Eight guys on a boat went fishing and had a banner day catching cobia, red snapper, sea bass, and other prizes while working a reef. What’s noteworthy, though, is not the day’s haul but how the boat captain put the anglers on fish. He didn’t drop anchor but held position over the reef using his boat’s pod drives.
The captain’s name is Chad Kivett, an applications engineer for Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (CMD). He’s been given a mandate from his bosses to test the product they sell in the real world. This makes Kivett a lucky man, since he gets to fish and get paid for it, all to demonstrate how pod drives work in a fishing boat.
Pod drives have been showing up in boats since Volvo Penta introduced its IPS system in 2004. CMD followed with its Zeus pod system, and the independently rotating propulsion units have gained traction primarily because of their maneuverability--like working a joystick for a video game--and also for their gains in efficiency. But builders who have put them in fishing boats have noticed that the handling advantages that make docking so easy also translate well to offshore fishing. Sportfishing captains, used to relying on twin inboard systems with straight shafts and rudders, have been slow to embrace the new technology, but boat builders are buying in.
Spencer first put IPS drives in a 43 Express and has since put them in six other boats, racking up some strong tournament finishes along the way. Albemarle, Luhrs, SeaVee, and others have built boats with IPS systems. Builders such as Viking, Cabo, and Mikelson use the CMD Zeus drives in their boats.
The boat that Kivett runs is a 60-foot sportfisherman called QuadZeus because it is powered by four 600-hp Cummins diesel engines paired with Zeus pod drives. He believes the system has advantages for both bottom fishing and offshore trolling.
“For one, our system comes standard with trolling valves,” said Kivett. “That allows you to slow the boat down to one knot in trolling mode, perfect for livebaiting, kite fishing, or any slow speed presentation.”
The big benefit comes after a fish is hooked. With joystick controls, the same dockside maneuverability applies offshore. Steering with the joystick, the boat can be turned in any direction to handle a hot fish, making it easier for the captain to keep a large pelagic under control. Captains who prefer working the helm can switch to single lever mode and always keep one hand on the steering wheel. Volvo Penta offers Sportfish Mode, which positions the IPS pods outward; using the lever controls, the captain has a faster response at the helm when backing down on a fish.
The huge benefit for reef or bottom fishing, as mentioned, is that you don’t have to set an anchor. Dropping a hook in 100-200 feet of water is a laborious process and if you’re only a little off your mark, you won’t catch fish. CMD uses a feature called Sky Hook, which uses GPS position to hold your boat over selected mark within a 30-foot radius. “You get over your numbers and press a button and you’re locked in,” said Kivett. You can also use it in tandem with the joystick to work a controlled drift along a ledge. Volvo Penta has a similar feature called the GPS Anchor.
Using Sky Hook or GPS Anchor eliminates the anchor line as an obstacle when fighting fish, so technically an angler hooking a fish while stationary can have 360-degree fighting capability, depending on the boat’s layout. You can still get caught up in the props, so you still need to make your drops on the down-current side.
Kivett is an employee of CMD, so naturally his opinions on fishing with Zeus are favorable, but other reports from the field show fishing from boats with pod drives in a favorable light. Many diehard captains will never give up their straight-shaft inboards, but offshore anglers who do might have a few of the same banner days as Kivett has on QuadZeus.
Pete McDonald is a contributing editor to Power & Motoryacht. Previously, he spent 11 years on the editorial staff of Boating. He has won multiple writing awards and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.