Kayaking has been my favourite hobby for many years now, and I’m sure that’s something many of you can relate to as well. But, if you like to fish from your kayak, or if you need to cover a lot of ground in your boat, you know how difficult and exhausting it can be to have to paddle all day.
A good trolling motor allows you to free your hands from paddling while covering more ground, and it’s indispensable for fishing. They’re also especially helpful if you get caught in some bad weather and need to get back to shore as quickly as possible.
Table of Contents
- What’s a Trolling Motor?
- Key Aspects of Trolling Motors
- Features to Consider
- Best Trolling Motors
- Picking a Winner
This could be you….
Today, we’re going to take a look at the key features of different motors, and review some of the best motors on the market to help you find the best kayak trolling motor for your needs.
What’s a Trolling Motor?
Trolling motors are propulsion devices designed for small crafts that attach either to the bow or stern of your boat to propel it in the water. They can be used with virtually any type of small boat, and they’re ideal for fishing since they generate very little noise.
These motors are also fairly compact and lightweight, making them easy to add or remove from your boat and transport wherever you need to go.
Key Aspects of Trolling Motors
What Makes For The Top Trolling Motor?
Before we get into the different features of trolling motors, we must first take a closer look at their critical attributes such as how they mount to the boat and their intended application.
The first thing you’ll need to concern yourself with is how the motor mounts to the boat.
Bow motors mount to the front of the boat, and they pull the vessel through the water. These motors are usually more powerful and provide increased mobility and control. These motors are mostly recommended for larger boats, but they can be used with kayaks as well thanks to foot pedal controls.
Transom mount motors are the most popular style for kayaks. These motors mount on the rear of the boat, and they push the vessel through the water. These motors are slightly less powerful, and a bit more difficult to control than a bow mounted motor. But, after a little practice you’ll be a pro at using this kind of motor, and since kayaks are relatively small and lightweight, you won’t miss the additional power that a bow mounted motor provides.
Manufacturers make several different mounts, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a kayak trolling motor mount for your kayak. Many paddlers even make their own kayak motor mount using mostly household supplies, like in the video below.
Thrust power refers to the power the motor has to generate to move the boat through the water.
It’s critical that the motor you choose has enough thrust power for the size of your boat. As a general rule, your kayak probably needs about 30 pounds of thrust power for the motor to work properly.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should only be looking at motors that generate 30 pounds of thrust, as a larger motor can help you maneuver more easily, especially in rougher sea conditions, or in areas with lots of snags.
You don’t want to go overboard, because you can certainly purchase a motor that’s far too powerful for your boat, but it’s usually a good idea to have more thrust power than you need. Minn Kota offers a helpful equation for determining thrust power on their website.
Another important aspect to consider is the length of the shaft the motor is mounted on. A shaft that’s too long will give you problems when boating in shallow water, and it will snag more easily. A shaft that’s too short won’t manoeuvre as well, and it will end up making noise that could potentially scare away fish.
To determine the shaft length you need, measure the distance between the bow (for bow mount) or transom (for transom mount) of the boat and the water line. For a bow mount motor, measure the distance between the bow and the waterline, and then add 20” to that number. The number you come up with is the minimum shaft height for your vessel. Tack on another 6” if you plan on fishing in rough water.
For transom mount motors, measure the distance from the transom to the water line, and add 16” to that number. Add 6” if you plan on fishing in rough water.
For example, if there’s 12” between the height of the transom and the water line, you’ll need a shaft length of at least 28”. You probably won’t find a 28” long shaft, but you’ll find plenty that are 30”, and that’s the ideal size for your vessel. If you fish in rough waters, you may want to consider the next size up, which would put you at a 36” shaft length.
For a more detailed look at choosing shaft length and thrust power for your boat, check out this helpful guide from WestMarine.
You’ll find motors that you can either control with your hand or your foot, as well as high-end motors that feature electronic controls.
Foot controlled motors tend to be a bit easier to get the hang of, and if you’re looking for a bow-mounted motor, they’re an absolute must, since you won’t be able to control a bow mounted motor with your hands from a kayak.
Foot controlled motors don’t respond as quickly as the hand-controlled variety, and they also add clutter to your boat, which is why most paddlers opt for a hand-controlled motor for their kayaks.
Hand controlled motors also offer real-time control over the motor, so you’ll be able to operate one with finer precision than you would if you went with a foot-controlled motor.
Electronic motors allow you to control every aspect of the motor from a remote control that looks somewhat similar to a video game controller. These motors have the most advanced features available and are considerably more expensive than hand or foot-controlled motors.
Trolling motors use deep cycle marine batteries to generate the power necessary to propel your kayak. Most motors come in three different voltage configurations: 12v, 24v, and 36v.
With a 12v motor, one 12v deep cycle marine battery is required to power the motor. With 24v motors, you’ll need two 12v batteries. As you’d imagine, you’ll need three 12v batteries 36v motors.
