Minn-Kota I-Pilot is Invaluable River Tool

By Ted Peck - June 1, 2012
If rotary dial cell phones were available, I would have one. The next best technology for a simple river rat is one of those Trac Phones where you buy pre-paid minutes.

Mine is held together with duct tape and the "3" button is broken, So if you want to reach me out on the water and you're calling from a number with a "3" it will be awhile before I get back to you.

This phone has a voice mailbox, which I've never activated. People call it anyway. The phone beeps every time it locks in on a different tower and the phone asks me if I want to "listen" or "ignore".

Maybe a smart phone would figure I wanted to "ignore" after the 200th time this option was selected. My dumb phone responds, but only to the "off" button.

Learning computer basics was a necessity for somebody who earns part of his income from writing outdoor stuff. I've been more successful resisting GPS technology. The stars have been around forever and a compass has worked since before America became the United States.

My basic Humminbird sonar has GPS technology. I've turned it on a couple times during periods of extreme fog when running back channels, but have generally failed to see much need when working on a body of water which is not much more than a mile wide and runs generally north to south.

Three big fish which never saw the boat in a single afternoon convinced me to upgrade my MinnKota Terrova with an I-Pilot. After two weeks with this tool I feel like the guy who beats his head against the wall because it feels so good when he stops.

The Terrova came with a co-pilot remote, a slick little Dick Tracy wristwatch thing that lets you control the trolling motor from anywhere in the boat. I was quite happy until my nose couldn't find the right button when my hands were occupied with those fish.

A foot pedal control works all right if you're some bass guy and part of the game is keeping the angler in the back of the boat as far away from the sweet spot as possible.

Guides who have this attitude don't get much work. Besides, if you have to keep one foot on a pedal you're still acting like the angling equivalent of a one-man band.

When the anchor mode of an I-Pilot is activated the motor uses GPS technology to hold the boat within five feet of the selccted spot, a pretty neat trick when wind and current are part of the fishing equation.

The new I-Pilot also has advanced auto pilot technology, which allows for current and wind influence when you're trying to work along a shoreline or some kind of structural breakline. It even remembers a productive track, allowing an angler to replicate a productive presentation.

The I-Pilot remote control is designed to be clipped on the belt or worn around the neck on a lanyard.

My biggest fear was having the thing fall off my neck when netting a fish for a client. According to the instructional manual, this remote is supposed to float. Sooner or later I'll find out if it does. Murphy's Law may have originated on the Mississippi River where I work.

The Miss has my vote as the most challenging freshwater fishery within the continental U.S. It is not a forgiving place.

Electronics don't do you much good on an environment where the bottom can go from 10 feet deep to 10 inches in 10 feet on a structure like a wingdam or closing dam.

The ability to read the water is a major key in consistently catching fish in a river. Time on the water is the only way to tell the difference in riffles between a sandbar shoal and deep water hole.

Precise boat orientation is often critical for successful bait presentation. Minn-Kota's I-Pilot is a tremendous tool for this fishin' mission.

If you're primarily a river fisherman with a limited disposable income spending money on a trolling motor makes more sense than equipping your boat with a hi-def, full color, 3D fish finder.

Most casual anglers don't know how to use most of the features on their sonar units. This technology has much greater value when fishing a lake-especially a big lake.

I will concede that GPS brings some comfort when trying to navigate the Mississippi's myriad backwaters in a heavy fog. I've considered upgrading my Humminbird with one of those Lakemaster chips.

Before this happens I need to get genuinely lost on the Mississippi first. This has never happened, although there have been several occasions where I've been bewildered for up to seven hours.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.