December 15, 2022
Welcome to Part 1 of an extensive 10-plus-part series about turning an older boat into a modern fishing machine. The purpose to this whole project is to illustrate that you can, indeed, transition a boat with a few years on it into rig that features the most technologically advanced electronics that today’s anglers demand.
I’ll be completely honest with you: When the top bass anglers in the business started running three graphs on the front of their boat, I rolled my eyes. I remember a meme that made its rounds that showed a bass boat rigged with a 50-inch TV shoddily mounted where the front graphs usually go. I laughed, but it wasn’t far off from reality.
I was skeptical until I spent some time in the front of one of those boats and experienced why that type of modern rigging is necessary if gathering as much information as possible is important to you. And it should be. The more you know about the fish you seek, the more successful you will be.
Plus, with today’s rapidly advancing technological fishing world, there are lots of options worth considering, including the coveted live sonar.
If you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, you don’t have a new boat and don’t get a new boat every year.
My rig is a 2007 Ranger Z20 bass boat. I’m very proud of this boat, I scraped and saved for years to be able to purchase a boat like that, and when it finally happened, I knew I would need to make some regular upgrades to stay current. It’s been a commitment—and lots of work—but it’s been a labor of love.
I can’t over emphasize how important it is to intimately know how your boat functions, and that means doing projects like these yourself will help you troubleshoot quickly and effectively when issues arise. And issues will arise, count on it. If you’re not comfortable doing all the work yourself, paying a professional is a good call. I don’t mind turning a wrench or running some wires, so I tackled all these upgrades myself.
The boat was originally constructed to accommodate a 24-volt trolling motor system, not the 36 it’s rigged with now. And it wasn’t built to take four or five graphs and all the wires necessary to power each unit—and I also added Minn Kota Talons. After I added a TH Marine hydraulic jackplate, it ran like a charm. And it took some finagling to get a 36-volt Minn Kota Ultrex installed, but we got it done.
You can see some of my original projects by visiting a couple of links below.
I spent a few years working with my friends at Bassmaster out of Birmingham, Alabama, which is where I first overhauled this rig to meet current bass-boat standards. Or at least that’s what I thought. I’d suggest you start with these to see the progression of this boat to where it will be at the end of this series. It’s been fun for sure.
Electronics Install from 2018
TH Marine Atlas Hydraulic Jackplate and Minn Kota Talons Install (2018)
My goal with this series is to help you see potential in your rig and share some of my mistakes along the way—I made plenty. With a little creativity and elbow grease, and a willing mind, you can turn your rig into a fully modern fishing machine.
Let’s dig into Part 1.
For this effort I chose to install the fully functional One-Boat Network from Humminbird and Minn Kota, including Raptors, Mega 360 and Mega Live. Not only is that system proven across all species, but it is also especially productive in finding bass and muskies—my two favorite species to chase.
The first part of any major update required a tear down. This segment is to illustrate some of the mess I needed to clean out in preparation of the overall upgrade.
This is a view from the rear deck of the former setup. I had two G2N Helix 10s at the dash for mapping, 2D Side and Down Imaging. I’ve got be straight with you as to why it looks this way: I was on a tight budget and there weren’t a lot of options to effectively set this up the way I wanted to. Unfortunately, as a result I drilled some gaudy holes in the driver’s console to accommodate the two units. That added work to the update you’re about to walk through. But I wanted you to see where this project began.
Here’s the view at the front. I rigged one G2N Helix 12 that connected to the 1st generation Minn Kota Ultrex through the Universal Sonar, which provided 2D sonar without attaching an additional transducer to the trolling motor head. This system was effective, but you can see why it needed an update.
Above is the first part of the gear I’ll be adding to my boat laid out on a workbench in my shop. In this picture, there are a few critical pieces of equipment that made this boat update possible. Bass Boat Technologies makes graph gimbles for piles and piles of boats, old and new, they likely have a custom mount for any configuration you can dream up.
I was very pleasantly surprised at the bow and dash mount they had specifically for my 2007 Ranger Z20. Go visit their website and search your rig, you’ll find just what you need. The big graph gimble on the left is to go on the bow of my boat and will hold a Hummibird Helix 15 equipped with Mega Side Imaging and GPS at the top and two Helix 12s beneath. Sounds cluttered but wait until you see it all installed. To the right is the dash mount that will hold two Humminbird Helix 10s.
Above the BBT Triple Mount is the BigRig Bassin’ 360 Sonar Quick Disconnect Mount Kit for Minn Kota Ultrex. This mount makes it easy to remove the 360 transducer during travel and then you can just securely snap it back on when you get to the launch. This might help in accommodating your boat cover, which is an example of an older boat not being originally built to handle a 360 system. The BigRig Bassin’ mount is very sturdy and easy to use. I love it.
In this picture, I’ve got a few items from TH Marine that will not only make my boat more of a fishing machine but will also stabilize and clean up existing equipment. The Hydrowave is as close to a fish call as you can get. It emits baitfish sounds, sounds of schooling and feeding fish and I’ve seen it work firsthand. The speaker will be attached to the trolling motor head and the head unit will be mounted near the front graph gimble. You’ll also see a TH Marine G-Force Troll Perfect Trolling Motor Control Enhancer, TH Marine G-Force Eliminator Trolling Motor Prop Nut that eliminates vibration, the TH Marine Troll Jacket for organizing electronics and trolling motor cables, and a couple TH Marine Deck Plates to cover existing and irreparable holes that exist on the deck of the boat—we’ll address that later.
