It’s rare to simply amaze me with fishing technology these days. It’s not that I’ve seen it all; it’s just that I think it is rare for large leaps of technological brilliance to be released. Thankfully this does happen every now and then and the Minn Kota iPilot is one such item.
Like what the Lowrance HDS and the Humminbird Side Image did for sounder technology, the iPilot will revolutionise the way we think about electric motors. The list of features, their numerous applications and the sheer ease of use make the iPilot one of the best boating accessories I have come across in a very long time.
Let’s take a look at some of the features and how they benefit my fishing, keeping in mind that I am an avid lure caster and very occasional troller. Obviously an angler who anchors and bait fishes would have minimal use for the iPilot, but any lure fisher would be mad not to consider the iPilot if they are upgrading or buying their first electric motor.
Spot Lock is one of the best features I have seen on an electric motor. Put simply, Spot Lock keeps you in one place with a variance of only 5ft (1.5m). And this is regardless of wind, current, tide and any number of conflicting conditions. It may sound like a large margin for error, but on my 4.3m boat it’s roughly a third its length, which is really bugger all movement. In fact it’s a movement that would be experienced as you yaw on an anchor rope anyway.
Spot Lock works on a GPS signal and the internal computer of the iPilot makes every effort to lock the head of the electric motor in the exact GPS point you chose. To this end the iPilot takes full control of the electric by steering, applying or stopping power as needed to maintain the position. For lure casters who want to hit a specific snag or a flats area this feature is absolutely brilliant. When jack fishing recently we have a few deeper snags we like to drop PrawnStars onto and the Spot Lock feature made this a breeze and allowed the skipper to fish just as hard as the first mate. I am sure it helped put a few more jacks in the boat.
A similar scenario took place down on the Murray while fishing for cod and goldens. There are a number of snags that need to be fished in a specific way, often requiring 10 or more casts to illicit a strike. In the past we’d use a drop anchor and hope the timing of the drop was perfect to get us in the right spot. Not now with Spot Lock. It was as simple as pressing a button and we stuck like glue to the spot and fished.
Bass anglers fishing lakes will also appreciate this feature. If you’ve discovered a school of big angry bass you can now stay on top of them easily until you work out what they want to eat. Similarly if you find a lovely weed bed edge that screams fish, you can lock into position and hammer the edge to your heart’s content. And this just doesn’t apply to lake bass anglers. Lake barra fans and those chasing goldens, trout and cod in lakes will be similarly impressed with the unit’s ability to keep them where they want to be.
The only drawbacks of the Spot Lock feature are that is chews up battery power as the unit sometimes works very hard to stay in spot X, and if conditions are adverse with strong winds and really fast currents, the ability to hold location is totally determined by the strength of the iPilot you have. I have a 55lb unit on a 4.3m BlueFin and am yet to experience not being able to hold a spot, but I am told bigger boats can struggle if the unit is not strong enough. Probably not the iPilot’s fault, rather an issue of under powering the craft in the first place.
In something of a breakthrough in electric technology the iPilot allows users to manually record and store a track in the unit and then, with the press of a button, retrace the track from start to finish or from finish to start. This is brilliant and I can just hear the crows from trout anglers and night barra trollers as they really start to understand and appreciate this feature.
My first go at the tracking feature was with Shane Juttner, a flathead trolling junkie, and he took me to some of his hot spots to test out the iPilot.
To save a track you need to manually go over the route first while recording the track data. You can record and save up to three tracks. We trolled while doing this to ensure we were running the right lines. The first track was about 1km long and we were expectantly nervous when we pressed the recall button to start the troll run under the guidance of the iPilot.
This was where my lack of reading cost us. Someone (that would be me!) did not know you had to pre-set the power you wanted, but after a few nervous moments with the unit’s head swivelling to the nearest point on the track I finally worked out you need power so I kicked the motor into gear.
Like a magician the iPilot came onto the track (as observed on my GPS) and followed the recorded track perfectly at the speed I had dialled into the unit. We played around with the speed to get the lures working perfectly, then I literally put the feet up on the console, held the rod and waited for the flathead to bite while the iPilot did all the work. It was brilliant. Mind you the flathead were a little scarce, but just seeing this feature in a real world sense gave me a very good indication of what lay ahead. I could see trolling runs plugged in and used in all sorts of fishy terrain and it really does turn a sometimes troller into a more often troller.
But lure casters can use this feature too because you set the speed. This means you can program a track to follow a weed edge, a depth contour, a rock wall or tree line and iPilot will follow that track allowing all anglers on the boat to fish more effectively. Set the speed as low as you dare for more casts, or quickly scoot over an area combing the feature with casts – it’s all at the tip of your fingers. Brilliant!
The only disadvantage I’ve had with this feature is when other boats or obstacles arrive in your path. This is not the feature to be using down at Jumpinpin on a weekend and is certainly going to lead to some angst trolling the Paddocks for barra at night on a busy full moon period. But you can over-ride the unit with the press of a button and steer around unexpected obstacles, so it’s not all bad.
Like other Rip Tide Minn Kota outboards the iPilot has an AutoPilot feature that will lock you into a straight line troll. However, standard AutoPilot may see you wobble and veer as tides, wind and current push against the boat creating a margin of error. This is usually fine and nothing to get too worried about, but if precision is what you’re after, the iPilot delivers this in the form of the Advanced AutoPilot.
In a significant upgrade to the AutoPilot feature, Advanced AutoPilot actually creates a series of GPS waypoint along the straight line track you want to travel. This means that the iPilot can more accurately keep you going dead straight as it heads to waypoints rather than an end point, taking away the influence of outside factors such as wind and current.
This is not a feature I rely heavily on as most of the fishing I do is in and out of snags, sand flats and weed bed edges, but lake trollers aiming for a specific point will love this feature as you really have no need to readjust your track in windy or current affected conditions.
And with the option of AutoPilot and Advanced AutoPilot, the iPilot gives you choices like never before in an electric.
The iPilot comes with a large hand-held remote control that has buttons for all the iPilot’s significant number of features. If you have had experience with the wrist watch Minn Kota units, then the keys on the iPilot’s remote will make perfect sense. If not, then they are simple to use and even a first timer will find the manual use of the iPilot incredibly easy.
In manual mode you can increase and decrease power, have infinite control over direction and turn the power on and off instantaneously. There is also a button that takes the motor from the preset speed up to the fastest speed instantly. This is a great feature for retrieving snagged lures without wasting time or just getting you out of trouble quickly. It’s also fantastic for launching a mate off the front deck into the drink, but I’d never do that, would I? However with this feature you do need to have the unit on and the blades spinning or else it will not work.
There are a few more features that the iPilot has, but to me the ones mentioned are the stand out features that make this unit so appealing. So what can I say about this unit apart from a recommendation that you get on a boat with one on it as soon as possible? Not a lot as the unit speaks for itself very well.
Brilliant? You bet. Easy to operate? Absolutely. Worth the money? Without a doubt in the world.
* The author wishes to note that he paid for his Minn Kota iPilot and there was no expectation from importer BLA for him to write about the unit favourably or otherwise.
|Model:||Minn Kota Rip Tide iPilot (RT55/ST/iPilot)|
|Shaft:||54” (also available in 60” shaft)|