing hundreds of trolling motors in this time span. Although some trolling motor problems border on bizarre, the most common issues are a connection gone bad or a low battery, Jennerman said.
“Checking electrical connections, cables and switches at least a couple times every fishing season will save you a lot of heartache,” Jennerman said. “Corrosion around battery terminals and a failing battery can quickly result in a host of more serious problems.”
This technician said the first place to look is the circuit breaker on the positive terminal of your trolling battery.
“Sometimes, travel through a heavy weed bed will pop the circuit breaker,” the technician said. “Most circuit breakers are automatic and will reset themselves in a minute or two. If the breaker continues to pop and weeds aren't the problem, you should take the motor to a technician for service.”
Pre-trip inspection of the prop shaft can help an angler avoid one of the most catastrophic trolling motor problems: failure of seals that keep water out of the powerhead.
“Sometimes a big fish or simply being inattentive can result in fishing line wrapped around the prop shaft,” Jennerman said. “Pulling the prop and checking the shaft on a regular basis can save an angler a lot of grief.”
Modern trolling motors have tiny circuit boards in both the foot pedal and top of the motor unit. Failure of these components also requires a trip to the prop shop.
“Keeping the foot pedal clean can help you avoid this repair,” Jennerman said. “Sand is a major cause of circuit board corruption.”
Carrying a few tools and spare parts that are prone to failure—such as tiny batteries for remote control units, springs under the momentary switch on the foot pedal and a spare prop—will help keep you in the game.
Although today's trolling motors are generally rugged and reliable, frequent inspection and knowledge of your motor's peccadilloes can keep a fishing trip on track.
Experience and time on the water are both great teachers. Many trolling motors have enhanced my quality of life over the years. My Minn Kota Terrova with an I-Pilot remote is the best first mate a fishing guide could ever have.
Years ago, when trolling motors were just getting recognized as essential fishing tools, the hand-operated Minn Kota 65 was on the back of many fishing boats.
The ol' 65 had a habit of shearing pins. Like many young turks with the self image of being suave and hip, I used to carry a spare shear pin in my wallet—just in case.
Then one day it happened, down on the Illinois River fishing with Dominic “Big Knobs” Culjan. His Minn Kota 65 sheared a pin. He did not have a spare.
“Knobby, my boy, this is your lucky day!” I said with a grin, while digging for my wallet.
Success is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.