Best Trolling Motors: Buying Guide & Reviews

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If there’s a must-have item for your boat, it’s a trolling motor.

An excellent trolling motor is the ideal way to navigate tricky situations, creep up on fish without spooking them with a loud outboard, and stay in position when pushed by tide, wind, or current. It’s also a great option for stealthy trolling.

Moreover, if you fish from a Jon Boat, a powerful trolling motor may be the only engine you need!

But if you’re new to trolling motors, it pays to do your homework before you pull the trigger on a model that won’t suit your needs or fit your boat.

We’d like to help by offering a comprehensive guide to buying the best trolling motor, a few helpful pointers when selecting one, and reviews of some of our favorites.

Bow-Mounted Electric Trolling Motors

Transom-Mounted Electric Trolling Motors

Engine-Mounted Electirc Trolling Motor

What is a Trolling Motor?

A trolling motor is a small electric motor attached by a shaft to a propeller. Mounted on the deck or gunwale of your boat, it can be controlled by hand, foot, or electronics, allowing precise, quiet maneuvering.

Sizing Up the Trolling Motor Competition

In all our reviews, we strive to be fair and honest, and we won’t recommend a product we wouldn’t buy with our own hard-earned money.

There are plenty of trolling motor manufacturers, but very few that we’d trust to perform day after day, season after season. These new players, companies like Goplus and Haswing, just don’t deliver a level of quality that we can recommend, especially if you’re running them as a primary motor.

An exception to this is Newport Vessels, and if you fish from a kayak or canoe, they’re worth a close look.

But for anything larger, including Jon Boats, there are really only two names to consider: Minn Kota and Motorguide. Both brands have outstanding reputations, and while Minn Kota is generally preferred because of its high-tech options and customer support, both companies offer a lot of motor for the money.

But don’t take our word for it; see what the experts have to say!

That’s why our shortlist will only feature these two brands.

Every trolling motor we’ve reviewed is a model we’d buy or recommend to a friend (with the exception of the engine-mounted variant).

No “One Size Fits All:” What We Consider When Selecting a Trolling Motor

Trolling motors come in a range of thrust outputs, shaft lengths, and mounting/control options.

To make the right choice, you need to know what to look for, and match that to your fishing conditions and boat specifications.

Power

To get the most from your trolling motor, you need to match its power to the weight of your boat. You can be a bit generous, of course, and give yourself a bit of extra oomph, but too much trolling motor isn’t going to turn you into an electric speed demon.

That said, a bit of extra thrust can really help if you regularly fish in currents, tides, or strong winds, all of which can strain a motor that’s otherwise just enough.

  • 2 pounds per 100 pounds of loaded weight is the rule. Unlike outboards, a trolling motor’s thrust is measured in pounds rather than horsepower.

Batteries

Trolling motors are electric engines and they take power systems in multiples of 12v: 12v, 12/24v, 24v, and 36v. More electricity is required to run more powerful trolling motors, and a 24v system requires two 12v batteries, whereas a 36v system obviously takes three.

According to the experts at Minn Kota, motors rated for 55 pounds of thrust or less will probably need one 12v battery, while those producing 68-80 pounds of thrust will demand two. The most powerful trolling motors, those generating a full 101-112 pounds of thrust, will require three.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll want a motor that sips electricity, keeping your battery alive for as long as possible.

As plenty of anglers can attest, it’s going to be a really bad day when your batteries die just as the fish really start biting!

Mounting System

This is where things can get a bit complicated.

Trolling motors are designed primarily for bow mounting, and many designs use a sliding hinge to allow them to be quickly raised and lowered into the water. Other systems exist, too, including transom mounts at the stern and a few that attach directly to the cavitation plate on your outboard.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each mounting style:

Bow mounting – Bow mounting a trolling motor is the most popular option because it provides the most maneuverability and hands-free control. With the point of thrust at the bow, it’s easy to turn even a big boat on a dime, allowing for precise maneuverability.

And because bow-mounted systems are designed to be controlled with a foot pedal, they allow you to fish while steering your boat–a huge plus!

