Don’t Be Stupid: It’s Dangerous to Fish with Underpowered Boat Batteries

Dont Be Stupid It's Dangerous to Fish with Underpowered Boat Batteries

“Row row row your boat, straight into the wind. Merrily merrily merrily merrily batteries died… again…

I am so sick of rowing.

This year I’ve been forced to fish differently. Bank fishing has been very unproductive. Probably several factors at play here, but whatever the reason, the challenge is good. I am grateful for the tough bite. It has forced me well outside my comfort zone… and as a result, it’s taught me many valuable lessons.

I shared one of these lessons recently, discussing a critically important concept for fishing Illinois smallmouth bass in creeks.

The Most Important Creek Fishing Tip for More Bass in the Fall
The Most Important Creek Fishing Tip
“Last year I fished creeks all through October and into November, but I only landed dinks. Why? I’ll tell you… because on this rainy, cold October day… I figured it out…”

That article focused on tips for more fish. Sweet. Everyone likes that. Another post featured even more fishing tips. See the pattern? Fishing tips, fishing lures, fishing techniques – that’s the fun stuff!

How To Fish Ultra-Clear Borrow Pits & Rock Quarry Lakes
How To Fish Ultra-Clear Borrow Pits & Rock Quarry Lakes
“[The quarry lake] was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was… challenging… and after eating even more humble pie, I learned a few things that helped me connect with fish I don’t normally target… I’ll share those things with you now.”

Today though, we’re going to focus on a safety.

Why?

You Can’t Catch More Fish If You’re Dead.

Pause.

Run it back.

Reflect with me for a second.

You can’t catch fish when you’re pushing up daisies. Mother Nature is not someone you want to test. Whether you test her by wading a frosty creek in frigid temperatures wearing shorts in the rain, or by heading out on a very windy day on a lake that only allows electric motors, relying on compromised boat batteries.

I’ve done both in the last week.

The wading-in-shorts thing we covered, but the other one… fishing a lake on a windy day with underpowered batteries… that ain’t safe. Period. The reason the title of this article says “Don’t Be Stupid“, is to serve as a reminder to myself.

I have been stupid.

Here’s what happened…

The First Time My Battery Died

I was on a beautiful quarry lake. Nature was alive & breathing. Muskrats, squirrels, deer, many kinds of birds and all the awesome sounds that come along with them. They worked together. Played a song for me. Water visibility was super-high, which made fishing tricky – but it also made for some breathtaking views. My little jon boat floated over deep rocky humps covered in huge boulders and sparse grass, with steep sloping edges that disappeared quickly into the dark abyss.

Gorgeous.

Groups of largemouth bass were sitting in the sun on rocky flats. By the time I saw them there was no chance of catching them. Bass in water this clear are wary of shapes, sounds & shadows approaching. They’ve seen birds pluck their friends from the water. Still, I was able to see them clearly in the crystal-clear lake, and enjoyed watching them lazily swish their tails, moving off into the deep, dark, water.

Safe. Away from this intruder.

Scooting around in my jon boat, launching a plastic far ahead of me did bring in a few quality fish, but after a while I noticed something…

jon boat clear quarry fishing largemouth bass
Healthy little largemouth on a Yum Dinger rigged wacky style underneath a bobber.

My depth finder screen had turned off. Odd. I held the button to turn it back on, and the screen lit up… until I engaged my trolling motor.

*BLIP*

Dead… weird… then I looked down and saw that my prop was spinning at about 15%… barely moving the boat. Something must be wrong with the battery… I guess?

This was a bad deal. Short on time, the misses would be annoyed if I wasn’t back to pick up the boys from school. My family is very supportive of my hobbies, but if fishing starts to cause inconveniences in our day-to-day routine, it’s going to become an annoyance.

We can’t have that.

I grabbed my emergency paddle, and started slapping water – hard. Like I was mad at it. You know that phrase “swearing like a sailor”?

Yeah.

Consider me Captain Ahab.

The jon boat is just wide enough that I couldn’t stay in one spot when paddling, so I had to move sideways about a foot in between rows. The combination of side-to-side movement and water-smacking caused me to start sweating like a you-know-what in church.

*SLAP!* *scoot scoot left* *SLAP!* *scoot scoot right* *SLAP!* *scoot scoot left again*…

jon boat emergency paddle
This is not working…

The ridiculously short paddle and my scoot-scoot-row technique allowed me to move at the speed of molasses back towards the ramp. I was never going to make it in time…

“Hey buddy, you need a tow or you just getting a workout in!?”

I looked up as a bearded man – with waders and a working trolling motor – silently approached. Like a burly angel sent from heaven, he was perched majestically atop the deck of his Lund (a far superior vessel) and clearly took pity on me.

Not one for charity, his generous offer was impulsively declined.

I hollered back:

“No thanks man! I think I got it!!”

He paused and looked at me sideways, unconvinced. Sweat continued to pour off my face, splattering my clothing and the commercial grade carpet lining the bottom of the jon boat.

