Tricking Out Your Walleye Boat
March 27, 2014
When Jim Wentworth, proprietor of Central Minnesota's Legendary Fish Lectronics retired several years ago, the area's angling community pressed the panic button. For decades, the energetic boat rigger had tricked out the walleye rides of some of the nation's top professional anglers.
Fortunately, when Wentworth retired, he had already apprenticed Andy Kratochvil, an avid angler and electronics guru, who today rigs boats and runs Fish Lectronics (rigmyboat.com) with the same steady hand as his mentor. Like Wentworth, Kratochvil rigs boats for many of the county's top guides and tournament anglers.
Given the increasing sophistication of modern electronics, having a qualified rigger like Kratochvil in your "contacts" is now nearly essential. At some time we all choose the DIY route. But with the vast network of cables, circuit breakers, fuses, and transducers we're faced with, something is bound to go wrong. Besides, drilling holes in fresh aluminum or fiberglass makes me cringe. I'd rather see the end result than the messy means to that end.
The Power Problem
Kratochvil deals with messes on a daily basis. "Beyond transducer placement and sonar networking, almost all the big mistakes anglers make in rigging their boats are power related," he says. "Just a few years ago, the average angler ran maybe one 5-inch sonar unit. Now I commonly see boats with three or more 10-inch units, and all of them are networked together. Add other accessories such as Talons, Power-Poles, 360 Imaging, and multimedia systems such as Lowrance's Sonic Hub, and you're suddenly pulling a lot of juice.
"All these units run on varying frequencies, and some, such as Minn Kota's iPilot, operate on two different computer systems. Any interference or drop in voltage can cause problems." He advises that for anglers attempting to wire their own boats, several steps are critically important.
First, Kratochvil says many anglers use wire that's too small in diameter. For trolling motors, 6-gauge wire prevents overheating and excessive voltage drop. The smaller the gauge number the thicker the wire diameter and the larger its capacity to safely carry electric current.
This leads to the second item on his list: the length and routing of wire. He recommends keeping wire runs as short and direct as possible. Longer cables allow for greater voltage loss and a better chance it will come in contact with other wires that can cause signal interference. For these reasons, Kratochvil usually snakes sonar cables directly to the battery, as opposed to routing through the factory power bus located beneath the console. "Sonar units get more advanced each year and they're highly voltage sensitive. That's why it's important to isolate these cables as much as possible, keeping them away from others that may interfere with sonar signals and what you see on screen."
Managing the Power Plant
Wiring issues matter, but batteries are your boat's power plant. Kratochvil: "Anglers need to maintain their power sources properly, that means keeping all batteries fully charged. My rule is to immediately charge all the batteries — deep-cycle and cranking batteries — after every outing. When stored for extended periods, keep batteries on a trickle charge or 'maintenance mode.'"
While anglers now commonly rig their boats with on-board chargers from companies such as Minn Kota and Dual Pro, many neglect to buy one with enough charging banks to also connect to the starting/cranking battery. This is a big mistake, says Kratochvil, because nearly every electronic accessory besides trolling motors is connected to it. "The cranking battery is the heart of your boat's power system," he says. "While your big motor can restore some of the power through the alternator, use of multiple sonar units, livewell, and bilge pumps, plus auto anchors such as Talons or Power-Poles, eventually drains the battery. And you usually don't find out until you're dead on the water."
He says that many of today's cranking batteries are designed for dual starting and deep-cycle use, so they're capable of repeated discharge/charge cycles. Increasingly, he also has begun equipping certain boats with two starting batteries rigged in parallel, which provide twice the reserve power. However, doing so requires extra battery storage space that isn't available in all boats.