Bow-mounted trolling motors take up a bit of deck space, as they’re usually mounted with a large, sliding hinge. They’re also a reasonably expensive option.

Transom mounting at the stern – Transom mounting a trolling motor at the stern is a great choice for smaller craft like Jon Boats, in that they can replace a standard outboard. While not as precisely maneuverable as bow-mounted alternatives, this position gives you excellent control and probably a bit better speed than bow mounting.

This is generally not a good position to mount a trolling motor if you’re running a larger boat with an outboard, and keep in mind that this will require one hand to operate while you’re stuck in the stern, by the motor.

Transom-mounted trolling motors are easy to install, relatively inexpensive, and take up almost no space.

It’s easy to see, then, why they’re an attractive choice if you run a small boat.

Engine-mounting – A final option is mounting the trolling motors directly to the cavitation plate of your outboard. This system is steered through the outboard, making it the least maneuverable option available.

However, it doesn’t use any deck space, making it a good choice if that’s already a problem for you. Be aware that these are often the most expensive choice. They also offer short battery life, and their long-term durability is questionable.

We’ll review one model, but we really can’t recommend this system.

Shaft Length

This is a very important point to get right.

The shaft between the engine and propeller on trolling motors tends to be long so it can stretch from the gunnel to the water below, keeping the propeller constantly submerged.

But since the height of the gunnel varies from boat to boat, you need to measure that distance carefully–and do so at the point at which you’ll be mounting your motor!

  • The propeller needs to be under water. You need to keep that propeller 12 inches under water to stop it sucking air from the surface and making a lot of noise.
  • If you regularly fish in chop, you need a longer shaft to keep the prop submerged. We recommend that you add an additional 5 inches to the lengths suggested below (not for engine mounting, obviously) to keep the blades where they need to be.

Minn Kota provides a handy guide for figuring the right shaft length for your boat and mounting position:

Transom Guide

TRANSOM TO WATERLINE

Recommended Shaft Length

Waterline Shaft length
0″ – 10″ 30″
10″ – 16″ 36″
16″ – 20″ 42″
Over 22″ Consult Factory

Bow Guide

BOW TO WATERLINE

Recommended Shaft Length

Waterline Shaft length
0″ – 10″ 36″
16″ – 22″ 42″ – 45″
22″ – 28″ 48″ – 52″
28″ – 34″ 54″ – 62″
34″ – 44″ 72″

Engine Mount Guide

Legalities

Many states require any boat equipped with an engine to be registered, and that includes trolling motors! Check with your local wildlife and fisheries agency and be sure you comply with the law.

Best Trolling Motor Reviews

Bow Mounted Trolling Motors

Minn Kota Fortrex 80/112

Shaft lengths: 45” and 52”

Thrust: 80 lbs. or 112 lbs.

Battery requirement: 24 or 36 volts

Minn Kota is the dominant name in trolling motors, and you’ll see more than a few of their products on our list of favorites. The Fortrex demonstrates why, as its no-nonsense performance gets it done in the worst of conditions, all day, every day. We really appreciate its bomb-proof simplicity and quality, and while not packed with the features of the Terrova, it’s also not plagued by any technical troubles.

The Fortrex is available in two thrust options: 80 pounds and 112 pounds, drawing on a 24 and 36 volt system, respectively. That’s pretty much standard for Minn Kota trolling motors.

The 80 delivers plenty of thrust for an appropriately sized boat and load, and it does so with a more gradual “ramp-up” than the brawny 112. In fact, while the larger of the two is the better choice if you fish in heavy wind, be aware that it delivers a wallop. Watch your footing as you engage this motor!

That power is delivered via a composite shaft available in two lengths. Minn Kota’s well-respected weedless prop, the Weedless Wedge 2, works very well and is true to its name.

As you can see, there’s a lot to like about either Fortrex. Controlled by a precise foot pedal, you won’t need to fight your motor while you fish. It runs quiet and cool, too, and Minn Kota’s Digital Maximizer tech ensures that you’ll have battery to spare at the end of the day. At low throttle positions, you won’t outfish this motor, but if you’re constantly running these motors at 50 percent or more, you’ll have just hours.