“… you sure?”

I thought about letting my wife down. Being super late would be a massive inconvenience for her, and very annoying, no matter the reason. Without a doubt, future fishing trips hung in the balance.

Y’all know the dance…

“Actually, yeah man, that would be really awesome.”

“No worries. Name’s Greg. Take this rope and let’s getcha back to the ramp.”

Be Like Greg from Geneseo - Jon Boat Tow
Greg from Geneseo gave me a tow. He’s a good guy, that Greg. Be Like Greg. Thanks Greg!

A bad situation. A bearded savior. A lesson learned.

Upon returning home, I started up a big discussion in the Bass Resource forum about why this happened. Took notes. Learned a thing or two.

Oh, and yes – I made it back in time to get the kids – but this wasn’t my last problem with a battery…

The Second Time My Battery Died

Let’s clarify – batteries.

Plural.

On this day, I learned just how dangerous boating with underpowered batteries could be.

I went to the same lake, and the wind was blowing hard. Instead of the small emergency paddle, a longer kayak paddle was stowed under the front deck. Surely I wouldn’t need it with two batteries, but you know… just in case. No doubt about it, between the longer paddle and the two batteries, we’re definitely properly equipped! What could possibly go wrong?

Never ask that.

I stayed close to the shore and worked a Z-Man EZ Tube up under the overhanging roots. The tube jig stuffed inside was light (1/16 ounce) and the hookpoint was exposed. This, paired with a 3 foot fluorocarbon leader allowed the bait to sink sloooooooowly, with a slight spiral.

The result was a series of healthy largemouth & smallmouth bass:

pit quarry fishing largemouth bass tube overhang
Nice quarry bass snatched up my Z-Man EZ Tube on the fall. 10 feet offshore it’s 23 feet deep below the boat.
pit quarry fishing largemouth bass clear jon boat
Another chonk on the tube.
pit quarry fishing smallmouth bass clear jon boat
Smallmouth like the tube, too – this lake is awesome!

Everything was clicking. My Garmin STRIKER was charting the bottom. We were making sense of these spooky fish. The sun was shining and the wind helped keep the bass fired up. Cloud nine, baby!

*BLIP*

The Garmin died.

No worries, we’ll just swap in the backup… but… man the battery didn’t last very long. Maybe an hour? Must be because we’ve been traveling into the wind. All good, the second one will last longer.

Fished another hour, pushing straight into 25+ MPH winds. Had to stay right next to shore, because when the jon boat drifted into the middle of the lake the wind was so strong I couldn’t even move forward. More and more bass came in over the side of the boat as we charted additional contours.

Finally, we arrived at the far end of the lake.

*BLIP*

“Oh… what? No. No no no no no nononononooooo. Really? Both of ’em?!

Really.

Dead as a doornail.

Out came the kayak paddle, along with the sailor vernacular.

I paddled. And paddled. And paddled. After an hour I was halfway back to the launch, and I stopped to think for a second. The wind was at my BACK.

what if it wasn’t???

I’d be stranded.

Literally.

Most of the shoreline here is almost vertical – far too steep to walk the boat back. I remembered that earlier in the day the wind was so strong that even with the trolling motor running full bore, I couldn’t move ahead. Couldn’t push through it.

If I couldn’t do that with a motor… what hope did I have with a paddle?

None.

This realization caused me to get sick to my stomach. Would I die? Well not from the wind, but I’d be stuck, and that’s dangerous. So much could go wrong. What if my batteries were dead and I went over the side of the boat and got cut up bad on some brush and timber? What if I broke a bone or cracked my face open on one of these huge boulders? It’s not impossible… but what then??

These thoughts rushed through my mind, each scenario getting more and more outlandish – yet the fact remained – if the wind had shifted direction, I’d be stuck. It’s just a situation that needs to be avoided.

Paddling resumed.

When I finally rowed around the bend and into the last 100-yard stretch by the launch, I noticed two gentlemen targeting panfish. I had passed them much earlier in the day, and they hollered out:

“Good to see you made it back, we were just about to come looking for you! This wind is nuts, we went out there ourselves but decided to come back… glad you didn’t get stuck, or tipped!”

These men were fishing in a bigger boat. Had a bigger trolling motor. Bigger batteries no doubt. Yet they decided the wind was too much to tangle with.

I was out here in my jon boat.

Lesson learned… well… kind of…

The Third Time My Batteries Died

It happened again.

Yesterday.

Just a glutton for punishment.

Now don’t get me wrong, these days I check the direction of the wind before I head to the lake – then double check before I launch. I make sure to have my two (compromised) batteries, and I have a third Power Wheels battery jerry-rigged to run my sonar (thanks, kids). The long kayak paddle is now a permanent fixture on the jon boat, and I try to start far away and fish my way back to the launch… but sometimes… sometimes the siren song of those pit bass, man… it’s just too much to handle, and I have to go explore and fish for ’em!

Things started off well.

