Motorized kayaks have taken a while to catch on. Expensive novelties when they were first introduced, the advantages of motor power have more recently begun to hit home as kayak fishing tournaments have begun to allow them.
And for anglers who struggle with long paddles to and from their fishing spots, or who want the added maneuverability a trolling motor affords, adding a motor to their fishing kayak makes a lot of sense.
In this article, we’re going to assume that you’re not in the market to buy a new motorized kayak from the factory. Instead, we’ll be talking directly to fishermen who own a solid kayak and want to add motor power.
Does the idea of equipping your ‘yak with a motor get your heart pumping?
Keep reading to find out how!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Fishing Kayak Motor Basics
Selecting and mounting a trolling motor on a kayak is a completely different enterprise than equipping a jon or bass boat, and there are a number of points to consider carefully.
Types of Kayak Motors
The first thing to understand is the full range of your options, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each choice.
Electric outboards are a popular choice on fishing kayaks as they offer a winning combination of speed and reliable power.
Proven performers like Torqueedo’s Ultralight 403 AC don’t come cheap, but they’re capable of equivalent performance to a 1 HP gas outboard and can sip electricity with anything less than a max throttle setting, allowing you to fish all day on a single charge.
The best of the bunch are pretty light, too: the Ultralight 403 AC, for instance, weighs just a few ounces over 24 pounds with the integrated battery, saving precious weight capacity for fishing gear and you.
Electric outboards have some well-known strengths when powering a fishing kayak. The limitations on the power output don’t come into play with kayaks at all, so there are no worries there. There’s also no chance of a fuel spill or leak polluting the water, and they’re remarkably quiet.
And as battery tech has improved, running times have grown appreciably, and charging times keep shrinking.
About the only real disadvantage to an ultralight electric outboard is the cost. Simply put, this will be the most expensive option for motorizing your fishing kayak.
But it’s worth mentioning that a trolling motor, whether bow- or transom-mounted, provides greater maneuverability.
Electric trolling motors are nothing new in the fishing world, but when they’re mounted to a kayak, they can be game-changing.
Even low-thrust models have more than enough power to push a ‘yak, and the added maneuverability of bow mounting a trolling motor can be revolutionary, especially for anglers who stand to fish.
With a proper bow mount, you can keep the nose of your kayak pointed just where you need it, buck a current or wind hands-free, and motor to and from your launch at or near your hull’s maximum speed. Options like Minn Kota’s Edge aren’t going to break the bank, though the sky’s the limit when it comes to bow-mounting options.
One thing to keep in mind is that bow-mounted trolling motors are designed for heavy boats with high decks. You won’t need (or want) more than 45 pounds of thrust on a kayak, and you’ll want the shortest shaft length - typically 36 inches - you can find.
Transom-mounted trolling motors are the more popular option, and maneuverability is still good if the motor is placed far enough back.
Models like Minn Kota’s awesome Endura C2 30 provide plenty of power, a telescoping tiller for better control from your seat, and a nearly indestructible 30-inch shaft that’s just perfect for kayaks.
The strengths of a trolling motor are clear: they’re stealthy, inexpensive, and easy to power. Simple to start, they’re typically ultra-reliable, too.
That’s a lot to like, and they only really fall behind their alternatives in maximum thrust, which is simply not a big deal on a kayak, as we’ll explain below.
Gasoline outboards are far more common on larger boats than kayaks, as they can be sized up to generate as much power as is needed. But their smallest sizes can be a perfect fit for fishing kayaks.
Take the incredible Honda 2.3 HP outboard. It’s designed with a short shaft that’s perfect for fishing kayaks and produces enough thrust to max out your hull speed. It weighs just 29.5 pounds without fuel and starts like a dream.
The extra-long handle gives you total control from your seat, too, allowing a true stern-mounting option.
With extra fuel onboard, your range and running times will crush electric alternatives, but refueling while on the water is going to be tricky.
Keep in mind, too, that this engine is loud, subject to fuel spills and leaks, and doesn’t offer the maneuverability of trolling motors.
Gas outboards really shine, however, when the distances are extreme or access to electric power is poor. For inshore angling from a kayak, they make a lot of sense, too.
Need to get clear of a bad storm right now? Regularly run miles to your fishing spot?
Gas might be the best bet for you.
Total weight: maximum capacity matters
When you're assessing the right motor option for your fishing kayak, maximum capacity is one number you can’t afford to ignore!
Every kayak has a maximum capacity, and that number reflects the amount of weight it can take and remain properly buoyant.
“When you overload a kayak, you will make the kayak sink lower into the water than is recommended. While this won’t automatically sink your kayak, it will make it less stable and increase the risk of capsizing and harming yourself, your kayak, your gear, and potentially other people,” says Kern Campbell.