Both are heavy systems mounted via the usually sliding hinge, but Minn Kota fits the Fortrex with a gas-filled piston and spring, cutting the felt weight in half when lowering these bad boys into the water or stowing them. That’s a very nice touch, and something your arms and back will appreciate.

If you run a larger boat, and you’re in the market for a bow-mounted trolling motor, this is a fantastic choice.

Pros:

  • Either option provides plenty of power
  • Awesome mounting system
  • Precise pedal
  • Awesome battery life
  • Bomb-proof simplicity

Cons:

  • Not a great choice for small boats

Minn Kota Terrova 80/112

Shaft lengths: 45”, 54”, 60”, and 72”

Thrust: 80 lbs. or 112 lbs.

Battery requirement: 24 or 36 volts

Like the outstanding Fortrex, Minn Kota’s Terrova is designed for larger boats and/or foul weather. What sets it apart from its rival is a long list of high-tech bells and whistles. Whether that’s something you want is up to you, but our research reveals that while some of these are simply amazing, they often fail long-term.

The Terrova’s power plants are shared with the Fortrex, and they’re functionally identical in this respect. That means that you can expect fantastic power, and with the larger of the two, even, jarring levels of thrust. Minn Kota’s Digital Maximizer works its magic here, too, and battery life is excellent as long as you’re reasonable with the throttle.

The Terrova and the Fortrex also share the same excellent weedless prop and awesome mounting system, making lifting and lowering this beast of a motor pretty easy.

That’s where the similarities end, however.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Terrova offers four composite shaft lengths, accommodating a wider range of boats: 45, 54, 60, and 72 inch versional are available.

But what will wow you, explaining why this model is so incredibly popular, is the i-Pilot system controlling its function and offering a long list of amazing features. When paired with iOS or Android smartphones, you can control your direction and speed from your phone, or rely on the Terrova’s large LCD screen. It’s also transducer-friendly, offering a mount for the heart of your fish finder.

The i-Pilot system also offers “Spot-Lock,” which is effectively a GPS-enabled automatic anchor that can keep your boat in place without you needing to do anything. This position can be adjusted in five-foot increments, too.

Add to that “iTracks” that can record as many as 16 two-mile routes, and you have an unbeatable hands-free trolling system.

But long-term issues with the electronics that drive these incredible features are unfortunately common. Minn Kota’s been working on that, as well as the software that powers the Spot-Lock to improve its performance in rough conditions.

If you’re more about simplicity and bomb-proof function, the Fortrex is probably for you. But if those bells and whistles sound enticing, you might want to give the Terrova a try.

Pros:

  • Either option provides plenty of power
  • Awesome mounting system
  • Awesome battery life
  • Innovate remote control
  • Awesome high-tech features

Cons:

  • Some durability issues with the electronics
  • Not a great choice for small boats

MotorGuide X3 45

Shaft lengths: 36” and 45”

Thrust: 45 lbs.

Battery requirement: 12 volts

Not every angler runs a large boat, and plenty find the top-end Minn Kotas too rich for their blood. Indeed, MotorGuide’s X3 45 is an excellent option if your loaded weight is about 2000 pounds, and it’s priced right, too! And while MotorGuide doesn’t enjoy the reputation of Minn Kota, it’s been a friend to fishermen for years, and you’ll see more than a few mounted on the bows of bass boats.

Rock-solid performance explains why.

The X3’s quiet motor produces 45 pounds of thrust, and for popular aluminum boats like the Crestliner Bass Hawks, that’s plenty of power. Driven by an excellent prop attached via a composite and stainless shaft, you’ll experience no problems with corrosion.

Long-term users report no trouble with this model–and that’s something we really appreciate, as nothing is more frustrating than trolling motor problems when the fishing’s on!

Controlled via a foot pedal with four feet of cable, we think the X3 is responsive and easy to use. It’s also battery-sipping, which translates into more time on the water. Driven by a 12 volt system, you won’t need to buy and store multiple batteries, keeping costs down and maximizing precious deck space.

