Fishing with a trolling motor isn't as simple as it sounds. Learn everything you need to know, here!

How to Use a Trolling Motor (The Right Way)

Knowing how to properly use a trolling motor is a fisherman's best kept secret. Learn all the ins and outs below!

Last updated: September 20, 2022

By: Brandon Sanders

Have you ever been fishing on a boat, only to get blown around like a feather in the wind?

No matter if you are paddling or in a traditional bass boat, fighting wind and current while attempting to access a beautiful piece of cover can be challenging.

It’s a tale as old as time to have a day on the water jeopardized by one of those two demons. The best way to solve this problem is to invest in an appropriately sized and mounted trolling motor.

Trolling motors can be extremely useful and helpful while fishing, but first you need to understand how they can be used. Once you understand how to properly employ a trolling motor, the world of bass fishing will be easy to exploit.

Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in!

Quick steps: to use a trolling motor, you need to:

What Exactly is Trolling? 👇

There are many ways to be successful when trying to catch the elusive largemouth bass, and trolling is one of them. When you troll, you simply let out your lure out behind your boat and motor along.

It can be a very relaxing, enjoyable, low demand type of fishing when done correctly. By targeting linear strike zones such as long drop offs, rises in the lake floor, or creek beds, you can very quickly and efficiently fish a large swatch of water by trolling.

However, to do it effectively you will need a trolling motor that can get you there. Depending on your needs and your particular vessel, there are a few different options available.

Each type of boat, approach to fishing, and intended use, demands a different type of trolling motor setup. The ideal method of putting a trolling motor on a kayak is significantly different than mounting a trolling motor on a large bass boat. This will be true of both size and mounting styles.

A center mounted trolling motor will work well on a mud boat, but be terrible on a bass boat. A transom mounted trolling motor is ideal for a canoe bound for calm, still lakes, but would be a disaster on deep water, ocean going kayak.

Therefore, you must match the type of trolling motor and mount to the type of boat and intended use. Understanding the boat the trolling motor will be mounted to is crucial to proper placement for both effectiveness and safety. 

Mounting a Trolling Motor: The Real Difference Maker ✅

Trolling motors largely break down into two groups, bow mounts and transom mounts. Both have intended uses and can be extremely useful when employed correctly. By far and aways, the bow mounted trolling motor is more common and will afford the maximum amount of options.

However, transom mounted trolling motors should not be overlooked. As with anything fishing, you should make your trolling motor choice based on your vessel and the type of fishing you intend to do. 

Bow Mounted Trolling Motors ✓

Bow mounted trolling motors are the most common way to mount trolling motors to boats intended for fishing. They can be done down the centerline or off to one side.

Most bass boats will have them mounted to the side so the entire forward deck can be used by the fisherman. Boats that are typically used for catching frogs, running nets, or stringing trot lines will typically have them mounted down the center to keep the trolling motor safe.

Transom Mounted Trolling Motors ✓

Transom mounted trolling motors are typical on canoes, tenders, and dinghies. In these applications the trolling motor serves as a primary or secondary mode of propulsion.

However, it is not out of the ordinary to see a fishing kayak with a transom mounted trolling motor. The challenge that accompanies transom mounted trolling motors is typically in the mounting of it. Nonetheless, kayak trolling motors come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with different shift lengths and thrust to accommodate nearly every fishing kayak available.

Unless you are fishing out of a flat back canoe, a special mounting system will have to be constructed or ordered. There are further complications when it comes to steering as well since transom mounted trolling motors only come in tiller steer. 

Trolling Motor Steering Options ✓

In the past decade, trolling motor steering options have undergone a radical change. Historically, you had two choices on how to steer your trolling motor: tiller or foot.

Now, thanks to Bluetooth technology and GPS, you can remote control or even automate your trolling motor steering. While this opens up the door for a plethora of possibilities for the angler, it can also make the trolling motor selection process very confusing. 

Tiller Steer Trolling Motors ✓

Tiller steer trolling motors are, by far, the simplest and easiest to use. You simply grab the tiller handle and point the trolling motor where you want to go.

This is not unlike an outboard motor operation. They can be bow or transom mounted depending on the model. Tiller steer trolling motors are the king of simplicity and ease of operation, but always demand one hand be dedicated to its operation.

Foot Control Trolling Motors ✓

The most common method of steering a trolling motor today is the foot control. The traditional foot control uses a set of cables that are affixed to the trolling motor shaft on either side. The cables run down a sleeve to a pedal in the boat.

When you step on one side of the pedal, the cables twist the motor one direction. When you rock your foot back, the cables twist the motor in the opposite direction. While it takes some getting used to, the foot control method allows the angler to have a hands free approach to fishing.

The quality of the trolling motor is directly tied to the ease of steering with a foot controlled trolling motor. The higher end trolling motors are extremely smooth and take no effort to steer. They will respond to the slightest motion of the foot which makes steering much easier.