For most kayaks, a 12v motor provides more than enough power to get the job done. For larger vessels, 24v and 36v motors are preferred.
The final important consideration you’ll need to make before diving into the features of different motors is the type of water you’re going to be using the motor in.
Saltwater tends to corrode components more quickly than freshwater, so a trolling motor for saltwater is made from corrosion resistant materials, so it can stand up to the effects of the saltwater.
If you only fish in freshwater, you’ll be able to save some money by opting for a freshwater only motor. But, if you sometimes fish in saltwater, or you’d like to be able to in the future, it’s best to go with a motor designed for use in saltwater.
Features to Consider
Now that we’ve covered the critical components that you’ll need to consider with any trolling motor, we’re going to take a closer look at the features available with different motors – finding the best trolling motor for your will require consideration of the following:
Most trolling motors come with a variety of speeds and can operate in both forward and reverse. The best trolling motor would tend to include eight speeds (five forward and three reverse), but you’ll find motors that are even more versatile at higher price points.
For most anglers, an eight-speed motor provides more than enough versatility for their needs.
A battery indicator is a simple yet indispensable feature that you’ll probably want to look for in your next trolling motor. These indicators are typically located on or near the handle of the motor, and let you know how much juice you have left before you need to charge your batteries.
Unless you’re excited by the prospect of running out of juice a mile from shore, you’ll want to opt for a motor that includes this feature.
Some motors include an autopilot function, which allows the motor to control itself, and drive either in a straight line, or follow the contours of the coast. The best models with autopilot can even account for changing sea and wind conditions to keep you on course.
You’ll also find a variety of propeller blades with different motors. Depending on your needs, some propeller blade types will be better suited for your needs than others.
Two blade propellers are very popular, as they tend to require less energy to run and they also are less of a tangle risk than propellers with three or more blades.
Three blade propellers provide smoother operation, but they aren’t as fast as two blade propellers, and they can tangle more easily in areas with lots of seaweed and plants.
Four and five-blade propellers aren’t very popular for trolling motors, and you probably won’t be considering them for your use.
As technology continues to unlock new and exciting ways to make our lives easier, even trolling motors are getting an upgrade. The higher end trolling motors available today can provide a treasure trove of advanced features, such as GPS fish finders, and sonar.
For the discerning gearheads among us, you’ll probably want to take a closer look at these features, and see if you can snag some of them for a price that makes sense. Buyer beware: these features don’t come cheap! The average motor that includes features like GPS, sonar and fish finders usually runs well over $1,000, which is hard to justify for a simple trolling motor.
Best Trolling Motors
These days, there’s no shortage of capable trolling motors for your kayak. I’ve carefully selected five of my favorites to take a closer look at.
1) Newport Vessels X-Series 40lb Thrust
Newport Vessels has established a reputation as an industry leader when it comes to trolling motors. Their motors offer a good blend of value, features, and versatility, and countless paddlers swear by them
The X-Series is one of the most popular mid-level offerings available, and it’s packed with useful features you’re sure to appreciate.
This motor generates 40 pounds of thrust, which is more than enough power for boats up to 14 feet long. It hits a top speed of 3.5mph on the average kayak, and it provides about an hour and a half of continuous operation with a single 12v battery. A 10 light LED battery alert system lets you know exactly how much juice you have left.
It features a composite shaft for added strength and durability, and it includes a heavy-duty nylon mount for easy mounting to the rear of your yak. This motor is particularly easy to control thanks to its 30-degree tilting head and 6” telescoping handle. This motor has a standard eight-speed configuration with five forward speeds and three reverse. The propeller has three blades, and it provides very smooth operation. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a magnet for seaweed and tall grass
This motor is also well-built, with all stainless hardware so you’ll be able to use this in freshwater and saltwater environments.
Pros & Cons
- checkIdeal for saltwater or freshwater
- check10 stage battery indicator
- checkComposite shaft for durability
- checkTilting head and telescoping handle for easy navigation
- Three blade propeller tangles easily
2) Minn Kota Endura Max 40lb Thrust
Minn Kota is arguably the leader when it comes to electric boat motors, and their products need no introduction. Their Endura Max line of trolling motors combines industry-leading build quality, intuitive features, and great value.
This modest motor provides 40 pounds of thrust, which is ideal for most kayaks. This Endura Max motor will power boats up to 17’ long. The motor features Minn Kota’s proprietary Digital Maximizer, which optimizes power consumption to provide up to five times longer run time on a single charge compared to other motors.
The propeller is mounted to a composite shaft which comes backed by a lifetime warranty from Minn Kota. The other parts of the motor carry a two-year warranty, which is among the better warranties in the industry.
