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February 03, 2011

GPS Troll Control

GPS-guided trolling motors make fishing push-button simple.
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Satellites are changing the way we fish again. First GPS replaced loran as the preferred navigational and fish-finding platform across the boating spectrum. Next came better GPS accuracy, component integration and competitive prices. But the latest development easily tops the too-cool list. New GPS-guided trolling motors from Rhodan Marine Systems and Minn Kota let nearshore anglers enjoy a hands-free way to cover more water, hold the boat in position and catch more fish. Here's the breakdown in this latest "space race."

The Technology
Rhodan's HD GPS Anchor+ is the culmination of four decades of military microelectronics manufacturing. The system has been in development since the early '90s and incorporates a built-in high-definition differential GPS unit, dual tilt-compensated compasses and a microcomputer. The electronics are coupled to an 80-pound thrust 24-volt trolling motor that is operated by a wireless fob.

"The first prototype was a 40-pound thrust motor on the bow of a 34 Scarab," Lindsay Ambler, Rhodan's engineering manager, says. "The technology finally caught up and made this practical to develop. We've spent a lot of time and money to get this level of precision."

Minn Kota's iPilot is available either as an accessory to existing trolling motors (Terrova, PowerDrive V2, and Riptide ST and SP models) or as a complete unit. The two main components are the remote control and the controller module. Within the module are a self-contained solid-state compass, the control board and a 50-channel WAAS-compliant GPS receiver. Minn Kota's sister company, Humminbird, collaborated on the GPS development.

Electronic Anchoring
The electronic anchoring function is the most innovative feature from both companies and probably the most practical for anglers. Rhodan calls it the Anchor Mode, while Minn Kota's version is Spot-Lock. A combination of GPS coordinates and motor vectoring (controlling propeller on/off, speed and steering) keeps the bow of the boat in place regardless of wind and current. Anchor+'s jog feature allows the sites to be adjusted in five-foot increments. Up to four anchor spots can be stored in memory. The iPilot has memory for three anchor locations, and the recall function can steer the boat back to a stored spot from up to one-quarter mile away.

"I don't use a real anchor anymore," says Capt. Ryan McClash, a Bradenton, Florida, guide who has been using the Rhodan system for the last year. "It's kind of like having a first mate on board."

"Spot-Lock is the most popular feature across the board," says Paul Salmon, iPilot product engineer. "The electronics do a much better job holding the boat in place than you can with the foot pedal or handle. That lets you concentrate 100 percent on fishing and not boat positioning."

Recording Tracks
The iPilot's Record a Track is comparable to Anchor+'s Route Mode. Using the wireless fob, the user records a track in memory for later use. The boat's main engine or manual operation of the trolling motor can be used to establish the track. The track playback function is especially useful for casting to a shoreline or jigging a ledge or channel. iPilot can store up to three tracks in memory, while Anchor+ has the capacity for eight memory routes up to 1,000 miles long.

"Basically, when I'm fishing anymore, the trolling motor is on," McClash says. "You can cover more area and get more casts into the strike zone. Period."

Autopilot
Both brands offer full autopilot functions, with adjustments possible while under way. Using the GPS to maintain a precise heading, the device will steer the boat in the direction pointed, compensating for wind and current to maintain course. The track speed is adjustable for both motors; Rhodan's unit has 10 thrust settings, and the iPilot allows bumps in one-tenth-mph increments. Anchor+'s heading setting can be changed in five-degree increments.

The iPilot is compatible with the CoPilot and cruise-control functions of Minn Kota's other saltwater motors. Although Advanced AutoPilot is the iPilot's default setting, users can choose the Legacy option if they want to drift sideways with the wind.

Control
Wireless fobs control the operation of both brands, allowing anglers unrestricted movement around the boat. The remotes are waterproof and float if they are dropped overboard. Rhodan includes two with its motor. Additional remotes can be purchased for the iPilot. There is no master remote, so multiple anglers can operate the controls independently.

If you'd like to maximize your rod time with stealth and minimal physical effort, check out these whisper-quiet GPS-guided trolling motors. They won't clean your catch - not yet anyway - but they will help put more fish in the boat, and that's always a good thing.