Buyer’s Guide to Trolling Motors for Pontoon Boats
Purchasing a trolling motor for a pontoon boat can make a tremendous difference in your ability to find fish and stay on them.
Making the right decision in a trolling motor is actually not difficult, but there are some key features you need to know before putting down cash. First, we'll select a trolling motor brand, then a model, then mounting and other accessories.
Step 1: Select a Brand
Before you jump into a brand decision, step back and think critically for a moment. I often find that boaters have a tendency to make decisions based on one or two experiences with a brand, along with things they've heard from other anglers.
One factor that could make the brand decision for you is if you already have a fish finder on your pontoon boat.Trolling motor and fish finder manufacturers often collaborate to make their technologies compatible. This can be a major advantage if you'll be purchasing a more advanced trolling motor with GPS.
If you purchase a trolling motor with GPS, your fish finder can chart out plots for the trolling motor. You can also control the trolling motor with a fish finder control panel, which can be handy as you're walking around the boat.
If you own a Lowrance fish finder, which is capable of interfacing with a trolling motor, then you'll definitely want to choose a Motor Guide trolling motor.
If you own a Humminbird fish finder, then you'll want to choose a MinnKota trolling motor. Motor Guide and MinnKota are competitors who watch each other's steps pretty carefully.
When one brand comes out with something new, the other is sure to follow and improve. So, don't read about a nifty feature on one brand and expect it to be exclusive.
Step 2: Select a Model
The first step to determine the model you'll want is deciding where you'll mount the trolling motor.
Your main options are bow, transom (rear), or engine mount. There are benefits and drawbacks to each one, but if you'll be doing any actual trolling (dragging your bait around the lake with the power of the motor) with your trolling motor then definitely pick a bow mount trolling motor.
Many fishermen use trolling motors for fishing but never actually troll. For example, if you fish for bass, you'll probably never troll but may ant a trolling motor for fine adjustments to the boat without the noise of the engine to scare off the fish.
Personally, I've always found it far easier to control the boat with a bow mounted trolling motor. After all, it's easier to pull a rope or dock line than it is to push it. However, many anglers love the convenience of an engine mounted trolling motor.
Installing a trolling motor on a pontoon boat can actually be a bit tricky because many 'toons don't have a front lip around the fence on the front of the deck. This means that there is no room for the trolling motor to be mounted without modifying the front gate.
This leads some pontoon boat owners to choose an engine mount for install convenience, but I personally think it's worth the trouble to install on the bow.
When you pick the model of trolling motor out at the store, you'll need to choose a shaft length. On most boats, it's not difficult to make the right choice. On a pontoon boat, it's a bit trickier because of the high deck of pontoon boats.
For most pontoon boat purposes, you'll probably want a 60" (152.4 centimeter) trolling motor shaft.
Trolling Motor Thrust for Pontoon Boats
Do not skimp out on power. It's the #1 way to regret your trolling motor purchase. Pontoon boats are large and do not have the hydrodynamics of a V-hull boat, so I'd advise going as strong as you can.
The traditional calculation for choosing the amount of trolling motor thrust you need is to divide the total weight of your boat in pounds by 100. Then, take the result and multiply it by two.
So, a typical 22' pontoon boat loaded with gas and gear and a couple of passengers will be around 3,000 pounds. After calculating the formula, you'll need a 60-pound thrust trolling motor.
Personally, I find that the "rule of thumb" calculation above isn't suitable for most pontoon boats due to the hydrodynamics. I think most boat owners would be happier with a 65, 70 or even 80-pound thrust trolling motor. Coupled with a 24v or 26v (2 or 3 battery) system, you'll be trolling like a king.
If you'll be forking out the cash for the ever-popular Motor Guide Xi5, you should also know that MinnKota now makes trolling motors with similar features and some tweaks on the technology that is actually pretty cool.
If you're interested in the Xi5, be sure to check out the MinnKota Terrova with iPilot. The iPilot system is rather nifty.
What I like about the Terrova and the Xi5 is that they offer a remote control on a lanyard that you can use to control the trolling motor from anywhere on the boat. Additionally, you can control the motor with the controls on the motor itself or on your fish finder if it's compatible. Isn't technology grand!
If you think you might choose a Motor Guide trolling motor, then I highly recommend taking a second to use their trolling motor wizard. Answer a few questions and it will automatically tell you which motor you should pick for your pontoon.
It's worth going through to see what they recommend for you to consider, but I found the wizard to only recommend one motor (and it's not the one I wanted).
Some Excellent Pontoon Trolling Motors
Each of these trolling motors meet the requirements I mentioned above: an 80-pound thrust, a 60-inch shaft and a fish finder GPS system for either Lowrance or Humminbird.
My Personal Choice for a Pontoon Trolling Motor
After lots of research, I decided on this MinnKota Terrova (Check Price on Amazon). It interfaces perfectly with my Humminbird fish finder, has the power that I need for trolling in my 22' pontoon boat and offers the GPS and wireless remote that I wanted.
With a large pontoon boat, it's important to me to be able to control the boat from anywhere, so it's perfect. I also like that the remote has an LCD screen to show details of what's going on with the motor unlike the MotorGuide Xi5.
Step 3: Pick Accessories and Mounting Options
Unlike your boat's engine, the trolling motor is battery powered and does not recharge by running the motor. That means you'll need to charge the batteries at home before each trip. So, we'll need a few accessories to hook up the charging as well as some optional accessories.
The battery question is mostly a question of how much you want to spend and your personal brand preference as long as you get the right type. The type of battery you need for a trolling motor is a deep cycle battery.
A deep cycle battery is intended for longer battery drains that will often drain the battery entirely. If you used your pontoon boat's main engine battery for your trolling motor, you'd drain it and not be able to start the engine.
If you simply purchase a marine starting battery instead of a deep cycle, the longevity of the battery can be harmed and you wouldn't get as much use from each charge on a trolling motor. As for battery brand, this is the personal preference part of the equation.
One of the most popular and widely recognized options is Optima Blue Top (Check Price on Amazon). It's a starting and deep cycle battery that many are happy with, but after reading many negative reviews on Amazon, I decided to go with something different.
My Personal Choice for a Deep Cycle Marine Battery
I prefer an AGM battery that has no replaceable water in it like the Vmaxtanks Marine AGM SLA Deep Cycle Battery (Available on Amazon). There's a lot more to choosing a battery for your trolling motor on your pontoon. If you'd like to learn more, then check out the boat battery buying guide.
You may also be wondering if you can use a normal car battery on your pontoon. The answer is probably not. Even though some boaters do it without trouble, pontoon boats are not as hydrodynamic as traditional boats. You'll need two or even three batteries. We don't recommend doing that.
Charging the batteries on your pontoon can be a little more of a hassle because you have to climb up on the pontoon each time you want to switch the charger to a second or third battery.
Be sure to get one that is graded for marine conditions and has the connections for the number of batteries you'll use. Don't forget to get a "smart" charger to preserve the longevity of the battery. Going cheap on a charger is a great way to ensure you'll spend twice as much by buying new batteries in the near future.
I'd get the NOCO Genius On-Board Battery Charger (Available on Amazon) if you choose to have two batteries. For three batteries on your 'toon, grab this Minn Kota On-Board Digital Charger (Available on Amazon).