New trolling motors are truly hands-free

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About two decades ago, a serious fisherman named Joseph Mardesich left the high-tech halls of California’s computer geekdom and set out to change the world of electric trolling motors. He founded Pinpoint Network Fishing Systems in 1993, and introduced a bow-mounted motor that could position your boat automatically, letting you concentrate on just fishing.Five sonar transducer elements built into the motor’s lower unit scanned the bottom terrain and sent information to a microprocessor that directed the motor to track a certain depth contour, follow a creek channel or position the boat a certain distance from the closest shoreline as it moved along at a chosen speed. The motor was intelligent enough to steer itself and control its own speed to position the boat while you fished.

Mardesich was ambushed by sudden and serious health problems, and passed away in 1998. Zebco (then a Brunswick company) bought Pinpoint in September of 1999, and eventually merged it with MotorGuide, another motor maker under its corporate umbrella. The best of both motor technologies were combined and improved over the years to produce the Pinpoint Tracking System (PTSv) motors now available from MotorGuide (for more information, visit or call 920-929-5040).

I was fortunate enough to meet Mardesich when he introduced his motor at an annual fishing tackle manufacturers’ convention in Las Vegas and experience a demo ride in his bass boat on nearby Lake Mead. Even in its early form, the motor controlled your boat like a guide, and I was hooked.

I have since tested more recent versions of the MotorGuide PTSv, and found them smoother in operation and sporting a better user interface with simple touch keys that make it easier to control and an LCD screen that gives you more information.

Last year, I predicted on an Internet forum that some company would soon combine electric motor control with GPS and add a whole new set of benefits to this kind of package. At this year’s ICAST convention, Minn Kota introduced an iPilot accessory that gives GPS-based boat positioning control to some of its motors.

Minn Kota AutoPilot models have long been able to steer an admirably accurate compass course while you set the speed control and fished, but iPilot is a giant step further.

Johnson Outdoors owns both Minn Kota and Humminbird, so it’s no surprise that the new iPilot incorporates the latest 50-channel GPS receiver from Humminbird to provide position information for several boat-control modes.

A Record a Track mode lets you record a fishing track up to two miles long that can be stored in memory for immediate retracing or saved for a later trip. Up to three different tracks can be recorded and stored at one time.

A Spot-Lock feature mode holds your boat in one place like an electronic anchor. If the boat drifts more than five feet from the Spot-Lock location, iPilot activates the motor and steers and controls speed as necessary to correct for wind, waves, current or drift. This feature includes a “recall” function that lets you return to the Spot-Lock location and fish it later. Up to three Spot-Lock locations can be stored at one time.

Cruise Control, another iPilot feature, maintains real-time boat speed in one-tenth mile-per-hour increments for precise lure or bait-trolling presentations. The system also includes a new GPS-based Advanced AutoPilot feature that uses a series of waypoints to maintain a true heading while automatically adjusting for side drift from wind, waves or current. It also includes a new, more comprehensive version of Minn Kota’s wireless CoPilot handheld remote to control the iPilot from anywhere in the boat.

The Minn Kota iPilot system ($399) works as an add-on accessory for new or current Terrova and PowerDrive V2 freshwater or Riptide ST and SP saltwater motors. For more information, visit or call 800-227-6433.