Sitting lower in the water will make your kayak easier to swamp, tip, and flip - not the recipe for a fun day on the water.
Start with the maximum capacity stated by your kayak’s manufacturer. Subtract your weight in clothing. Subtract the weight of the gear you need to bring - all of it.
The remaining number is the maximum weight of your motor, mount, and fuel or battery.
On a bass boat, a long shaft helps the prop reach the water and run deep enough to avoid cavitation, the formation of small bubbles that can damage the motor.
But on a kayak, a long shaft robs you of one of its chief strengths: a really shallow keel.
You want your motor to have a shaft no longer than 36 inches, with 30 inches being about right in most circumstances.
Speed and power: too much of a good thing
Kayak hulls are designed around the hydrodynamics that impart stability and good tracking; they’re not designed for planing like bass boats.
What that means is that no matter how big the motor or how high the HP, a kayak isn’t going to want to plane - rise up on its bow and lift the stern from the water - nor will that result in much control.
They’re just not designed for that.
All watercraft that don’t plane have a maximum hull speed determined by the physics of their length and width.
The math is pretty complicated, but it’s a function of water-line length and beam:
There are hull-speed calculators if you care to measure your kayak carefully, but 4 to 5 mph is going to be the answer pretty much across the board.
And the hard-and-fast reality of physics is that most kayaks won’t go any faster than about 5 mph, no matter how much motor is pushing them.
So be reasonable about weight and running times and get a small outboard or trolling motor with a thrust rating of 45 pounds or less.
Fishing Kayak Motor Mounting Options
Now for the truly tricky bit: mounting options and controls.
We’ll cover each in turn because you need to get the details right.
Transom or bow?
There are two general mounting options, transom or bow, but this subject is a tad more complicated than it might seem.
Stern mounting: fit and controls
Some transom mounts are designed for the stern, an excellent location or an outboard.
The issues you need to worry about are getting a transom mount that fits your kayak, and unless the motor that comes with one included, making sure that the motor will fit the transom you’ve chosen.
Be careful: this fit involves two separate issues:
Does the transom fit your ‘yak?
Does the motor fit the transom?
For some outboards, you’ll need a bracket to mount it to the stern.
Companies like Island Hopper sell Honda 35cc four-stroke outboards with transom mounting kits. This is a very smart way to go if you want a small gasoline-powered outboard, because their experts will help you get all the fit details right.
Don’t underestimate just how critical that is!
On the other hand, DIYers may choose to make their own, and if you’re handy enough, this can be a good option.
Electric outboards like the Torqueedo come with their own transoms, but again, you need to be absolutely sure they’ll fit your kayak.
The next issue to worry about with a stern mount is control. You need to be able to reach the controls of the motor you’ve selected from your seat.
For some outboards, a u-joint tiller extension will work, and Island Hoppers fits their kits with a system like this or foot pedal controls.
Whatever your choice, always use a kill switch and wear your PFD!
Transom mounting: fit and controls
For trolling motors, a transom mount placed behind the seat works exceptionally well.
This position allows easy control as well as a short reach for battery cables.
These systems will fit most kayaks, and with careful measurement and just a bit of DIY-handiness, you’ll have your trolling motor mounted in no time.
This mounting option is best for tiller-controlled trolling motors, and placement is critical. The further to the rear your trolling motor, the more control you’ll have when you apply thrust that’s perpendicular to the main axis of your kayak (sideways or at an angle).
If the mount is too far forward, turning your motor to the side will threaten to overturn your ‘yak rather than steer it!
Bow mounting: fit and controls
Bow mounting is starting to catch on, and it has incredible advantages in maneuverability, a short reach for battery cables, and relatively easy mounting in its favor.
Careful measuring is key here, as is a bow hatch that provides enough space for a battery and some way to rig the cables. A bit of DIY skill is probably necessary to get this system up and running, but the performance of this approach for kayak anglers who stand to fish can be impressive.
A bow-mounted system uses the typical trolling motor foot pedal, which allows total control over the position of your kayak. And even the lightest, smallest-output motors have many times the thrust-to-weight ratio they would have on a bass boat, so there’s no reason at all to go big or go home!
Bow mounts also provide easy landing and transportation as they’re designed to lift clear of the water on a large hinge.
It’s easy to see why they’re becoming more and more popular.
Motorizing a fishing kayak takes careful thought, precise measurement, and a touch of the old DIY spirit. But the results can be well worth the effort, as your kayak will take you places no paddle ever could!
We hope that you’ve learned as much from this article as we did writing it, and as always, we’re here to answer your questions and respond to your comments.
Please leave us a message below!