Best Trolling Motor – Unbiased Review for 2020

Review of Trolling Motors

Trolling motors are a critical tool to most anglers, especially in freshwater.  In this article, we identify the best trolling motor models based on our survey of 200 boaters.  And, we reveal which trolling motors are most desired among Bass Boaters, Freshwater (non-Bass) Anglers, and Saltwater boaters alike .

ABOUT THE STUDY

Before we get to the results, we need to first profile survey respondents to provide context.   Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) currently own a Minn Kota.  MotorGuide came in second at 16%.  Lowrance and Garmin are very new entrants and, as such, only a few people in our survey own one currently (1% and 0.5%, respectively).

The most common trolling motor model owned by respondents, in total, was the Minn Kota Terrova (17%).  This is a bow-mount electric steer model and is widely used by Freshwater (non-Bass) anglers.  Minn Kota Ultrex was the second most owned model (13%), followed by Fortrex (12%).  Minn Kota Ulterra (8%), Maxxum (7%), Edge (6%), PowerDrive (6%), MotorGuide Tour (6%) and MotorGuide X3 (5%) round out the remaining models with a sufficient sample size (n=10+) to include in our ratings.

Nearly 6 in 10 boaters (58%) in our survey added or replaced their trolling motor, while the remainder (42%) have the same unit that originally came with their boat.  However, one major exception is the relatively new and highly desired Minn Kota Ultrex.  Nearly 90% of Ultrex owners upgraded from some other model.

The average age of the trolling motors owned was about 3-4 years.  However, this too varied somewhat by model.   Some of the newer technology motors (e.g., Minn Kota Ultrex or Ulterra) skewed a bit younger (2-3 years old), while a couple of the more established models (Minn Kota Edge and Maxxum)  had a median age of 6-10 years.

 BEST TROLLING MOTOR MODELS OVERALL

In our survey, we asked boaters to rate their trolling motor on several factors and on an overall basis.  However, it is important to recognize that there is a huge disparity in the functionality and price of trolling motors today.  On the one hand, you have the traditional cable-steer models that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.  At the other extreme, the new GPS enabled, electric steer models can automatically hold your position (Spot Lock), follow a set path, and can even stow and deploy automatically for around $2K to $3K.  Though they can do much more than traditional models, they also have many more things to potentially fail and so it is important to keep this in mind when reviewing the ratings.  It is not a purely “apples-to-apples” comparison.

Satisfaction with Trolling MotorsIn our survey, the Minn Kota Maxxum and Fortrex had the highest overall rating of 9.0.  Both are fairly basic cable-steer models although Fortrex has lift-assist and is available in a more powerful 36-volt size which may be suitable for some of the larger Deep V fishing applications.

The high-tech Minn Kota Ultrex and Ulterra, and even Terrova, also received very high overall ratings.  As will be discussed later, the “Spot Lock” feature is truly a game-changer and a key reason for the high scores.

Another strong performer is the MotorGuide Tour (8.4), a bow mount cable steer model designed specifically for Bass anglers.  MotorGuide recently reintroduced the Tour series with updated features such as a “Zero-G” lift assist and an improved mounting bracket which might boost these ratings even higher going forward (current ratings are based on the prior version).  They also added the Tour Pro – a cable steer, GPS enabled version that is designed to compete with the Minn Kota Ultrex.

At the bottom of the list is the Minn Kota PowerDrive.  This was the company’s first electric steer model but is now somewhat obsolete in comparison to more recent offerings.

DETAILED REVIEW OF TROLLING MOTOR MODELS

The following is a more detailed review for individual trolling motor models in order of their overall rating.

Minn Kota Maxxum Minn Kota Maxxum Ratings

This bow mount, cable steer model doesn’t have a lot of fancy features.  But that is perhaps why owners rated it so highly in terms of reliability (doesn’t fail) and durability (can withstand punishment).  Simply put, there are fewer things to potentially break.