Also notice the ThermaCell—the mosquitos during this project were insane. I ran up to four ThermaCells in my garage and the bugs were gone. Pretty incredible tool for boat builds, and totally necessary.
In the above photo you’ll see a Humminbird Mega 360 transducer, some other graph accessories. There is also one of two new Blue Sea 6006 m-Series master switches, a couple Blue Sea Systems fuse panels and two large bundles of tinned 10- and 12-guage marine grade duplex wire.
The purpose to each of these components will become clear as we move along.
Here you’ll see a stack of Humminbird units, ethernet cables, and then some. There is a new master valve for the livewell system, a new through-hull transducer that needs installed and a few other necessities.
Before we get into the boat interior tear down, let’s start with a cosmetic change that needed done badly. Here you can see the old seats, nasty, torn and ugly. If I was to redo the entire boat, the seats needed upgraded too. This is before.
Here is the upgraded finished boat seats. I didn’t get new seats, rather I had a local company reupholster them. You can figure this project will cost between $1,500 and $2,000—not cheap, but very worth it, especially if you plan to sell the boat down the road.
Here is a shot of the bottom of the hull. Down in the bottom of that cavern is the livewell plumbing, which is where the master valve is located. There is also the through-hull transducer that I needed to replace. Unfortunately, I figured the transducer was fine after looking at it and elected to not swap it out. And that was my first mistake. Later on, I discovered that it was broken after I’d put everything back together. It’ll take a serious time investment to fix it, and I may dig into it this winter, at least that’s what I should do. The reason I need that tranducer is to mark depth at speed, which is important to scouting lakes and keeping tabs on immediate depths.
Here is a close-up shot of the bottom rear of the hull. The drain plug O-ring is shot and stopped sealing the boat, which meant lots of water was seeping in. The two fiberglass chips are ugly and need repaired, but the boat was functional for a long time with them there. Ugly, but they are on the list of repairs to be made.
This is a giant hot mess. Ug. After years of adjustments, mistakes and corrections, this is what my main crank battery looked like. It not only powered the engine starter, Talons, livewell and bilge pumps, it also powered the three Helix units. In short, it was barely lasting half a day. It turned into a huge problem—I said a lot of cusswords thanks to this mess. You can also barely see the old master power switch in the bottom left corner of this image, that was cheap and showed a lot of sign of there being too much juice running through it. It needed to be upgraded. This was an intimidating part of the tear-down process, but a necessary change.
The photo above is a shot of the oil reservoir adjacent to the crank battery that’s such a mess. The oil reservoir is a necessary evil in this rig as my 225hp motor is a 2-stroke. One day, I’d like to repower this rig with a new 4-stroke Yamaha SHO, which would make more room available in the power-plant area. For now, I’ll deal with it.
Remember when I mentioned above that this boat wasn’t built to accommodate a 36-volt trolling motor? Here is the spot where two of the three batteries sit, and there was no way to squeeze another one in there. I had the third battery in the center area of the power plant, and it took up a lot of room. And since I was installing Minn Kota Raptors, I needed to make room for the hydraulic oil reservoirs that deployed and stowed the Raptors. Plus, I was upgrading the trolling motor batteries to X2 Lithiums to reduce weight in the rear and should improve the boat’s overall performance. We’ll dig into this part more in a later part.
I bought and built new cable jumpers to connect in series the 36-volt trolling motor system in. Go big on the cable gauge, I went with 4 gauge here. The colored zip ties were a good idea, it was an accidental good move on my part. I also used that entire bottle of Clorox wipes cleaning this rig out. #messy
This wasn’t my first time totally rewiring a boat, and if you’ve got a ton of wires going in a ton of directions, you NEED to label each wire, so you know where it goes. This was a key part of taking apart the old crank battery and managing what went where. This may seem like a no-brainer, but just take the time to do it right. You’ll be glad you did—so will whomever buys your boat from you if chose to sell it.
Again, the ThermaCell for the win. And you can see what’s left of my boat wrap. The tattered and torn Seth Feider sticker still going strong.
More ugliness getting removed. These are the cover plates on the front of the boat. The top metal jacked-up-looking part got tossed in the garbage, the gray plastic piece is needed to mount the Bass Boat Technologies gimble. I had to remove the small black switch panel on the right as it would be reinstalled to be used once the project was completed.
Here’s the cavity that was behind the panels in the previous photo. There isn’t much room in there, but a pile of cables, a fuse panel, Humminbird Ethernet Hub and of course, the trolling motor bracket bolts that need to be removed.
We removed the trolling motor pedal first.
The older 45-inch Minn Kota Ultrex needs removed to make room for a newer 52-inch model. The longer shaft allows for enough room to add Mega Live. More on that later.
Of course, one of the bolts was seized and that meant grinder time.
No, the picture is not upside down. Rather this is the angle I needed to achieve to reach the seized bolt. As you’d expect, the bolt that was locked up was hard to get to—heaven forbid it be in an easy-to-reach position. But it worked.
My son Tommy was an amazing help throughout this process, plus he’s got long arms and can reach a long way up into the gunnel to run wires. Here he is pulling the trolling motor bracket off the boat once and for all.
Part 2 will include some repairs and upgrades before we begin mounting the new gimbles and units. Stay tuned!