The biggest challenge with using a foot control trolling motor in a kayak is that you are typically sitting down. While it can be done, it takes serious modification and skill. 

Electronic Steering ✓

Electronic steering is the way of the modern trolling motor. These trolling motors can be steered by a traditional foot control, a remote, or even by GPS. Since the motor is completely electric and does not use the traditional cable system to turn the motor, the possibilities are truly endless.

The higher end version of these trolling motors can self deploy and follow a predetermined path on command. While they are expensive, they are likely the best for use on the modern fishing kayak or canoe. 

The Basic Operations of a Trolling Motor 🎯

Even flatwater kayaking can place exceptional demands on the kayaker. Therefore, having a trolling motor that can pull the boat to where it needs to go and back to the boat ramp without issue is critical.

Otherwise, the kayaker would be resigned to pulling the boat through the water by way of a paddle. While this is not an issue for simply kayaking, a heavy fishing kayak that is loaded with equipment can be very challenging to move through the water. 

What Size Trolling Motor is Needed? 📏

First thing’s first: Size does matter.

The size of a kayak or boat can greatly impact your trolling motor needs. Therefore, choosing the right fishing kayak or boat is a critical first step.

If you choose a trolling motor that is far greater than you need, you will have wasted your precious resources on a trolling motor you will never get to fully utilize. Not to mention, you will likely have less room on board due to the extra batteries needed to power it.

However, what is potentially worse is selecting a trolling motor that is underpowered for your vessel. This can be extremely frustrating when you can’t buck the current, wind, or even effectively move your vessel from one point to another due to the lack of power.

Therefore, it is crucial that you choose the correct size trolling motor for both the vessel and the application it will be used for. 

Vessel Weight

Vessel Length

Thrust Required

Battery Needed

> 1500lbs

14ft

30lbs

12VDC (1 battery)

2,000

17-18ft

40-45lbs

2,500

20-21ft

50-55lbs

3,000-3,500

23ft

70lbs

24VDC (2 batteries)

4,000

25ft

80lbs

4,500<

25ft

101-112lbs

36VDC (3 batteries)



What Size Battery Do I Need? 🔋

In terms of battery needs, trolling motors break down into three general sizes. 12VDC, 24VDC, and 36VDC battery configurations are used commonly throughout the angling world. Determining what size battery is needed for a trolling motor depends on the motor's thrust and the vessel's weight.

12VDC motors only take a single battery and are more than enough to power a kayak or canoe for a day out on the water. They are by far the simplest and lightest weight. 24VDC motors require two batteries to be hooked together in series.

While slightly more complicated, they are literally twice the weight. This configuration is common on large bass boats or other boats that demand a higher output trolling motor. A 36VDC is rare outside of saltwater applications with exceptionally large boats, but follows the same configuration as a 24VDC setup but with an additional battery. 

Today, much of this can be accomplished using a modern lithium ion battery. While these batteries are much more expensive, they are extremely lightweight and provide a more consistent voltage to the boat for a longer time period.

If you are selecting a trolling motor battery for any application, it is recommended that you first shop such lithium batteries before you look at the traditional lead acid types. 

How to Use a Trolling Motor to Your Benefit While Fishing 🎣

Finding the right trolling motor is one thing, but putting it to use is something entirely different. If you have selected the correct trolling motor, then the next step is to fully leveraging the benefits of your purchase.

The trolling motor's two great contributions to an angler's efforts is mobility and stealth. You will now be able to get to more places without spooking fish provided you pay attention to the wind, your noise, and maximize your movements by trolling.

You Won’t Be a Victim of the Wind 🚣‍♂️ 💨

Veteran fishermen know that fishing for bass in precipitation can be effective, but you have to deal with the wind. Typically, the higher the gunnels on a boat the more stable they are. This is a popular design feature in kayaks and boats alike.

However, with high vertical structure comes the susceptibility of being blown around by wind. 

While a vessel without a trolling motor would be forced to anchor, tie up to something, or to simply deal with it, a vessel equipped with a trolling motor can easily counteract this drift. You simply nose into the wind and let the trolling motor push you back to where you want to be. 

Advanced models have a position hold feature that does this automatically and will hold a position indefinitely. 

Stealth Mode Activated 🚨

Outboards and paddling have one thing in common, noise. This noise is especially true underwater. The splashing of a paddle and the whine of an outboard has been the culprit behind scaring off many fish.

One of the best things about fishing from a kayak fishing over a bass boat, is the ability to be stealthy. However, this stealthy approach is completely lost when the angler is forced to do any sort of heavy paddling. In any boat equipped with a trolling motor, stealthy approaches are simple, easy, and the norm. 

Cover Water While You Fish, Effortlessly 🏎

With bass fishing, you will always need to cover a lot of water to be effective, especially during the spawn. While a canoe or kayak angler can do this by paddling across the lake, a traditional boat is limited to the outboard or frequently anchoring and moving.

