Adding more power to your kayak gives you peace of mind and hands-free fishing. (Ric Burnley /)
First came the sit-on-top kayak. Then the pedal kayak. Now anglers are demanding motorized kayaks to take them further and faster.
Adding a motor saves more than just human powered energy. A motorized kayak turns travel time into fishing time. Now that most kayak fishing tournaments accept motorized kayaks, competitive anglers are entering an arms race to find the most powerful and efficient motor. Off the tournament path, motors from freshwater to salt appear on plastic boats. To motorize a kayak, most anglers choose one of three options: electric outboard, trolling motor, or a factory-motorized kayak.
For anglers adding a trolling motor or outboard, the first step is choosing the right kayak. To cope with the strength and weight, choose a boat that is over 40 inches wide and has a capacity of at least 400 pounds. A shorter waterline less than 13 feet in length saves weight and makes it easier to control the boat.
Many kayaks are equipped with attachment points to accommodate a motor system. To save weight and reduce set-up time, some anglers choose a paddle kayak to motorize. Others choose to add a motor to a pedal boat for worry-free power and hands-free fishing.
Brandon Barton drives his Hobie Pro Angler with a Torqeedo electric motor. (Brandon Barton /)
Installing a lithium-ion battery electric outboard motor is the easiest and fastest way to propel a small plastic boat. Florida kayak fishing guide Brandon Barton uses a Torqeedo electric motor and matching lithium-ion battery on a Hobie ProAngler 360 pedal boat. “I use the motor to get to the fishing grounds and then I pedal when I fish,” he says.
Barton uses the Torqeedo in three ways: offshore fishing with live bait, backwater sight fishing and when participating in and pre-fishing a bass tournament. “Offshore, the electric motor is ideal for slowly hauling live bait,” he says. If a storm comes up and conditions deteriorate, Barton’s engine will bring it back to shore.
On land, Barton shifts deep into the swamp and then steps into the pedals to fish in shallow water. The real benefit comes when he participates in a bass tournament. Barton says the electric outboard is the fastest on the fishing grounds. “It’s especially valuable before fishing,” he adds.
Installation was easy. Barton used an Innovative Solutions after-market bracket to connect the engine to his plastic boat. To control the steering, he combines the existing rudder of the Pro Angler with the fins of the pedal system.
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Adding an electric outboard to a standard sit-in kayak requires upgrading a steering mechanism. Electric outboards use a series of wires that connect the engine to a control knob and throttle. The throttle shows speed, range and other important information about the engine. Barton says, “I never lost the load before the end of the day’s fishing. Most of the time, I come up with 30 percent left over.” The control knob turns the motor to steer the boat. Instead of turning his kayak on the motor, Barton relies on the Hobie’s rudder to steer the boat.
To transport his PA12 and Torqeedo, Barton removes the motor and battery and first loads the boat into the back of his pick-up arch with the stern supported by a bed extender. Many anglers rely on a small trailer to carry their motorized kayak. “Installing the motor and plugging in the power takes no longer than charging my fishing gear,” he says. Barton admits that the electric outboard and lithium-ion battery are more expensive than other power options, but the system is reliable and nimble, perfect for an angler who makes a living on his kayak.
Net fishing is child’s play with motorized hands-free calling. (Ric Burnley /)
The most accessible way to motorize a kayak is by adding an electric trolling motor. For a few hundred dollars, an angler can install a 45-pound thrust trolling motor and 12-volt deep cycle marine battery in almost any kayak.
The most economical way to add an electric trolling motor is to attach a tiller-operated motor to the side of the kayak. Choose a motor with a tail clamp and a 36-inch shaft. Install a bracket to keep the motor away from the side of the kayak. Aftermarket mounts are available from several companies, or Shadetree engineers can screw a 2×4 board over the tank compartment. Simply clamp the motor to the bracket, drop the battery into the tank compartment and get started.
For better handling and performance, anglers can mount a remote controlled trolling motor on the stern of the kayak. In many cases, the engine cover plate can be attached to existing mounting points on the kayak. With a remote control, the angler can control the direction and speed from the seat.