This new rock quarry lake, not far from the other pit, was beautiful. I popped in and immediately started mapping the bottom. Had a few small bass hit a Yum Dinger in smoke / pearl laminate with a Neko weight stuffed in one side. This was tossed out on an o-ring with a light wire wacky hook. The o-ring is extremely important – not because it helps me save baits (which it does) – but because it allows me to have the least amount of plastic on the inside of my hook. This means better hookups, and more fish in the boat. It is a ton of fun fishing with these tiny hooks for strong largemouth & smallmouth bass! 8 pound fluorocarbon line is as light as I’ll go. Full spool. Everything is slathered in Dr. Juice because Matt Straw says it works – and that’s good enough for me.

In crystal-clear water like this, you learn pretty darn quick that if you don’t go light – you don’t get bit.

I continued to fight my way ahead, into the wind. After 30 minutes I switched to a green pumpkin with purple flake, and started to get more frequent bites. A few bigger fish as well.

fall pit fishing quarry jon boat largemouth
No giants, but a few better bass hit the green pumpkin Yum Dinger with purple flake.

Things were starting to click.

Then I looked down…

My battery had died. Again.

“Well… we got two options. Hook up battery #2 and risk getting stuck way out here and paddling back… or… paddle now and fish, then hook up later and head back using the trolling motor…”

I opted to paddle into the wind, back into a bay I wanted to explore. Planned to chart the bottom contours along the way, even if we were not moving very fast.

Then the wind punched me right in the face.

Cue sailor-speak…

jon boat rowing pit quarry
“^%$@!(*&#!!&*&^%!!!!!”

I was paddling as fast as I could just to stay in place. The wind would die down, slight forward progress would be made… suddenly more wind would whip up and stop me – then die – I’d move ahead 50 feet – on and on and on this frustrating cycle repeated itself until I made it to the back of the bay.

When I arrived, I had wasted 75 minutes of precious fishing time, and I was drenched.

Bad choice.

I hooked up and headed home, feeling defeated.

That night I wrote in my fishing journal:

“NEVER AGAIN! JUST STOP! This is not safe, and on top of that it’s a waste of time. These batteries are shot, and you have to figure something else out before you waste more time, get really hurt, or worse…”

Problem is… I don’t want to stop – I want to fish! It’s cold in Illinois, but they’re still biting in these quarry lakes!

That said, unless I fix my power situation, I’m done for good. This year, next year, and beyond.

Time for a Battery Upgrade

After talking to quite a few fisherman, I think I’ve found a solution. There are several new battery types that seem more powerful than my stock Farm & Fleet marine battery. Batteries that could keep me fishing for 6 or 7 hours safely, even in the wind. One that I’ve really been looking at is the Mighty Max Deep Cycle Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery… but… I can’t afford it.

There is a $650 price tag.

Mighty Max Deep Cycle Lithium iron Phosphate Battery
Mighty Max Deep Cycle Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery

This is a 200ah (amp hour) model. It is 10 pounds lighter than my 80ah (compromised) battery. It is also $950 less than a Dakota Lithium Battery of the same size.

Dakota Lithium Battery
Dakota Lithium Battery 12V 200Ah LiFePO4

Now word on the street is that LiFePO4 batteries can outlast lithium ion by 4x to 5x, so that is a consideration. Lithium ion batteries can also overheat and light on fire. But note that the Mighty Max is lithium iron. Lithium iron batteries are superior to lithium ion in terms of chemical & mechanical structure, plus they don’t overheat to unsafe levels.

I don’t know if LiFePO4 is the same as lithium iron (If you know, or have a brand preference, please comment below).

Either way, I can’t afford one.

What do you think?

Still... if I could get my hands on one of these batteries... just think about what a difference this amount of juice would make...

Right now, if I run my trolling motor full blast, it draws 30 amps.

80ah / 30 amps = 2.7 hours

However, my compromised battery delivers about half that (if I'm lucky), and since my battery is a wet cell, the lower the charge, the lower the voltage it puts out. This is why the prop spins slower. Now check out the upgrade:

200ah / 30 amps = 6.7 hours

I don't run my trolling motor constantly, so even if I were to play it safe, an upgrade like this could allow me to fish for 5 straight hours safely, without the motor losing voltage and thrust. Realistically, if I ran the motor at a mid-speed average, I'd only draw 15 amps...

200ah / 15 amps = 13.3 hours...

... but sadly, right now it's not in the cards... and I need your help.

Please give me a hand and consider donating a few bucks.

This site has always been free. The videos are free. I plan to keep it that way, because I love fishing, and I love meeting people through the site and channel. Love it. But if you've ever learned anything valuable, please consider chipping in to help me get a few upgrades, so I can keep it up.

With your help, I can get back out there, fish longer... and fish safely.

donate to help the minimalist fisherman paypal donation link page
Any donation to help me upgrade 'ol jonny boy is appreciated!

Thanks, and hey... I hope you learned a thing or two from my stupid mistakes!

Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.

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