MotorGuide’s X3 doesn’t offer fancy bells and whistles, and you won’t find it delivers more power than you need. But if you’re looking for an affordable, reliable trolling motor that’ll stand the test of time, this is a great place to start.

Pros:

  • Plenty of power for boats weighing less than 2500 pounds when loaded
  • Easy to install
  • Awesome battery life
  • Easy to operate
  • Affordable
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Best with boats under 2500 pounds loaded

Transom-Mounted Trolling Motors

Minn Kota Endura Max

Minn Kota 1352145 Endura Max 45 Transom Mount (45-lb Thust, 36' Shaft)
Amazon 

Shaft lengths: 36” and 42”

Thrust: 40, 45, 50, and 55 lbs.

Battery requirement: 12 volts

Minn Kota knows that a lot of folks run a trolling motor as their only engine on a small boat, and the Endura Max is their nod in the direction of the needs of these anglers. With a variety of shaft lengths and thrust ratings on offer, all backed by the Minn Kota name, this is a popular choice for everything from Jon Boats to canoes.

The Endura Max is available in 40, 45, 50, and 55 pound thrust models, in either a 36 or 42-inch shaft. That makes it easy to fit to a variety of different boats, and the transom mounting system is very easy to use and incredibly secure.

Controlled by a telescoping tiller, you won’t have trouble keeping your hand on the throttle, whatever your seating position and deck layout. It also offers a truly variable speed throttle, which prevents problems like leaving the throttle on low by accident, and thereby draining the battery.

That’s a great feature, and something we look for in a transom-mounted motor. That tiller provides precise, easily-adjusted speeds, another point in favor of the Endura Max. Overall, this excellent throttle is easy to use whether you’re underway or just trying to maneuver into a tight spot.

Like the bow-mounted Minn Kotas we review above, the Endura Max is equipped with a Digital Maximizer that extends battery life. Real-world use–and really hard use–still provides 9-10 hours of power, more than enough for most anglers.

Equipped with a 3 ¼ inch Power Prop to generate the most thrust from the engine, you can switch to an aftermarket Weedless Wedge 2 if that something your conditions demand. The Endura Max’s composite shaft is tough and trouble-free, and probably the best in the business in this respect.

We like this bow-mounted trolling motor a lot, and given its wide range of options, durability, and ease of use, it’s hard to beat.

Pros:

  • Plenty of power for small boats, with lots of options for fit
  • Easy to install
  • Awesome battery life
  • Awesome throttle
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Power cable may be short for some deck layouts

MotorGuide R3 40/36″

Shaft lengths: 36”

Thrust: 40. lbs.

Battery requirement: 12 volts

If there’s an area where MotorGuide really offers Minn Kota a run for its money, it’s transom-mounted motors. For small boats, the excellent R3 is a great choice, but be aware that it’s only available in a 36 inch shaft. If that’s not a good fit for your boat, you’ll want to take a closer look at the Minn Kota Endura Max.

MotorGuide’s R3 delivers 40 pounds of thrust, and for a boat weighing less than 2,000 pounds fully loaded, that’s plenty. On lighter Jon Boats, this motor works admirably as a replacement for an outboard, and you’ll often see it in just that role.

You mount the R3 with the usual transom clamp, and it’s rock solid and plenty tight.

The motor is controlled via a telescoping tiller offering five forward and two reverse speeds. In our experience, that’s more than enough, and you can expect awesome battery life if you keep that throttle at reasonable settings.

With six inches of telescoping capacity, reach won’t be an issue, either, wherever you’re sitting in the stern. Overall, we prefer the continuous throttle options on the Minn Kota, but we really can’t complain about the MotorGuide in actual use.

In fact, the R3 has an impeccable reputation for reliability, and we think it’s a motor you can count on season after season.

Pros:

  • Plenty of power for small boats
  • Easy to install
  • Awesome battery life
  • Easy to operate
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Only one shaft length

MotorGuide R5

Shaft lengths: 42”

Thrust: 70, 80, 105 lbs.

