July 30, 2012
Time was, backtrolling was accomplished with a small tiller outboard, putt-putting backward into the waves, using water resistance against the flat transom to slow your progress to a crawl. Subtle left-right adjustments of the tiller, along with goosing or diminishing the throttle, enabled you to gain, lose, or hang in place against the wind. The cumulative effect was to maneuver your boat with a surgeon's precision, simultaneously presenting a livebait rig or jig beneath the boat, interpreting bottom content, feeling for depth changes and, most importantly, teasing fussy walleyes into biting.
Ah, those were the days! But they still are. The tactic remains as effective as ever. Nowadays, we simply have more tools, fancier methods, and a wider range of tactics at our disposal.
Back in the late 1960s, walleye anglers employed those deadly backtrolling tactics not only because they were new, but effective -- and because, well, they simply didn't have many other tools at their disposal. Boats and outboards for fishermen were not yet gargantuan, and electric motors were scarce to nonexistent.
When transom-mount electric motors came along, they expanded angler repertoire by using infinitely adjustable electrics to enhance precision backtrolling even further. But their weakness was their weakness: 12-volt systems did not allow power presentations in strong winds. It wasn't until beefier 24- and 36-volt bowmount electrics came along that folks began adopting the radical tactic of trolling the wrong way -- bow first, as if using the pointy end of the boat could possibly be as precise as going backwards! This also fostered the growing use of faster presentations like bottom-bouncers and spinners tipped with nightcrawlers.
Well, guess what? It not only worked, but excelled, when quicker coverage techniques were in order, such as covering expansive reservoir flats. Such heretical maneuvers really weren't possible, however, until the new wave of powerful bowmounts hit the angling scene, providing anglers the oomph! to propel the boat at spinner speeds, yet with foot-control precision to hug contours while handholding a rod, or perhaps placing one or more rods in holders. Evolution, angling style.
For a great while, you either belonged to the backtrolling brigade or were one of the bowmount brigands; few folks thought of doing both interchangeably. It would take years for anglers to recognize that it didn't matter which end of the boat you preferred. It was the end result -- catching walleyes -- that was most important.
Fast-forward to recent times -- say, the past decade -- when the walleye world experienced an even stranger turn of events. History will perhaps never document who it was that first dreamt of using both a transom outboard and bowmount electric simultaneously; but out of such inspiration (likely born of desperation) rose a new wave of trolling tactics -- ones now incorporated at the professional level, yet only attempted by a handful of the rest of us. But once their rationale and effectiveness are exposed, who knows how far and fast the concept might lead?
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The original co-propulsion of outboard and bowmount electric likely evolved while planer-board trolling on big water, when some enterprising angler needed the added power of a kicker outboard to maintain trolling speed in wind and waves, yet got tired of steering the tiller. In a moment of stark raving madness, he lowered the bowmount, dialed up the power, and began steering from the bow while the transom-mounted kicker outboard, pointed straight forward and running at a fixed trolling speed downwind, simultaneously provided most of the thrust. It worked!
As Minn Kota's generation of AutoPilot bowmount electrics entered the scene, you could do one better: Point the boat in the desired direction, turn on the AutoPilot feature, and the electric would make continuous small adjustments to keep pointing at the preset heading, all the while letting the kicker (once again set to steer straight forward at a set speed) provide the correct amount of muscle to present a crankbait, spinner or spoon at the proper trolling speed. AutoPilots with a long steering extension cord or cordless remote pedal also allowed you to remain in the back of the boat, yet tap the steering pedal a bit left or right to readjust your compass heading -- another bonus.
And if you didn't have an AutoPilot, you could sit up front and steer a traditional foot-pedal electric, which admittedly grows uncomfortable when trolling and bouncing in big waves; or cinch the bowmount steering adjustment down tight to keep it running in the right direction in calm seas; move to the back of the boat while fishing; and make the occasional dash to the bow to readjust the steering with a toe-tap when needed. All of which, it turned out, also worked for trolling across shallow flats.
Hnh? If this combo gelled, what other loopy schemes might also work?