  • “I’ve never had an issue with the trolling motor. It has plenty of power for my use.” (Geno C., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “Durable…reliable…this is the original trolling motor that came on my 2005 Ranger.” (Bob B., Rating:8, Bass angler)
  • “Everything works as I would expect from an older motor with the exception that it jumps a bit at time when starting at high speeds. May be more of a mounting issue. (Robert S., Rating:9, Bass angler)

Retail price is approximately $950 (24v).

Minn Kota FortrexMinn Kota Fortrex Ratings

The Minn Kota Fortrex is a step up from the Maxxum and receives very high marks in nearly every area – including “Ease of stowing/deploying” thanks to its lift-assist feature.  About the only “complaint” of this motor is that some would love to have the “Spot Lock” feature available on other (GPS) models.  Of course, that would come at a much higher price tag.

  • “The trolling motor is on its second boat. It has performed flawlessly. Plenty of power and I have never run out of battery. It has been run through rocks and banged off of docks and keeps on working with no problems. (Michael N., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “Power. Reliability ease of maintenance. Ease of deployment.” (Randall R., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “I would like to have the spot lock feature and GPS availability.” (Richard W., Rating:9, Bass angler)

Fortrex retails for approximately $1,300 (24v).

Minn Kota UltrexMinn Kota Ultrex Ratings

This impressive GPS enabled trolling motor provides the ultimate control for serious bass anglers.  With Spot Lock, anglers can hold their boat at a set coordinate to enable them to concentrate on fishing instead of fighting the wind or current.  And, the foot pedal is both cable driven and power assisted for increased responsiveness and reduced effort.    However, as with most electric trolling motors, it is not as quiet as a pure cable-steer model and reliability can be an issue because of all of the electronic systems.

  • “Spot lock, durability, easy to use.” (Edward W., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “Spot lock is great.” (Charles S., Rating:8, Bass angler)
  • “So far I like everything but the price.” (Gerardo R., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “The control board in the foot has went out three times. Also took almost a year to get the spot lock to work correctly.” (Chris Dye, Rating:5, Bass angler)

As with other GPS enabled Minn Kota units, Ultrex can connect with Humminbird  fish finders through the i-Pilot Link system.  However, this is of little value to Lowrance and Garmin owners (and now you know why these companies have recently introduced their own trolling motors).

All of this great technology comes at a price.  The Minn Kota Ultrex will set you back nearly $3,000.

Minn Kota UlterraMinn Kota Ulterra Ratings

Ulterra is a similar unit to Ultrex but is much more popular among anglers of other Freshwater species (not bass) who tend to fish more in “open” waters.   It too is GPS enabled but unlike Ultrex, is purely electric steer.  As a result, its steering is not as responsive as Ultrex and therefore is not as suitable for bass anglers who often navigate tight spaces.

Another key difference is that Ulterra has power trim and auto stow and deploy.  A very handy feature for most anglers but especially for the elderly or those with physical limitations.

  • “I’m 65 now – can’t bend over I get dizzy. Electric was a way to let me compete in tournaments.” (Charles M., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “Spot lock is the greatest single innovation in trolling motors since the trolling motor was invented. With the added benefit of power stow and deploy an angler has a whole new world to enjoy. No more need for shallow water anchors or anchoring of any sort. However, the difficulty of raising the motor when there is a loss of electric power from the batteries is a major concern with the stow and deploy technology.” (Ken L., Rating:9, Saltwater Inshore)
  • “Makes moving from spot to spot much easier with auto deploy. I am 75 years old can’t kneel on the deck to pull the motor up.” (Gary L., Rating:8, Saltwater Inshore)
  • “Reliability issues with motor. Been in the shop several times with circuit board issues and susceptible to corrosion gremlins. When it’s working, it’s fantastic and customer support is very good.” (John M., Rating:7, Saltwater Inshore)

As with Ultrex, Minn Kota Ulterra retails for around $3,000.