Additionally, new generation lithium-ion batteries, though currently expensive, may eventually become more common in marine applications. Lithium batteries such as those by Lithium Pros, can last 10 years or more, even with heavy use. They're substantially lighter than standard lead acid batteries and can take as many as five times the number of recharge cycles. Lithium-ion batteries also accept recharges up to five times faster and are nearly one hundred percent charge efficient. These new batteries discharge "flat," meaning they provide full power to trolling motors and other accessories throughout their charge cycle — they don't slowly lose power over time, as do lead acid batteries.
Another technology to consider is solar-driven charging panels, which have become more compact and user-friendly. The beauty of these flat power panels is that they add a continuous trickle charge to your batteries while fishing, trailering or even while docked — provided skies are clear and bright. Solar chargers, such as those by Brunton and Goal Zero also aid extended fishing and camping trips, where power from a traditional charger isn't available.
Fishing Information Systems
Short of bringing a generator aboard, the collection of essential electronics necessitates a well-managed power system. In his years as technical specialist and pit-crew leader for Johnson Outdoors, Joby Smith has seen a lot of crazy things inside the tournament boats he services. He believes the worst thing an angler can do is choose a display size that's too small.
"Everyone these days wants a unit that has sonar and GPS mapping," he says. "And that doesn't even include side-, down-, or 360 imaging, which have all become important to tournament anglers. Trying to split the screen between two or three separate modes on a 9- or 10-inch screen is one thing. Doing the same thing on a smaller display becomes problematic. Bigger screens show you more of each perspective, and allow you to read it from further away."
Today, many tournament anglers and guides run a minimum of two 10-inch displays, such as the Humminbird 1198c — one on the console and another in the bow. They might also use a second 7- to 10-incher on the console. One serves as a GPS mapping unit, while the other displays 2-D sonar and side imaging. Having large displays of all available information is an advantage in finding and holding on fish.
On the bow, elevating units to near eye level can be a big help. Installing an extension-mount, such as a Toughbar Extension Arm, elevates the display 2-feet higher, closer to your natural line of vision. As interactive fish-hunting systems such as Humminbird's 360 Imaging evolve, matching sonar units to Air-Force-style "heads-up displays" makes sense.
How large and advanced might displays eventually become? Lowrance has a 12-inch touchscreen (HDS12), while Humminbird recently unveiled its new touchscreen ONIX series, featuring 8- and 10-inch units with web browsing functionality. Boat manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with the rapid electronic evolution. Lund and Ranger currently offer console and bow designs that accommodate spacious screens.
I can name two tournament anglers who run up to six big-screen units in a single boat. Two screens in the bow are for mapping and sonar, while two identical units sit on the console. Some anglers mount yet another sonar near the transom to monitor trolling passes. And the sixth screen is an underwater camera, such as an Aqua-Vu Micro 5, side-mounted on the console.
Beyond screen size and scope, systems such as Minn Kota's iPilot Link imbue the bow trolling motor with GPS mapping intelligence, interfacing with an Ethernet connected Humminbird sonar. Highlight a depth on a LakeMaster map, and your trolling motor automatically moves you along that contour. Recently released, Motor Guide's Pinpoint GPS System is reported to offer similar functionality. Both products employ a small remote control to operate, while the iPilot Link also can be controlled via a Humminbird unit. The iPilot Link can be purchased as an add-on to existing Terrova or Power Drive V2 trolling motors, or as a complete system. The Motor Guide accessory works with Xi5 trolling motors, while a new wireless foot pedal also has been added to the system.
Revolutionary for walleye anglers is "Spot-Lock," a function first offered on the iPilot, which with the push of a button keeps the boat indefinitely pinned to within 5 feet of a specific waypoint. Using a GPS module in the trolling motor head, the propeller engages and adjusts each time the unit moves outside a tight circle. Simple in execution, Spot-Lock may be the most important boat control tool since GPS itself.
The Transom "Tight-Spot"
For auto-anchoring in shallower water, Minn Kota's Talon products pin the boat in place in water up to 12 feet deep. Power-Pole, the first to offer shallow water anchors recently released a Micro size for small boats, as well as a paddle accessory that connects to a Power-Pole chassis and works similar to a driftsock. Both products mount to the transom. The push of a button activates the unit and drives a spike into the substrate. For working shallow rivers and reservoirs, they are invaluable tools and increasingly popular among walleye anglers.
