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Hydraulic Jack Plates on Fishing Boats

Fishing boats don’t come with jack plates, yet every pro fishing boat has one, as do most hobbyist boats. Why are hydraulic jack plates for shallow water fishing so popular? What are the benefits of hydraulic jack plates on fishing boats? Are these advantages just for pros, or can amateurs also benefit from installing a jack plate? Here’s what you should know if you’re considering a jack plate for your boat.

What Does a Jack Plate Do for My Boat’s Performance?

A jack plate attaches between your boat’s transom and the outboard motor. It has two functions:

  • It adds setback, placing the motor farther behind the transom
  • It lets you move the outboard up and down

Setback has two performance benefits. The transom stirs up water passing under it, creating turbulence. Moving the prop back puts it in cleaner flowing water, helping the blades get traction. Increasing the distance between the motor and the transom also adds leverage. This lets the motor push the boat up with less force, helping the boat get on plane faster.

The motor mounting plate moves up and down, changing the position of the outboard. Unlike trim, this height adjustment doesn't change the prop angle. This gives you more control, keeping the flow of water around the prop the same as you change the height of the motor. It also lets you get the prop in a position that avoids turbulence from the water surface, the bottom of the water and the transom.

By fine-tuning the height, you can get the right balance of traction and drag. Drop the motor when you’re in deep water, and the prop can get better traction by avoiding surface turbulence. This traction improves hole shot, helping the boat get on plane. It also improves handling at high speeds. Once you’re underway, lifting the motor reduces drag from the shaft. This increases your top speed.

With the motor up high, the prop won’t drag on the bottom in shallow water. This lets you run your boat in places that you can’t get to with a fixed prop. Lifting the motor also decreases turbulence from the lake bed, improving speed.

You can also compensate for weight changes throughout the day, balancing prop position against your boat’s depth in the water. This helps you adjust for weight differences between the bow and stern, preventing porpoising.

Does a Jack Plate Make a Difference in Fishing?

When it comes to boating, the biggest difference between recreational excursions and fishing is where you operate. If you’re out on a cruise, you probably stick to deep water areas. That way, you can reach high speeds, avoid obstacles and engage in sports like water skiing. When you’re fishing, you need to go where the fish are, including deep water, shallow water, marshes, bridges and more. With a jack plate, you can position your outboard motor to reach these places safely while minimizing turbulence that can alert fish.

What is the Purpose of a Jack Plate on a Bass Boat?

While bass are found in different places depending on the season and time of day, most catches happen in shallow water. A jack plate makes it easy to transition between areas, and go between fishing spots. You can lift your prop in shallow water, keeping it clear of the stumps and other obstacles. When it’s time to move into a new spot, you can start with the prop up high to get on plane faster in shallow water. Once you're back in deep water, you can lower the prop for more traction. A jack plate can be a major time saver during tournaments and can keep your prop clear of obstacles in prime fishing spots. That’s why they’re pretty much standard on these boats.

Do I need a Hydraulic Jack Plate for my Fishing Boat? Can I Save Money by Installing a Manual Plate?

If you’re considering a jack plate for your boat, the lower price of a manual plate can be enticing. However, manual plates are missing functionality that comes in handy when fishing.

With a manual jack plate, you need to stop the boat every time you need to move the prop. That’s not much of a problem if you’re staying in one type of water all day. However, most fishing puts anglers in situations where they need to go between shallow and deep water frequently. In this case, it makes sense to spend extra on a hydraulic jack plate. That way, you can start with a high prop in shallow water, lower it as your boat moves into deep water, and then move it up again when you’re back in the shallows.

Using a manual jack plate also makes it difficult to compensate for surface turbulence and weight changes. Each time you need to make an adjustment, you have to stop the boat to turn the plate screw. Then you need to get your boat up to speed to see if you got the height right. By mounting a hydraulic jack plate remote next to your other controls, it’s easy to fine-tune your outboard placement while you’re in motion. This lets you compensate for porpoising, drag and turbulence on the fly.