Battery requirement: 24 and 36 volts

If you run a larger aluminum boat without a foredeck capable of bow-mounting, or if you need a lot more power than most transom-mounted motors provide, the R5 might be the best choice for you. While it’s only available in one shaft length, 42 inches, its power is tempting if that’s a good fit for your boat.

The R5 is a beast of a transom trolling motor, offered in three thrust ratings: 70 pounds, 80 pounds, and a whopping 105 pounds. Drawing on either a 24 volt system for the two “lower” ratings, or a 36 volt system for the 105, you’ll need to think about deck space if you make this choice.

But the R5 is a solid investment if you need that power, and for anglers who’re running a trolling motor in place of a small outboard, this model is close to ideal.

The R5 runs smooth and cool, and its reputation for reliability is impressive. Whichever powerplant you choose, that thrust is delivered via a composite shaft ending in a three-blade prop.

Controlled via a long tiller, there’s no telescoping here, but then it’s also not really needed. Clearly designed for larger craft, this is probably not your best bet on a small Jon Boat! Like the excellent Minn Kota’s, the R5 features a variable throttle, a thoughtful addition that make this one of our favorites.

For larger boats or as an alternative to a small outboard, you can count us as impressed!

Pros:

  • Massive power for small boats
  • Easy to install
  • Awesome battery life
  • Awesome throttle
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Only one shaft length

Engine Mounted Trolling Motors

Minn Kota EM

Minn Kota EM 55 Engine Mounted Trolling Motor
Amazon 

Thrust: 55, 80, 101 lbs.

Battery requirement: 12, 24, and 36 volts

To provide you a thorough overview, we’ve included an engine-mounted model in our reviews.

After careful consideration, we’d hesitate to recommend this motor or mounting system. Given poor battery life, low maneuverability, and durability issues, even the best of the bunch just can’t compete with the alternative mounting options.

This caveat notwithstanding, if you want to run an engine-mounted trolling motor, there aren’t a lot of options, and Minn Kota’s the only game in town we’d trust. As far as we’re aware–and we looked a lot–MotorGuide doesn’t produce an engine-mounted motor, and the companies who do don’t compete favorably with Minn Kota.

Unlike other options, this motor attaches directly to the cavitation plate of your outboard, and is securely bolted in place. Its position means that unlike alternatives, it’s relatively protected from bumps and bruises by the outboard itself.

Minn Kota’s EM series, so-named for Engine Mount, offers a single prop powered by one of three motors, either a 55 pound, 80 pound, or 101 pound thrust model. As you’d expect, the cost of increasing that thrust is an extra battery at each step, so think carefully about how much motor you really need, how much storage space for batteries you have, and what you’re already doing on that front.

The EM’s speed settings are controlled by an 18 foot corded remote, giving you complete control over forward and reverse speeds. We’re not thrilled that this isn’t a wireless system, but as the only real option, if this is what you’re looking for, you’ll need to learn to live with it.

Steering is controlled via your outboard, and because of that, and due to the limited turning radius this will offer, expect engine-mounted motors to underperform in tight spaces, especially when compared to bow-mounted models. That said, if quiet, relatively straight-line trolling is your intention, this motor is an acceptable choice.

As all of the larger Minn Kotas do, the EM runs the excellent Weedless Wedge 2 prop, and we have nothing but good things to say about that. It runs quiet and cool, and we’re impressed by how stealthy this motor is.

One common problem with the EM series, however, is seal failure and eventual leaking. Once water intrudes into the prop housing, you can expect problems due to corrosion. Worse still, battery life will be highly dependent on how hydrodynamically efficient your hull is, and as we mentioned above, expect very poor performance in this respect relative to the other options.

Pros:

  • Great power options
  • Quiet
  • Infinitely variable throttle control

Cons:

  • Corded remote
  • Poor seals and durability
  • Poor battery life
  • Low maneuverability

Final Thoughts

There are no winners here, and really no losers, either, with the possible exception of the engine-mounted EM series from Minn Kota. With that important caveat in place, we can heartily recommend any of the other motors we reviewed, and you should select the right one for you based on what you need, with no worries about quality, durability, or performance.

Whichever you choose, we’re sure you’ll be happy you did!

If this guide has helped you make your choice, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

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