Given limited transom space, most anglers eventually must decide on what and what not to mount back there. This year, I added Humminbird 360 Imaging. While drifting or hovering over a key zone, 360 detects and displays fish moving in and around your position. When a walleye shows up on the 360 screen, I gauge its distance and depth, and pitch a cast to it.
For trolling, too, 360 has potential. Like a trolling motor, kicker, or Talon, the 360 Module eats up transom real estate — one reason Humminbird recently released a bow-mounted version. With a special transom bracket, it's possible to mount both a 360 unit and Talon on one side of your gas engine, and a trolling motor on the other.
The problem is this configuration makes it nearly impossible to mount splashguards — a traditional tool for backtrolling into waves. The boat I run today — a Lund Predator — is my first console steering boat, following years of tillers and backtrolling. Although the Minn Kota Vantage on my transom is an incredible tool, I find myself using it less and less. Between iPilot and Spot-Lock, I can now fish as precisely from the bow as I ever did while backtrolling from the transom. And it gets me up and actively casting more and dragging things behind the boat a little less. The exception is in the strongest winds and biggest waves — where the Vantage and a set of splashguards shine.
In the end, it's all about the way you like to fish, whether it's bow versus transom, tiller versus console, cast versus troll. There's a lot more to customizing your walleye ride — outboards, kickers, trailers and trailer lights, rod holders, livewells, transducer placement — topics in and of themselves. It's one more reason to keep Fish Lectronics on speed dial.
Sonar & Software
According to Joby Smith, Technical Specialist for Johnson Outdoors, most of the issues anglers face with their sonar/mapping units can be resolved with a simple software update. "The first thing you should do after purchasing and installing your unit is to register it with the manufacturer. You can do this online. Once you've registered your Humminbird unit, for example, you can log into the website and check for software updates for your products. In the majority of cases, sonar issues are immediately resolved with the latest free software update, which is designed to fix bugs and offer performance enhancements."
To download new software, log into the manufacturer's website on your home computer. Make sure you have a blank SD card inserted into the appropriate slot. Once the download is complete, remove the card and slide it into your sonar unit. Power up the unit and follow the instructions on screen.
Walleye Boats Today
Walleye boats have been built for versatility, constructed with deeper hulls for performance in big water. Lund's Pro-V has been a benchmark in walleye boat design. Paul Zarn, Engineering Manager for the company, has been responsible for many ideas, including Lund's livewell systems.
"In the early tournaments," Zarn says, "one of the big reasons our pros won many of the events was that our livewells were the only ones capable of keeping fish alive all day. Today, Lund's Pro Long Plus system has a special hull-integrated scoop that flushes water into the livewell, even while running at top speed. The system also adds air into the water, so it's recirculating and aerating at the same time. On-board gauges also display livewell water temperature and fill levels."
Besides keeping fish and bait healthy for the long haul, and accommodating 300 hp outboards, he says another challenge is keeping up with the continuing expansion of electronics. "We're constantly re-evaluating the console-cockpit areas. Many of our newest boats have consoles with expanded flat mounting surfaces and extras such as smartphone holders, and Sirius satellite radio."
Meanwhile, Ranger Boats offers integrated sonar slots for flush mounting larger units in the console and bow. Additional accouterments in both brands include 8-foot center rod lockers, increased storage for tackle and other gear, and more comfortable "air-ride" style seating. Rear "jump seats" also provide extra seating yet fold down to expand the aft casting deck. Lund's SportTrak also allows multiple mounting options for rod holders and other accessories, without drilling holes.
*Field Editor Cory Schmidt, Brainerd, Minnesota, is a long-standing contributor to In-Fisherman publications and an exceptional walleye angler.