Minn Kota TerrovaMinn Kota Terrova Ratings

This popular trolling motor offers some of the same GPS benefits (like Spot Lock and Auto Pilot) as Ultrex and Ulterra but at a lessor price.  One key difference is that Terrova doesn’t have the auto stow and deploy (and power trim) feature like Ulterra;  instead, it has a spring-loaded lift-assist system to help reduce the pull effort.  And, Terrova is purely electric steer and therefore not as responsive as Ultrex.  While this is fine when fishing in open areas, bass anglers (who often maneuver in tight areas) might not find it acceptable.

  • “It simply works very well, and is very reliable, no failures of any kind.”(Steven G., Rating:10, Walleye angler)
  • “I love that I can set and change headings easily, using it to steer the boat while powering with the outboard (low speeds, obviously) salmon trolling on Lake Michigan; I hate how difficult it can be to pull up/store while bouncing around in a chop on Lake Michigan. Spot Lock works great, makes jigging in 100-200 foot depths, changing spots simple and easy.”  (Timothy B., Rating:8, Great Lakes angler)
  • “Generally a very good trolling motor. Remote control is a bit complicated. Motor head could turn faster and more quietly when changing directions. Newest spot lock is exceedingly better than before but still needs help. For instance, it still allows about 5 feet of drift in all directions.” (Matthew S., Rating:7, Freshwater angler)

With its reduced feature set, the retail price for Terrova (starting at ~ $1,800/24v) is considerably less than that of Ultrex and Ulterra.

MotorGuide TourMotorGuide Tour Ratings

This traditional, cable-steer trolling motor gets very high marks for reliability, durability, efficiency and power.  Plus, the newly reintroduced version (not included in the present ratings) now includes their “Zero-G” lift assist system to improve the ease of stowing and deploying.

  • “Long time using and still going!” (Jerry B., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “Has been extremely reliable and easy to use.” (George C., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “Good motor that has held up well to abuse of fishing in shallow rivers.” (William B., Rating:8, Bass angler)

The MSRP for the newly released Tour Series starts at approximately $1,600 (24v).  The company also introduced Tour Pro – a GPS enabled, cable steer trolling motor designed to compete with Ultrex that retails for about $2,600.

Minn Kota EdgeMinn Kota Edge Ratings

This budget-friendly cable-steer trolling motor has been in the Minn Kota lineup for years.  And, while it is generally considered reliable, owners indicated that it can be somewhat difficult to stow and deploy.

  • “Never had a problem with it.” (Gilles F., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “Quite reliable.” (Tony B., Rating:10, Bass angler)
  • “It is heavy and hard to deploy and use as it gets older! (Bruce C., Rating:7, Bass angler)

At a list price of around $650 (24v), Edge is the least expensive bow mount/cable steer trolling motor that Minn Kota offers.

MotorGuide X3MotorGuide X3 Ratings

This value-priced basic model by MotorGuide gets decent ratings in most areas but owners feel the price may be a bit high for what you get (rated only a 6).

  • “The motor is quiet, dependable and doesn’t use too much power.” (Charles C., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “Could stand to be more heavy duty. Pivot points are weak.” (Dan B., Rating:8, Bass angler)
  • “Very dependable, workhorse. The deployment can be tough.” (Ryan P., Rating:8, Bass angler)

The MSRP for the X3 is around $750 (24v, cable steer).

Minn Kota PowerDrive RatingsMinn Kota PowerDrive

As mentioned earlier, this was the company’s first electric steer trolling motor but lacks key features found in newer generations.  For example, it is not GPS enabled and therefore does not offer Spot Lock.  And, owners find this older model difficult to stow and deploy.  While Minn Kota gets credit for pioneering the electric steer technology, this model now appears to be past its prime.

  • “Pro: Reliability and power. Con: can be a bugger to deploy to the water. Clunky to release the head from the cradle.” (Gerry B., Rating:9, Bass angler)
  • “Can be difficult to deploy as it sometimes gets stuck and I have to repeatedly hit it with my hand to dislodge it. The remote and pedal controls are much more intuitive and way easier to control than the MotorGuide that came with the boat.” (Kyle S., Rating:8, Bass angler)
  • “What I especially like is that it goes through almost any type of vegetation quite easily. What I don’t like is how hard it is to get the motor in and out of the water. It is not a particularly quiet electric motor, and I’ve had some issues with the motor using up the battery when not in use. (Steve B., Rating:4, Bass angler)

The MSRP for PowerDrive is around $1,300 (24v).

