Of all the ways to trick a boat for more performance, few tweaks are as easy or economical as choosing the right prop. Unfortunately, the subject often gets lost in all the hoopla over high-tech outboards and other glitzier components.
I’ll admit, my eyes used to glaze over when discussions turned to blade counts and pitches, but I’ve since become a believer in the importance of smart propping. As longtime North American Fisherman confidante and avowed boat-rigging fanatic Scott Glorvigen explains it, “Props are probably the least understood, most overlooked, yet most important pieces of the performance puzzle.”
Tournament competition forced Glorvigen and his brother, Marty, to learn as much as possible about how props work. “Once we understood how different blades, pitches and materials affect speed, handling and other performance characteristics, it gave us an advantage over competitors who chose to run only one prop,” he recalls. One of their top lessons dealt with blade counts.
“Props are commonly available with three, four or five blades, and each offers advantages,” he says, explaining that the number of blades affects top-end speed, hole-shot and how well the prop grabs water in turns or rough water.
In a nutshell, three-bladed props shine for speed and top-end performance. But five blades offer more lift, which is important for big-water boaters because it helps keep your bow up and avoid spearing waves or taking a roller over the deck. “Five blades also make it easier to climb big waves,” he adds. “And they allow slower bottom-end trolling speeds.” The tradeoff? Five-bladed props typically sacrifice a few miles per hour of top speed.
Four blades can be a fine compromise. They excel on multi-species and dual-purpose boats, offering benefits of both their three- and five-bladed counterparts. For example, Glorvigen recently rigged one of Mercury’s new four-bladed aluminum Spitfire props on a 60-horsepower tiller he uses for fishing and duck hunting, and reports the thin, high-rake blades rocket out of the hole without sacrificing top-end speed. “And yet you still enjoy four-blade boat control at low rpms for precision trolling,” he says. “For less than $200, it was an economical way to boost my boat’s performance.”
To choose a prop that’s right for your boat and style of fishing, check out manufacturers’ websites and visit your local marine dealer for a full rundown of the recommended options for your fishing platform.