Having a trolling motor equipped allows the paddler to take a break and enjoy fishing and the traditional boater a way to effortlessly fish without the hassle of an anchor or outboard. 

Slow Troll with a Spinner or Live Bait ✅

One of the simplest and easiest ways to fish for schooling bass is to troll slowly. A trolling motor can be ideal for doing just that. No matter what type of control or mount you may have on board, trolling is always an option and an effective one at that.

Using a spinner bait, crankbait, or live bait, trolling will allow you to cover more water effectively in a shorter amount of time. However, to do it, you will need an appropriately chosen trolling motor. 

Fish Edges without Spooking the Fish 🐟

When you consider the normal food that largemouth bass eat and how they hunt, edges are critical for success. However, they are also susceptible to being preyed upon as well and are very aware of their surroundings.

Therefore, stealth is paramount in any boat. Given the level of noise that outboards, anchoring, and paddling consists of, a trolling motor is a much more preferable alternative. Being able to fish strike zones that hold large bass without making a lot of noise is crucial to landing the next wall hanger. 

Tips for Using a Trolling Motor ⭐️

Check the prop routinely for trash that gets wrapped up on it. Different variations of fishing line can be very devastating, but so can aquatic plants that get wrapped around the prop. There are seals that protect the electric motor inside the trolling motor head that can be easily damaged by fishing line getting entangled around the prop.

Further, you will see a massive drop in effectiveness if you allow the trolling motor pro to become cluttered with debris. Always check your trolling motor prop. 

Always check with your local laws and ordinances to see if adding a trolling motor to your vessel incurs extra responsibilities on your part such as registering the vessel. When you put a trolling motor on a traditionally paddled vessel, the legal status of that vessel will typically be changed as well. In some states, this is meaningless.

However, many states will then require the kayak to be regististerd just like any other boat. Know the local laws in your area of operations to save yourself from any legal trouble. 

Even though you have a freshly mounted trolling motor on your kayak, you still should observe all safety practices and etiquette while on the water. It could be easy to get complacent with a kayak that is propelled by a trolling motor since you now don’t have to sweat to propel it. However, that level of complacency is the foundation for many injuries and deaths.

Therefore, pay extra attention to how you operate a kayak or boat that is equipped with a trolling motor with an eye to safety. The vessel you are in is now much more complex and capable, which demands more responsibility on the part of the operator. 

Parting Thoughts 🏁

If for no other reason, having a trolling motor can also be a great safety feature. Some waterways like the Trinity River, are prone to flooding and heavy currents as rainwater drains into it.

A trolling motor will keep you safe when the current becomes too much. Rather than being swept down the river to a place you don’t want to be, you can employ a trolling motor as an insurance policy against rapidly changing water. 

Kayak fishing can be a great way to exercise and experience other health benefits. However, sometimes you simply need to get where you are going with minimal effort and maximum efficiency.

Having a trolling motor mounted to your boat will allow you to enjoy the same benefits of being on the water, but with enhanced range, safety, and capabilities. While they can be expensive depending on what you purchase, they are a worthy investment for the serious fisherman. 

Using a Trolling Motor Properly: FAQs

How Long Will a Trolling Motor Run on a Full Battery?

A trolling motor will run on a full battery at different times depending on a variety of factors. These include the setting the trolling motor is run on, the voltage the trolling motor requires, and the type and quality of battery in question. Ultimately, most single 12v batteries will last a full day of typical use. 

How Deep Should a Trolling Motor’s Propellor Be in the Water?

The trolling motor propeller should be deep enough to be fully submerged at the shallowest, but shallow enough to keep it free from debris or obstructions. Different bodies of water, applications, and vessels will demand the trolling motor be deployed to different depths. The angler should be ready to slide the trolling motor shaft up or down as the situation changes. 

Can You Run a Trolling Motor on a Car Battery?

You can run a trolling motor on a car battery since a car battery is just a 12VDC battery nearly identical to marine 12VDC batteries. However, when purchasing a battery for a trolling motor, you should purchase a high amp hour marine battery that is intended for use with a trolling motor. 

What’s the Point of a Trolling Motor?

The point of a trolling motor is to effortlessly and quietly move through the water to reach fishing spots. A trolling motor is a critical part of the supplies needed when kayak fishing. They should be a staple on all vessels as it affords the operator more control of the vessel than the outboard or paddles will. 

When Should You Charge a Trolling Motor Battery?

You should charge a trolling motor battery after each use at a minimum. It is highly recommended that you use an onboard battery charger that is plugged up nightly. This helps ensure that your trolling motor battery is fully charged every time you go.

How Do You Steer a Trolling Motor?

You steer a trolling motor by using a tiller handle, a foot control, or by some sort of electronic means. The method of steering will be completely dependent on the type of trolling motor you have. Thinking through the steering method is a critical part of trolling motor selection.