MOST DESIRED TROLLING MOTORSTrolling Motor Preference

In addition to identifying the best trolling motor models based on owner ratings, we also asked boaters which brand and model they would likely purchase if shopping for a new unit today.

The Minn Kota Ultrex is the most desired motor overall (21%).  Bass anglers, in particular, strongly favored this model. The main reason mentioned, by far, was the Spot Lock feature.

Trolling Motor Preference by Type of FishingMinn Kota Ulterra is the second most desired motor (15%) and is the preferred choice among freshwater (non-Bass) anglers.  The auto stow and deploy, in addition to the GPS/Spot Lock capabilities, was the key reason for favoring this model.  Many also liked the fact that it integrates with Humminbird electronics through the i-Pilot Link system (as does Ultrex).

Minn Kota Terrova is the third favorite.  It offers similar GPS benefits (like Spot Lock) as Ultrex and Ulterra but at a lessor price.  Plus, it has a reputation for reliability.

The final trolling motor that received considerable interest is the new Lowrance Ghost.   Bass anglers, in particular, were interested in this model.  A key reason is that it integrates with Lowrance fish finders (Minn Kota integrates with Humminbird).  Some also believe it is quieter than Ultrex.

CONCLUSIONS

Not long ago, trolling motors used to do pretty much the same thing – get you from point A to point B quietly.  You basically had to choose between a Minn Kota or a MotorGuide.  However, that has changed with recent innovations that offer boaters many more capabilities than ever before.  Plus, there are now two other big-name players to consider – Garmin and Lowrance.

As with many things in life, the best choice for you will depend on your needs and budget.  If you are a serious bass angler and can afford it, the Minn Kota Ultrex is the safe bet.  You have the steering responsiveness of a cable-steer system (with power assist) with the added benefit of the Spot Lock feature to hold you on the fish.  This trolling motor will put more fish in the boat vs. a traditional (non-GPS) trolling motor and is an especially good choice for those who compete in tournaments.

For those who already have a lot of money invested in Lowrance electronics, the Lowrance Ghost is an attractive alternative.  However, given its newness, the reliability of this offering is unknown at the present time.

For avid freshwater (non-Bass) or saltwater anglers who fish in open waters, the Minn Kota Ulterra or Terrova are tough to beat because of their GPS capabilities.  A key difference between these two models is that Ulterra has auto stow & deploy vs. lift assist by Terrova.  So, if you are an older boater or have physical challenges raising a trolling motor, the Ulterra may be a better choice for you.  Otherwise, go with Terrova for the lower price and likely greater reliability since there are fewer things to go wrong.  Another difference between these two models is that Ulterra will connect to Humminbird electronics (through i-Pilot Link) whereas Terrova will not since it has i-Pilot only (not i-Pilot Link) which is a hand-held remote-control.

Recreational anglers should take a close look at Minn Kota Maxxum or Fortrex – especially if you don’t need, or want to pay for, a GPS enabled unit. If you are running a bigger, heavier, boat such as a fiberglass multispecies boat or bay boat, then Fortrex will likely be better choice (since it is available in a larger 62″ shaft length and 36-volt size).  Plus, Fortrex has lift-assist to make it easier to stow and deploy.  Maxxum, on the other hand, is suitable for smaller, lighter boats and for those with a limited budget (costs several hundred dollars less than Fortrex).

Special thanks to members of the BoaterInput community who took the time to share their input.  This report would not have been possible without your feedback.   Let us know your thoughts or trolling motor experiences in the comments section below.  We would especially appreciate hearing from any Lowrance Ghost or Garmin Force owners since these newer models were not well represented in the present study.

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