Tiller Vs Wheel Steering for your Next Boating Rig

Bob Jensen - Fishing The MidwestIt’s Boat Show and Sportshow season across North America. It’s also the season when many anglers and boaters are looking for a different boat for the upcoming fishing and boating season. One of the primary considerations for northern anglers is whether to get a rig equipped with remote steering—that is a steering wheel—or direct steering: tiller.

While it’s rare to see tiller steering on anything much over 25 horsepower in most of the country, up in walleye and lake trout country, tillers are common and are even the favorite of many top level anglers.

With tiller steering, you’ll sit in the back of the boat and hang on to a handle extending from the engine. The steering and speed control are in that handle. If you’ve never run a tiller boat before, there is a bit of a learning curve, but you’ll catch on quickly.

Notice all the open area in
this tiller boat. For smaller
water, a tiller boat is tough
to beat.

The advantage of the steering wheel is you’re probably going to be familiar with the steering. You’ll also have a windshield, so you’ll be more protected from the elements and spray when you run from spot to spot. If you’re traveling long distances by water, the steering wheel is much less tiring than the tiller steering, although there are tiller-assist kits that really reduce fatigue from tiller steering.

The advantage of tiller steering is that it really opens up the boat. The steering console is gone, so there’s lots of room to move around.

Boat control is also better with the tiller when you’re employing some techniques, especially if you’ll be backtrolling for walleyes. Some of the electric motors that go on the bow do an outstanding job for boat control, but if you want the ultimate in boat control while backtrolling, a tiller boat provides that. Back in the day, almost all of the walleye guides and tournament guys fished out of tiller boats that were eighteen feet long and had a fifty horsepower motor. Now, because they’re fishing bigger water much of the time, console boats with steering wheels are the deal, although there are some twenty foot tiller boats with big outboards on the back of them out there.

Keep in mind also whether or not your boat will do double duty to pull skiers or tubers. This can be done with a tiller boat, but it’s easier done with a console boat.

Consider how much you’ll be on big water. If most of your fishing is done on big bodies of water and you’ll be running several miles or longer on a regular basis, a wheel boat will probably be better.

If you like to fish the smaller lakes and rivers that aren’t affected by the wind so much and you won’t be running long distances, a tiller boat might be perfect for you.

Tiller boats usually require less horsepower and the rigging is less costly, so the cost to get into a tiller boat is usually less. Also, with a tiller boat you can fish from the back, so you don’t need an electric motor or depth-finder on the bow, and you won’t need a kicker motor either. You can put a transom mount electric motor back by the outboard for the slowest presentations if you want.

Midwest's School of Fish

I ran a Larson FX 1750 tiller boat last year with an Evinrude E-TEC 90 HO for power. This rig did an outstanding job for me. I fished some lakes that were large, but mostly smaller lakes. I didn’t miss the steering wheel all that much, although there were a couple of times when a wheel boat probably would have been better.

If you’re thinking about a new-to-you boat this year, keep these ideas in mind. If you do, you’re on the way to a boat that will do a good job most of the time.