My first real bass boat was a new 1973 Raycraft Pro built in St. Augustine, Texas, right between Lake Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Tri-hulls designed with a larger center hull and two smaller side sponsons were cutting-edge for bass boat hulls back then, and every company had its own version.
The term “cutting edge” is relative because before the days of computer-aided design boat builders used a slower, analog design system called “trial and error.”
Still, my 17-foot Raycraft performed pretty well with a 65-horsepower Johnson school engine on its transom.
School engines were so-called because OMC sold them through select dealers after they were taken apart and reassembled by students at the company’s engine mechanic’s school for a full season. The motors were finally assembled by certified OMC mechanics, tested and sold at a substantial discount with new-motor warranties.
I finally replaced the 65 with a Johnson Javelin 85-horse engine, and it brought that hull design to life.
Perhaps the most forgettable accessory that came on that Raycraft was its Shakespeare bow-mounted trolling motor. It was a typical motor for the time, but it wasn’t much by today’s standards.
All motors operated on 12 volts back then and put out around 20 pounds of thrust. My foot-controlled motor was cable-steered in a push/pull manner by a semi-rigid cable that would have looked right at home controlling a lawn mower’s throttle.
The steering system barely overcame the motor’s propeller torque, making it extremely difficult to steer at high thrust levels. You really had to stand on the pedal’s toe or heel to make the motor turn when it was set to a higher speed.
Worse, the motor used up cables at a rate that had me keeping spares in the rod locker.
The development of pull/pull cable steering systems allowed the use of more-flexible cable that lessened the amount of foot pressure needed to steer a motor in either direction and practically eliminated cable failure. This made it much easier to zigzag through stump fields and follow the ragged edges of weedbeds and other cover where quick steering corrections are critical.
Another big benefit of cable steering is the ability to feel which direction the motor is pointing simply by the toe/heel angle of your foot as it rests on the steering pedal.
1970s trolling motor technology also included a speed-control system that often wasted more battery power than the motor used. When I stepped on the button, part of the battery power turned the prop, while the rest of it was routed through resistors and was lost as heat.
Selecting a slower motor speed sent less power to the prop and more to the resistors. Setting a higher motor speed directed more power to the motor and less to the resistors.
The only time all the battery power went to the motor was when the highest speed setting was selected.
Today’s “fast-switching” systems are much better. Instead of using resistors to waste power not used by the motor at slower speeds, new controllers electronically switch the motor on and off many times per second. The higher the speed setting, the more time the motor spends “on” and the less time it spends “off.”
At the highest speed setting or on “high bypass” the motor stays “on” all the time.
Minn Kota didn’t have much of a marketing presence in the South back then, but the first bow-mount motor I saw with electric steering was a black Minn Kota model that really stood out among all the white MotorGuides.
The first thing I noticed was that the motor deployed and stowed by sliding its shaft through the steering collar at the front of the mounting bracket. It then swung back to stow or down to deploy.
This meant you couldn’t clamp a sonar transducer to the bottom of a motor and attach its cable to the shaft; you had to leave the cable loose and swinging, where it could get snagged on brush or stumps. I believe this was a major factor behind the future practice of building transducers into motor housings.
Early electric steering was slow and not well suited for running the shallow obstacle courses where bass anglers liked to fish.
They were, however, great for following schooling fish in boat lanes or open water and for holding a steering direction when you had to take your foot off the pedal to net a fish.
Cable-steered motors instantly swing to one side or the other when you take your foot off the pedal while the motor is set for constant running.
Electric steering got even better at this with the introduction of Minn Kota’s compass-steered AutoPilot feature. Now, with GPS navigation built into both Minn Kota and MotorGuide electric-steering motors, a bow-mounted motor can handle your boat like a deck hand while you fish.
If we could merge the feel and positive quickness of cable steering with the unbelievable convenience of GPS-augmented electric steering, we would have the best of both worlds.
We don’t have to, though, because Minn Kota has already done it and named it Ultrex.
The new motor gives you cable steering with reduced steering effort — sort of power steering, so there is no more heavy steering effort at high speeds, even with 80 (24-volt) or 112 (36-volt) pounds of thrust.
And a Steering Lock feature maintains your boat’s heading when you take your foot off the steering pedal.
Ultrex motors also can include either Bluetooth-enabled i-Pilot with remote control or i-Pilot link which also networks the motor with certain Humminbird multi-function displays.
Both include great features like Cruise Control to hold your trolling speed with GPS precision, AutoPilot to hold a compass direction or follow a straight line of GPS waypoints, iTrack to follow saved plot trails from successful fishing passes and Spot-Lock to electronically anchor your boat at a set of coordinates as you fish.
Like most cable-steered motors, Ultrex uses a scissors-type bracket based largely on the successful mono-beam bracket used by Minn Kota’s cable-steered Fortrex motor. This means you can attach an external sonar transducer to the motor if you so desire and route its cable up the shaft.
Unlock the motor bracket and a Lift Assist feature practically propels the motor toward you for easy stowing.
The Spot-Lock feature has just been overhauled by Minn Kota to increase accuracy and add capability.
One of my favorite uses for the feature is to hold the boat off the bank while I net a fish and sit down to remove the hooks.
When using Spot-Lock as a fishing anchor, I sometimes hit the button a bit too early or late to position the boat exactly where I want it. This means I have to cancel the spot and reset the feature. Spot-Lock now includes a Jog control that lets you move the boat slightly in any direction to compensate for environmental changes, help you to follow moving fish or to correct for an early or late button press.
Ultrex models will be available in 24- and 36-volt models with 45-, 52- or 60-inch shafts. Scheduled for release this fall, the motors will range in suggested retail price from $2,199.99 to $2,799.99 depending upon voltage, shaft length and transducer and i-Pilot options. Visit minnkotamotors.com for more information.