A trolling motor is not as efficient or as fast as an electric outboard, but users say the trolling motor is more agile. For ultimate control, install a GPS-enabled trolling motor that allows the operator to program the motor to follow a course or hold the boat in place.
Anglers can gain faster access to world-class fishing waters when their yaks are equipped with trolling motors. (Jeff Little /)
Tournament pro Marvin Goda (@mobbinoutdoors) has been using a trolling motor on his Native Watercraft Titan 12 for several seasons. “With the boat cut out, I can travel at about four miles an hour,” he says. Goda mounted the shaft and brace on the stern, but removed the control unit and mounted it closer to his seat.
Goda has also been upgraded to a Dakota Lithium 170 Ah battery. “It may be an exaggeration, but I can fish for three days without charging the battery,” he says. This is a valuable asset when fishing a tournament without reliable access to electricity.
For best fishing handling, some anglers mount an electric trolling motor on the bow of the kayak. Tournament Pro and 2018 Kayak Bass Angler of the Year Cody Milton (@codyakfish) uses a MotorGuide Xi3 with a 36-inch shaft on the bow of his NuCanoe Pursuit kayak. “I can point the bow at the structure I’m fishing,” he says.
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Milton added a mounting platform and secured the motor with the MotorGuide bracket. Its 100 Ah Dakota lithium battery saves weight and powers the engine for up to 10 hours.
Both anglers point out the importance of weight distribution when adding a trolling motor to a paddle or pedal kayak. Milton says, “I’ll move the seat back as far as possible in the cockpit.” This gives more space to stand and fish while controlling the motor with the foot pedal. When installing a trolling motor on a kayak, both anglers recommend arranging the battery, motor and seat so that the boat is balanced.
While some anglers prefer bow mount and others prefer stern mount, some anglers install a motor on each end of the kayak. Adding an electric outboard to the stern and a trolling motor to the bow turns a kayak into a mini bass boat. Marvin Goda says: “A lot of people come from boat fishing to kayak fishing and want the same performance that they had on their boat.”
Tournament pro Marvin Goda has been using a trolling motor for his Native Watercraft Titan 12 for several seasons. (Marvin Goda /)
Factory power supply
Electric outboards and trolling motors allow an angler to install a motor on almost any kayak. However, the trend towards the power paddle boat has resulted in several manufacturers launching their own motorized mini boats.
Factory propelled boats are rotationally molded sit-on-top kayaks designed to work with an electric motor. With some models, anglers can even choose between paddles, pedals or motors. In most cases the engine is placed through a well in the middle of the cockpit. The speed is controlled with a throttle and a rudder turns the kayak.
Tournament pro Roland “Tex” Butler (@that_dude_roro) has been using the Oldman Sportsman AutoPilot 136 for a year. “The factory boat is off the shelf and ready to fish,” he says. All parts of the system work seamlessly and the fit and finish is tight and reliable.
The Sportsman AutoPilot uses the MinnKota iPilot engine with GPS connectivity. Butler can program the boat to return on course or hold in position.
Anglers can go further and faster with less effort and more confidence. (Jeff Little /)
“The engine is easy to remove between trips,” he adds. The iPilot can be operated with a 12 volt deep cycle or lithium ion battery. The battery fits under the seat, making the kayak more stable. The wires run through the hull and all connections are weatherproof. Two kill switches turn off the engine if the propeller is exposed or the angler falls overboard.
When Butler arrives at takeoff, he simply installs the battery under the seat, drops the motor unit through the deck cupper and the boat is ready to go. “Assembling the boat is just plug and play,” says Butler. Since the motor is in the center of the kayak and reaching the shallow water, it can raise the motor to decrease the boat’s draft. Speed and direction are controlled with a remote control. A large rudder improves the maneuverability of the boat, especially at cruising speed.
Whether an angler is tinkering a trolling motor on a kayak, installing an electric outboard, or buying a factory-assembled motorized kayak, powering a small plastic boat has never been easier. With electrical energy, an angler can go further and faster with less effort and more self-confidence.