Well, as anglers progressively moved to larger console outboards, they began losing the quick response of tiller backtrolling setups, although the growing popularity of the powerful 24- and 36-volt bowmount electrics picked up some of the slack. Still, in a big wind, they often were insufficient to maneuver along structure and hover as desired -- until someone once again decided to run their outboard and bowmount in tandem. In this case, either the kicker or outboard was used to provide the bulk of the power, barely negating the force of the wind, with the steering pointed to nose the boat straight into the wind.
At that point, the angler moved to the bow, deployed the bowmount electric, and kept the nose pointed upwind, applying gentle thrust adjustments and left-right steering shifts to slowly slip, slide, overcome, steer around or along, and in essence precision-backtroll from the bow of the boat, in tandem with the thrust capabilities of an outboard at the transom.
Genius...when done correctly, which takes a bit of practice. The learning curve does involve more than a few out-of-control, line-tangling pirouettes you hope your buddies aren't around to witness; but once you get the hang of it, yer stylin' and smilin'.
A bit later, another radical bowmount technology emerged from Pinpoint, which -- through the use of transducers sending depth readings to the bowmount -- enabled the electric motor to self-steer the boat according to a selected depth, to remain within the confines of a creek channel, or to cruise at a selected distance from shore.
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Manufacturing difficulties plagued the company in its formative years, however, and the technology never caught on big until it was acquired by MotorGuide and incorporated into its series of PTSv bowmounts. Now teamed with powerful 24- and 36-volt electrics, walleye anglers immediately began adopting their use to follow contours, while at the same time presenting several bottom-bouncers, jigs, or livebait rigs, with a rod often held in both hands while the boat hugged the designated depth level like a bird-dog.
As a bonus, the motor often reacted to tiny changes in the depth contour before anglers even realized they were there, steering the nose left or right to quickly react, indicating subtle areas of change. And perhaps best of all, you could put all your rods in holders and rebait, tie knots, pour a cup of coffee, or take a break while the motor did the work for you. What could be easier -- or better?
Well, it took an Einstein-like quantum leap to recognize how co-propulsion could work with a PTSv. Once again, it involved the thrust of a kicker outboard in combination with the depth-hugging, self-steering capabilities of the bowmount to follow contours -- not just at slow, livebait-rigging speeds, but at crankbait-trolling velocities.
Say, for instance, you want to troll cranks along the 12-foot level as you follow a reservoir shoreline. Set the electric motor to follow 12 feet, dial up the power a bit, and then move to the transom. Fire up the kicker outboard, add the right amount of forward thrust to make your crank wiggle and wobble, and start letting out lines to set up a trolling pass. Hey, the boat (actually, the electric) steers itself, as you set out your array.
Even so, you can still handhold the tiller of the outboard as you cruise along, adding instantaneous bursts of speed or quick steering adjustments as necessary, such as when the bowmount radically swings out deeper, sensing a sudden shallowing of the bottom, but you know you don't want the boat to swing way offshore due to one minor previously located variation in the contour.
As the bow swings out, simply swing the tiller outboard in the opposite direction to overpower the bowmount maneuver, applying extra thrust from the transom, if necessary. It's a push-me pull-you contest where the more powerful outboard wins, and where you never had to leave your trolling station back there at the stern.
As strange as all this sounds, these co-propulsion tactics are the wave of the future for walleye presentations, evidenced by their current widespread use in Professional Walleye Trail tournaments.
You simply can't go to one of these events and not see someone -- often many contestants -- using a form of the dual-fuel, double-whammy to coax walleyes into biting or striking. Correctly applied, they vastly increase your effectiveness when wind, weather, and walleye location conspire against the use of a single-motor tactic, be it an electric at the pointy end, or a mega-outboard and accompanying kicker perched atop the flat caboose.
So be forewarned: There's a tag-team blend of finesse and muscle, coming soon to a lake near you.
Forward Trolling on the Great Lakes: Kicker outboard provides main thrust at trolling speed, while Minn Kota AutoPilot steers the boat in a preset trolling direction.
Forward Trolling Crankbaits from the Stern: Kicker outboard provides main thrust, while MotorGuide PTS bowmount electric provides minor steering corrections to follow changes in the contour. Steering or throttle adjustments of the kicker can quickly overpower undesired bowmount maneuvers.
Hovering on Structure in Heavy Wind: Kicker outboard barely counteracts wind velocity, while subtle adjustments of the bowmount electric steer the boat along the structure.