This motor includes a telescoping handle for easy control, and it mounts to the boat with a heavy-duty composite bracket which is resistant to sun, salt water and virtually anything you can throw at it. The bracket has ten different positions, and a quick release lever lock, which makes it one of the easiest motors to attach and detach from the boat.
The Endura Max series also features Minn Kota’s two blade power prop, which is specially designed to make quick work of seaweed, tall grass and other vegetation you may come across.
Pros & Cons
- checkIndustry-leading battery life
- checkLifetime warranty on the motor shaft
- checkPropeller doesn’t tangle easily
- checkFor fresh or saltwater
- Lacks power in reverse
3) GoPlus 46lb Thrust Trolling Motor
If you’re looking for one of the most affordable motors available that’s ideal for occasional use, this motor from GoPlus may be a good option for you.
This motor offers 46 pounds of thrust, which is more than enough power for most kayaks.
When it comes to features, you’ll find that this GoPlus motor holds it’s own with many of the competitors. It provides eight speeds, includes a battery indicator, and it’s 6” telescoping handle is easy to control. The shaft is high-strength composite, and it’s approved for saltwater and freshwater use.
This motor looks very similar to the X-Series from Newport Vessels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring the same build quality, or customer service support to the table. While I’d certainly trust this motor to do right by me for occasional use, it simply isn’t as well built as it’s more expensive competition, and many paddlers have had trouble getting these units serviced by reliable dealers when something goes wrong.
Also, this motor employs detent style controls, which aren’t necessarily a bad thing. However, some paddlers have reported that some of the detents have stopped working on their motor, which renders certain speeds useless.
For the money, this motor is ideal for an occasional fishing trip, or to keep around as a backup. But, if you’re looking for a heavy-duty motor that’s designed to last a lifetime, you may want to look towards a different option.
Pros & Cons
- checkBattery power indicator
- checkFor fresh or salt water
- Not as well-built as some competitors
- closeDifficult to find replacement parts
4) HK Bualo Trolling Motor
This trolling motor from a relatively unknown company delivers high power and reliable operation at an affordable price.
The Bualo motor delivers a little extra kick with its 55 pounds of thrust, which will provide extra power for the average kayak while offering a bit of extra headroom for use on larger crafts, as well.
It’s similar in design to the Newport Vessels X-Series, and it features a composite 36” shaft, eight adjustable speeds, 6” telescoping control handle, a battery indicator and stainless-steel components that are corrosion resistant enough for saltwater operation.
The three-blade propeller provides extra smooth operation, but it can be a bit of a liability when it comes to tangles. If it were up to me, I’d sacrifice the smoothness a three-blade propeller offers in exchange for a propeller that’s more resistant to seaweed and plants.
Pros & Cons
- check55lbs of thrust provides extra power
- checkBattery level indicator
- checkFor fresh or saltwater
- Propeller is prone to tangles
- closeDifficult to find replacement parts
5) Minn Kota Endura C2 Freshwater Trolling Motor
If your fishing trips are confined to freshwater environments, you’ll want to take a closer look at this incredibly affordable motor from Minn Kota.
This Minn Kota motor provides 30lbs of thrust, which is just enough for most kayaks. While it’s less powerful than most of Minn Kota’s other Endura series motors, it does include nearly all of their other features. You’ll find the same composite shaft with a lifetime guarantee, 6” telescoping tiller handle, patented lever lock bracket and Minn Kota’s proprietary Power Prop, which resists tangles better than nearly any propeller on the market.
Unfortunately, this motor doesn’t include a battery indicator, so you’ll need to keep track of how much juice you’re using so you don’t run out before you make it back to shore.
If you’re looking for a freshwater motor for occasional use and you don’t require any of the fancy bells and whistles that some other motors have, this model may be an ideal choice for you. At a price of around $100, it makes a great backup motor to have handy as well.
Pros & Cons
- checkLifetime guarantee on the shaft, two-year warranty on motor
- checkMinn Kota Power Prop propeller
- Can’t be used in salt water
- closeNo battery indicator
Picking a Winner
Which Model Trolling Motor Should You Choose?
While each of these motors would make a strong choice for your next fishing trip, we believe that one motor is the top choice as the best trolling motor available.
The Endura Max 40lb Thrust from Minn Kota is my choice for the best motor. This motor offers the most impressive array of features, at a price point that’s comparable to any of the competing motors of the same size.
Minn Kota has established itself as the industry leader for trolling motors, and they not only make quality products, but they stand behind them as well. You’ll find peace of mind with this Endura Max knowing that the shaft is backed by a lifetime guarantee, and the motor itself is backed by a two-year warranty. Minn Kota really do make the best trolling motor you can buy.
The two features that really stand out with this motor are its Power Prop propeller, which resists snags and tangles better than any competing motor, and the Digital Maximizer which provides up to five times the battery life of other motors. This translates to more time fishing, and less time worrying about untangling your propeller or charging batteries.