ICAST 2019: Year of the trolling motor

ORLANDO, Fla. — Four years ago, Minn Kota turned the fishing industry on its ear with the introduction of the Ultrex trolling motor, which sported a revolutionary new feature known as “Spot Lock” that can strategically hold a boat in place in open water. 

It gave Minn Kota a distinct leg up on the competition — and since then, everyone else has been playing catch-up. 

This week at the Orange County Convention Center, the industry issued its response. 

Lowrance, Garmin and Motorguide all unveiled new trolling motors during the annual ICAST fishing tradeshow — and all three feature their own version of Spot Lock technology, plus other bells and whistles that are likely to be a hit with bass anglers. 

One of them, the Garmin Force, claimed the coveted award for overall Best of Show award Thursday afternoon.

“I like the Force because it still has a bit of an old-school feel, but the technology is just amazing,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stetson Blaylock, who spent Tuesday demonstrating the Force for members of the media. “It’s amazing. It’ll do anything. But you don’t have to be a scientist to use it.”

The Force is the first trolling motor to include built-in Garmin CHIRP traditional and UHD ClearVü and SideVü scanning sonars. It’s a brushless motor that operates with almost undetectable sonar noise interference, meaning it works flawlessly with the popular Garmin Pan Optix technology, which also claimed ICAST Best of Show in 2018.

The motor features a wireless foot pedal that connects by Bluetooth, but feels and steers just like a standard cable-steered pedal. The unit also has a wireless remote, which gives anglers complete control, including point-and-go “gesture” steering. 

“It’s a brushless motor, which allows us to be 30 percent more powerful than our closest competition,” said Danny Thompson, regional sales manager for Garmin. “With gesture mode, the motor will literally turn in the direction that I move the remote. I can point to a spot over on the other side of the lake, and it will take us there. 

“It just has so many cool features that are going to make life easier for fishermen.”

Garmin wasn’t the only company known primarily for depthfinders to debut its own trolling motor.

Lowrance also made a major splash with its Ghost trolling motor, which as the name implies, is supposed to be virtually silent below the water and above it.

Company officials said they spent years developing the motor — and they started by buying every other model on the market and deliberately destroying them. They wanted to learn the other motors’ weaknesses and eliminate them from the Ghost.

“Because Ghost is Lowrance’s first trolling motor, we started completely from scratch, which gave us a unique opportunity to ask anglers what was most important to them in a trolling motor,” said Lucas Steward, Navico’s Trolling Motor Product Group Owner. “To get the quality we needed, we had to design and build it in-house. That resulted in the production of a trolling motor that delivers exactly what our consumers want: the most power, greatest efficiency and quietest performance – the ultimate trolling motor that’s versatile enough to fit any bass boat.” 

Since Lowrance’s Ghost is brushless, company officials say it generates 25 percent greater thrust than models from current competitors and delivers 45 percent longer run times on the same charge. They say that stat means you’ll get nearly an entire extra day of fishing off one charge.

The unit also has no sonar interference and a Smartsteer interface function that allows users to steer, adjust speed, set up route navigation or anchor at a current location with touchscreen control from a Lowrance display. It pairs with HDS LIVE, HDS Carbon and Elite Ti2 displays.

The trolling motor will be available in 47-, 52- and 60-inch models that will start at $2,999. 

Ironically, only one of the new trolling motors unveiled at ICAST 2019 was unveiled by a trolling motor company. That was the new The Tour Pro by Motorguide — a super-tough unit that features Pinpoint GPS anchoring to help anglers stay easily on one spot away from shore. 

“We’ve gone back to a full metal pedal — which is one of the things everybody always really liked about The Tour,” said Sam Carlisle, product development management for Motorguide. “It has a super-responsive, very rigid steering system, and we’ve added our industry-leading GPS accuracy in our Pinpoint technology, which we’ve already had on the walleye side.

“We’ve also added in a 360 breakaway into our bass series line and a super-rugged mount that will make this America’s toughest trolling motor.”

The show proved to be three days that could shake up the way anglers steer their boats from the bow. 

Officials from Johnson Outdoors — makers of Minn Kota trolling motors — said they welcomed the competition.

“We’ve known since we introduced the Ultrex that there would be an industry response,” said Tim Price of Johnson Outdoors. “Competition makes us all work harder. It’ll make us all better — and it’ll drive us to create the best experience possible for anglers everywhere.”