Hunting Offshore With Setzer - Major League Fishing

Hunting Offshore With Setzer

Fourth-year pro starts practice idling at Chickamauga
Image for Hunting Offshore With Setzer
Braxton Setzer Photo by Justin Onslow.
April 28, 2019 • Justin Onslow • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

If Braxton Setzer wins the FLW Tour’s sixth stop of the season fishing offshore, he has a faulty trolling motor to thank for it.

The fourth-year pro, currently in fourth place in Angler of the Year standings, found himself in a tricky situation to start his practice for the Tour event on Chickamauga, presented by Evinrude. After dropping his boat in the water, Setzer was greeted by a trolling motor with power running to it, but a foot pedal that wasn’t responding.

Without a functioning trolling motor to fish shallow, Setzer decided his best move – at least to start the day – would be to idle around offshore looking for structure, and, more importantly, structure with some fish on it.

I hopped in Setzer’s boat for the morning for an up-close tutorial on finding fish offshore.

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Setzer puts in at Chester Frost Park, well south of where the Tour pros will be launching from for the event. There’s always a lot of activity in that section of the lake, and it’s Setzer’s first stop to get practice rolling.

Unbeknownst to Setzer, his trolling motor isn’t going to cooperate. He toys around with a few things for a couple minutes before Miles Burghoff – ROY and AOY leader Miles Burghoff, whom Setzer is rooming with this week – comes over to assist.

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Burghoff provides Setzer with a screwdriver to remove the top of the trolling motor head to get at the fuse he thinks might be the problem. Unfortunately, the fuse is still in working order, but it at least eliminates one possible problem. 

“It’s a sign from God you should idle all day,” Burghoff jokes.

As it turns out, that’s going to end up being the plan for the first part of it.

Knowing he isn’t going to get his trolling motor in operation for the time being, Setzer pulls out his cellphone to record a video for FLW’s Instagram account, which he’s set to take over for the day. From there, it’s off to the first spot to start idling around.

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Setzer stops in short order to mark something he likes, then proceeds to idle into Island Cove Marina in the hopes that there might be something there (and open) to repair his trolling motor. In the meantime, he’s making some calls to find someone who might be able to help.

At 7:30, Tour pro Rob Jordan meets up with Setzer with some tools and parts to get to the bottom of the problem. Despite Setzer’s understandable frustration with the issues he’s having, Jordan is positive and supportive about it.

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Jordan says. “Just have to make the best of it.”

It isn’t the power switch, so Setzer is out of options to get it up and running.

“It seems like every time I come to the Tennessee River something tears up on the first day of practice,” Setzer vents.

Still, there’s work to be done, and he has a backup plan for how to start his practice on a positive note.

At 7:48, Setzer is back to idling offshore, eyes glued to his Lowrance in search of a school of big bass or some structure that could hold some by the end of the weekend.

Braxton Setzer

“White bass city right there,” Setzer says of a big school of small fish he’s spotted. “I didn’t want to commit my whole first day of practice to looking out deep.”

Setzer really enjoys fishing offshore, though, and he’s good at it. The trick this week will be finding some offshore structure (ledges, specifically) that aren’t inundated with both tournament and local anglers. The ledges, Setzer believes, will be key this week.

“It’ll all be ledge-related,” he explains. “But are they [the fish] going to be in a graphable position? I’m sure there will be some offshore. It’ll just be a matter of what stage they’re in.”

Talk turns to the FLW Cup as Setzer continues to idle. After three top-20 finishes this year, including a second-place finish at Seminole, it stands to reason Setzer would be looking ahead to the championship event. He’s more cautious about it, though, citing his trolling motor issues as an example of what can happen when you start planning for everything to go perfectly. 

“If we can make it [to the Cup],” he says, gesturing to the bow of the boat. “You can’t ever tell what’s going to happen.”

At 8:06, Setzer finally finds some cover close to the bank that he wants to fish. For the first time all morning, a rod comes out of the rod locker, this one equipped with a (unnamed) prototype walking bait. He proceeds to make several casts before the wind pushes him out of position. Without a trolling motor, beating the bank for any period of time is going to be a tall task.

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

At 8:15, he fires up his Evinrude and cleans the screen on his main graph. It’s going to get plenty more work the rest of the morning and he wants it in top shape.

As Setzer continues making short runs in the same general area of the lake, stopping to idle around for minutes at a time, the topic of Chickamauga’s incredible population of big fish comes up. You can’t come to Chick in May and not get a little excited about the possibilities. 

Setzer has a fisheries biology degree, and he’s the perfect person to break down exactly why Chick is the big-bass factory it is.

“It’s just one of those places where everything sets up right,” he explains. “You’ve got the right nutrient level [in the water]. The right bait. The right stuff offshore. It’s just a good habitat in general.”

It’s a habitat Setzer isn’t all too familiar with this time of year. He’s fished Chick three times before, but all three times it was June or later, and all three times it was from the back of the boat as a co-angler.

Still, it’s a Tennessee River fishery, and Setzer is no stranger to those.

By 9:05, the sun has come out in earnest and Setzer’s hood goes up. It’s turning into a pleasant morning, despite the mechanical issues. If you’re going to idle around all morning, it’s a fine one to do so.

Braxton Setzer

“There’s a dang group of fish out here somewhere,” he says while looking intently at his graph. “They may not be out this far yet.”

Setzer’s fourth season as a Tour pro has been one of improvement. He’s starting to fully realize his potential to run with anyone on the circuit. His second-place finish on Seminole was “pretty special,” as he puts it, but it was Cherokee – the Tour’s most recent stop – that Setzer enjoyed so much throughout the week.

“I really enjoyed Cherokee even though I didn’t catch them great,” he says of fishing for smallmouths. “I am itching to get up there [to Champlain]. I like that place.”

For now, he’ll have to settle for hunting double-digit hawgs in eastern Tennessee.

By 9:20, Setzer has a few places he plans to come back to fish when he has a working trolling motor. It hasn’t been a great morning for finding gold offshore, but it’s a start. Asked what he’d be throwing at the fish he’s marked, he has this to say:

“It depends, really. A jig, a worm, crankbait, swimbait… Just depends on what you can get them going on.”

A little while later, Setzer idles over a particularly intriguing ledge, but it’s one he expects almost everyone else to know about, including the mass of local anglers running around all over the lake.

“You’d have to be boat No. 1 with a 30-minute head start to get on that,” he jokes.

Braxton Setzer

Setzer once again finds a juicy laydown to throw his walking bait, but nothing offers at it. After just a couple casts, the rod is strapped back on the deck and the idling commences.

By 10:30, Setzer is beginning to get anxious to find a different boat to practice in for the rest of the day. He has a couple leads and expects to be back out on the water in short order once he drops me off at Chester Frost. 

“I try not to get frustrated about it, but I feel so handicapped,” Setzer admits.

The plan for the afternoon is simple: Find a boat to practice in the rest of the day. And so, he heads back to Chester Frost and drops me off around 11:15. His boat is going back on the trailer and tucked away until someone can have a look at his trolling motor, hopefully on Monday. 

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Braxton Setzer

Setzer does eventually find another boat to practice in after I’m off the water and on the road. It’s business as usual once again.

It’s just a bumpy start, and Setzer knows he’ll be back on track in the afternoon, when he plans on beating the bank a bit to see what the shallow bite is all about.

And with a few hours of graphing already under his belt, he’s already making progress – even if it might not feel like it right now.