Pick the right propeller for peak performance in any situation
Today’s boats and outboards are light years ahead of the options available to anglers just a generation ago. Advancements in power and performance make it easier and safer than ever to enjoy time on the water. However, one of the most critical components to any fishing rig flies under many anglers’ radar, the prop.
“Props are probably the least understood, most overlooked, yet most important pieces of the performance puzzle,” says longtime guide, tournament champion and noted freshwater expert Scott Glorvigen.
“Tournament walleye fishing forced my brother Marty and I to learn how props work,” he says. “Once we understood how various blades, pitches and prop materials affect speed, handling and other performance characteristics, it gave us a competitive advantage over tournament fishermen who chose to run only one prop.”
Recreational anglers and pleasure boaters have much to gain has well. Best of all, manufacturers offer near-limitless configurations, making it possible to choose the right prop for any situation.
Props are commonly available with three, four or five blades. Each offers advantages. For example, the number of blades affects top-end speed, hole-shot and how well the prop grabs the water in turns or rough water.
“For bass anglers it’s all about speed and top-end performance, which makes three blades an ideal choice,” says Glorvigen. But he notes that big-water boaters facing heavy seas would do well to consider beefing up their blade count.
“If you’re running in big waves and rough conditions, a five-bladed prop offers more lift, making it easier to keep your bow up,” he explains. “This helps you avoid spearing waves and taking water over the bow. Five blades also make it easier to climb big waves, so a roller breaking behind me doesn’t come over the transom.”
Along with providing the “traction” to battle big waves, five-pronged props also enable slower bottom-end trolling speeds than three- or four-blade options. “This makes it possible to power into a new area, drop off plane and quickly start fishing using the big motor,” he says. “Once you locate fish, you can drop the kicker and fine-tune presentations from there.”
On the flip side, Glorvigen notes that a 5-bladed prop typically runs a tad slower than its three-bladed counterparts. “In my experience on walleye and multi-species rigs, you give up 3 to 4 mph on the top end,” he says. “If you’re fishing tournaments on smaller waters, where it’s a drag race to be the first one at a specific spot, it’s pretty tough to beat three blades.”
Four-bladed props are a fine compromise, and shine for multi-species and dual-purpose boats. “They act more like three blades than five, but are a good all-around choice,” says Glorvigen. “If you do a lot of fishing, but still like to pull skiers or tubers around the lake, they’re the way to go.”
The beauties of a four-bladed prop, he notes, are that you can zip to and from fishing hotspots, climb formidable waves and idle down to ultra-slow trolling paces. “Yet you can still still pop skiers out of the water and stay on plane at less than breakneck speeds,” he says. “The four-bladed option really enhances your family’s experience with a fish-and-ski.”
Prop makers commonly cast their creations from stainless steel, aluminum or combinations of materials including various metals, resins and space-age plastics.
“Once you get up to the mid-range in horsepower, stainless gives you better performance because there’s less flex,” says Glorvigen. Steel props also excel in troubled waters rich in rocks, timber and other water hazards that would shred more delicate materials. Though some anglers fear a steel prop could wreak havoc on their outboard’s lower unit in the event of underwater impact, hub systems like Mercury Marine’s Flo-Torq II are designed to give way under duress, protecting the outboard in a collision, while allowing you to idle safely back to port.
For their part, aluminum props are less expensive and well suited to general use. In fact, many boats roll off the assembly line rigged with aluminum props. Composites are also economical alternatives that are generally less durable, but make fine “Plan B” props in case the main propeller is knocked out of commission. “Having a back-up is like carrying a spare tire,” says Glorvigen. “It can definitely save the day in an emergency. An inexpensive aluminum or composite prop is cheap insurance.”
While high-performance primary props can run upwards of $600, he says they’re still a wise investment. “It’s the cheapest thing you can do to improve your boat’s handling acceleration and speed,” he says.
New technologies further push the envelope of propeller performance. For example, Mercury’s new four-bladed aluminum Spitfire series sports a reduced-diameter design with thinner, high-rake blades that rocket out of the hole without sacrificing top-end speed.
Not to be outdone, the company’s new Enertia ECO cuts fuel costs by 10 percent at cruising speeds while still performing like a champ. The secret? Merc engineers coupled a high, progressive rake with a broad, 16-inch diameter to reduce hull drag on plane, all while matching the firepower of other high-performance props.
To help you sift through the choices, Glorvigen recommends perusing Mercury’s website. “It has a wealth of insight and options,” he says. “Marine dealers are also great sources of information for finding the right prop for your personal fishing and boating needs.”
Scott Glorvigen and Multi-species propping tips
Scott shares insight on choosing the right prop for multi-species fishing.