Float Tube Trolling Motor
The pontoon industry has grown and expanded to include some very large and water worthy craft. There are some toons that seat up to 4 people. These are typically used by small groups, or by guides and their customers, for running down rivers. These larger toons will usually accommodate gas motors. Gas motors are okay for larger craft that are not easily powered or controlled by oars or electric motors. However, putting a gas motor on a personal sized pontoon is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Too big, too noisy, foul smelling and over-powered. If you want all that get a boat. One of the primary appeals of floatation fishing…from tube or toon…is the quiet and solitude. The addition of a heavy and noxious gas motor completely ruins much of the esthetic enjoyment of fishing from a floatation craft.
Electric motors are commonly added to pontoons but some float tube models can also be fitted with auxiliary power. Realistically, most tubes are too small to set up with an electric motor. Besides not having a suitable mounting bracket, without modifications, you have to figure out how to carry the deep cycle marine battery needed to power an electric motor. They’re big and heavy.
There are some commercially made motor setups available that will enable you to “power” your tube without major modifications. These are usually made using a separate floatation chamber that holds both the battery and the motor…with an extension for controls. The float tube operator merely turns on the power and aims the remote rig to tow the tube in the desired direction. It is not difficult to make a motor setup for yourself without having to buy one.
Float tubes are at their best on small ponds and lakes that do not require anything more than fin power to motate and operate. They are designed for fishing waters that are less accessible to boaters and bankers. Once you start loading up your float tube with lots of heavy accessories, and trying to turn it into something else, you really should think about upgrading to either a pontoon or a boat.
Most of the better pontoons include built-in mounts to accommodate an electric motor. Not surprisingly, this has encouraged more anglers to buy toons, instead of tubes, just so they can install electric motors. They like the idea of being able to use their craft more aggressively, for more kinds of fishing in larger waters…without having to make the giant leap and buying a boat. There are several different brands and many models and sizes of electric motors on the market. The good news is that choosing one for your pontoon is not nearly as complicated (or expensive) as outfitting a fancy bass boat.
You do not need the mega-thrust 24-volt systems made for running and gunning all day in a heavy bass boat. You also do not need fancy bow-mount hardware, for raising and lowering the motor every time you move. You also do not need the foot pedal controls although they can be handy if you can work out a way to install them.
For most pontoons, under 10 feet in length, you will do just fine with a simple 12 volt electric that puts out 30 – 36 pounds of thrust. And, the standard 30-inch length shaft will generally get the job done just fine. This system will provide plenty of power for trolling and speed to get between spots. If you want more speed buy more thrust. Of course, that will reduce the number of hours you can run at full speed on the battery you bought.
CONTROLS & STEERING:
The motor mounts on most pontoons are in the center, on the rear deck, right behind the seat. If you mount your electric with standard short control handles, it can be problematic to operate your motor all day, by continuously turning around to turn it on and off or to control speed and direction. Many trolling motors have optional handle extensions you can purchase to help run the motors without having to turn around. Tooners find these helpful. If you properly adjust the height of the motor control, so the handle extension comes right over your shoulder, you can run the motor while facing forward, with a minimum of body twist and discomfort.
Depending on the make and model electric motor you select there may be other options available. These include remote control systems, automatic tracking and other bells and whistles. Obviously, they all have a price tag and only you can decide whether you value them more than the money they cost. Some creative tooners, with electrical skills, fashion their own wired control boxes with rheostat dials to operate the motors from the front without having to turn around.
Typical electric motor mount on an 8 foot long pontoon. Motor and battery are both mounted in the middle, directly behind tha angler, to keep the system balanced. Many tooners set their motors to pull their craft backwards…both for trolling and for moving from spot to spot. Once you are under way…moving backward…you can use your fins in the water to help steer, without having to turn around and move the motor head. Of course this works best if you have a motor that tracks well without getting out of line…and at slower speeds. Speaking of tracking, you should always bring in your stringer, fish basket, transducer or anything else that hangs in the water and creates drag while you are rowing or motoring. It only takes a little bit of drag to pull your craft in one direction or another
Electric motors consume battery power in direct proportion to the amount of thrust they put out and the speed at which you run them. Other factors are the amount of drag on your pontoon; not only from the twin “hulls” but also from any add-ons you leave dangling in the water while under power. Wind is another factor. Bucking a headwind will suck more juice from your battery than cruising with a tailwind.
