Fishing with "Otto"
How would you like a fishing partner that steers the boat all day, doesn't take up any room in the cockpit, is as quiet as a mouse and doesn't eat or drink a thing? Sounds like the ideal fishing partner eh?
Well, I've just described my friend "Otto" or more correctly, the TR-1 Gold Autopilot from Nautamatic.
The TR-1 Autopilot is quite simply the best trolling motor accessory in existence. Yes, there are steering rods, remote throttles and tiller-handle extensions galore but they are all second class citizens to my buddy "Otto".
As an avid angler and fishing guide, I often fish with less experienced fishermen. On days like these "Otto" is the silent partner/deckhand that frees me up to rig gear, cut bait or just relax a bit and fish! In addition, when we hook up on a big one "Otto" allows me to concentrate on getting the fish in the net without the need to constantly worry about boat control.
As a family man I really enjoy fishing with the wife and kids. However, sometimes the serious fisherman in me forgets to treat the "kid" on the kicker with nurturing kindness when we're on a collision course. With "Otto" along on these family outings dad is free to rig up the kid's rods and get the gear fishing quickly all the while making a more pleasant and relaxing outing for all involved.
Convenience and ease of use aside, the thing that I like best about "Otto" is the fact that he allows me to be a better fisherman. With the trolling motor autopilot engaged I have both hands free to tweak gear, make changes in rigging or just have more time to observe the changing conditions on the fishing grounds and make the necessary adjustments that add up to more fish in the box.
I started thinking about equipping my boat with a TR-1 Autopilot after seeing a demonstration at the Seattle Boat Show. In preparing to guide the Columbia for spring chinook I was looking around for an accessory that would make backtrolling a bit easier.
Before "Otto" backtrolling the big river was well, labor-intensive to say the least. After three or four days of trying to get my clients into fish, keeping their gear running straight and watching boat traffic with a rod in one hand and the tiller in the other...I was wiped out. Now with boat control made simple and hands-free automatic I am as fresh at the end of the day as I was first thing in the morning.
The TR-1 Gold is at its core a heading-holding autopilot which makes it a natural fit for deep water fisheries as well. In fact, "Otto" was designed for forward trolling and is an outstanding accessory for your deep water boat. I have a problem with the word "accessory" when describing the TR-1 since it implies a non-essential status to the equipment. However, you will realize in the first ten minutes of use that you will never wish to troll "alone" again.
After installing the autopilot on the sled I saw the handwriting on the wall and purchased a second unit for my 24-foot Trophy I/O hardtop. The problem with an Inboard/Outboard is of course, the motor box taking up valuable cockpit space. The problem is aggravated by the necessity to hang on to the kicker which, by design is placed at the corner of the transom. A deep "V" hull requires constant course correction when being pushed by a corner so before I met "Otto" I was a prisoner to the "kicker corner" Now I am free to move about the boat without the need to constantly man the tiller when we start drifting off course. I am further liberated by the wireless remote option available with the TR-1. Roughly the size of a automotive remote entry key pad, this device hangs around your neck and gives you remote control of steering AND throttle... wireless...from anywhere in your boat!
The advantages of the Nautamatic system were driven home permanently on my recent trip to Sitka, Alaska. We were not very fortunate with the weather one particular day and "Otto" was doing a great job of keeping us fishing in the slop. In fact, without "Otto" we probably would have quit fishing earlier due to the wear and tear on yours truly. However, less effort steering the boat makes for a happier skipper and a happier skipper fishes longer into the day.
We had caught a few kings to 30 lbs and we decided to try one more spot on the way home. Normally with fish in the box, once I start running for home I'm like a horse heading for the barn...don't get in the horse's way. But we knew of a few larger chinook taken in Sitka's famous "Shark Hole" and we decided to give it a go despite the windy, choppy conditions. We had fished for maybe 20 minutes when I decided to make a trolling pass close to the kelp line. Suddenly the center downrigger was hit so hard that I thought I'd snagged bottom with the downrigger ball. Thankfully I was wrong and we were in to a king... a BIG king. I engaged "Otto" and he held a course angling away from the kelp bed while I cleared the remaining riggers. My friend Dave was getting whooped by this hog and Larry, the third angler on the boat decided that it was time to video the fire drill.
The line on Dave's reel is now rapidly evaporating and it's time to chase this jumbo chinook. No problemo. Despite the fact that I'm on the opposite side of the boat from the kicker to get the rest of the gear in, all I have to do is mash down on the port arrow button on the control hanging around my neck. The boat comes around beautifully much to Dave's relief while I'm falling in love with "Otto" and seriously considering naming him at a beneficiary in my will. We catch up with the king and finally catch a glimpse of him. "Oh man... He's a PIG!" Larry hollers.
All Dave & I could manage is a simultaneous "wow" under our collective breath as we struggle to keep our balance in the chop and ocean swell. Now, you have just not lived until you attempt to net a 50+ pound king salmon in six to eight foot seas in a 24' boat while fighting to remain upright and trying to keep the boat on course...all at the same time. Due to the rolling nature of the sea state, we had to synchronize our efforts to net the fish with the bottom of a swell. Otherwise, we could have put excess pressure on the fish, possibly breaking the line as he rode the swell away from us. Finally, we time it right and get the monster king in the net and swing him over the gunnel to a chorus of "YEAH!!!"
It's difficult to describe how vital the TR-1 Autopilot was to getting Mr. 55 pounder into the fishbox. Suffice it to say that without "Otto" we would not have been fishing at that place and time due to skipper fatigue, my attention would have certainly been diverted from timing the netting attempt to boat control and we certainly would not have had the video of this fish due to the fact our camera man would have been manning the kicker...For the first time...Not a great time to learn boat handling...
The only downside I see to fishing with "Otto" is the fact that my kids might never learn to run a kicker motor. I can just hear myself now: "yeah kids, when I was your age we had to steer the boat by hand....