The small SLA (sealed lead acid) or “gel cell” batteries you use for operating your sonar are not suitable for running an electric motor. These should never be drained completely, and they do not hold enough amp/hours to run an electric motor anyway. When you put an electric on your toon don’t buy a cheapie auto battery from your local discount auto supply. You need to get the biggest and baddest deep cycle 12-volt marine battery you can afford.
There is an old saying “You can never be too rich or too thin”. When it comes to batteries for electric motors you can never have too much stored power. It is far better to still have something left in the batteries when you load up to go home than it is to run out of juice clear at the other end of the lake in the early part of the day. Sure, you can row, but who wants to? Unlike gel cell batteries, deep cycle batteries are designed to be totally discharged under use and then to be fully recharged again. However, like all batteries, proper use and maintenance will keep them healthy and functional much longer.
Make sure your battery is fully charged before each trip and put it back on the charger to recharge as soon as you return home. If you have not used it for a while put it on a maintenance charger or at least “top it off” periodically. Most pontoons come with either a basket or platform behind the seat, where you can carry your heavy deep cycle battery, and other goodies. Some actually come standard with “battery boxes”, which are anchored to the frame to prevent batteries from tipping over or sliding off into the water. If your craft does not have such a box, you should make one.
A simple sealed plywood box is easily constructed and bolted to the frame or platform. Some tooners buy plastic storage boxes of suitable size and fasten them down for the batteries. A tour of thrift shops and/or yard sales can turn up old makeup cases or small suitcases at a reasonable price too. All of these things can work to prevent battery loss or damage. Along with your battery you should purchase a voltage tester and a charger. If you get a
variable amp charger you can fast charge a drained battery for quick turn around or put it on slower charge to top it off before a trip.
There are actually complete battery charging and maintenance systems that will automatically keep your battery properly charged without overcharging or damage. These help keep your battery ready for action whenever you have a sudden inspiration to hit the water. If such a system makes sense and fits into your budget, go for it. The biggest potential problem with big deep cycle batteries is the fact that some still contain liquid sulfuric acid and removable caps. If they get knocked over they can damage you or your gear with the acid. They can also explode if improperly charged. That can ruin your whole day if you are nearby when it happens. Thankfully, “no maintenance” batteries are sealed and safer.
Some tooners are not happy with mounting their electrics behind them, using the factory motor mounts. The reality is that even with a swivel seat and/or attachments and extensions it can be unhandy operating an electric motor behind you on your toon. That’s why some power-happy tooners rig a motor mount in the front…preferring easier access to the controls. The negative aspect of this is that front mounted motors become a big old
nuisance. Motors in front make it almost impossible to use fin power and they definitely get in the way of your fishing. Nevertheless, some tooners weigh the pros and cons and still elect to keep the motor in front of them. It is an individual thing.
Adding a motor and a heavy battery to your toon radically changes the balance. If you keep both the motor and battery centered, in line with your seat, there is not much of a problem with side to side balance. However, you will almost always have to move your seat forward on the adjustable frame to compensate for the additional weight in the rear. That, in turn, might mean that you have to lengthen the footrests. Like many tooners, this one prefers
to have the electric motor mounted in front…for easier access and control. A mounting plate was bolted to the foot rests, which still function to hold the finless feet out of the water. Having the motor in front seriously
impacts being able to use fins for positioning when not using the motor or oars. Crude, but functional, this mounting bracket is fashioned from a couple of 2X4s…to hold the electric motor on the front of the toon. As you can see it is attached to the foot rests.
When you first get a new motor and battery, take your rig to the water and get everything set up. Forget fishing until you have the balance properly adjusted so your craft rides level and efficiently under power. Otherwise your front end will ride too high and you will not get proper thrust from your motor…and you will waste battery power. You will also find it more difficult to steer and control your craft if it is light in the nose…especially in wind and waves.
One last note on adding power to your pontoon or tube. Depending on what state you live in you may have to register your craft once it is motorized…even with an electric motor. Some states register only gas motored craft. Others get them all.