Chris Pope on being marshal for Todd Auten

Todd Auten
Todd Auten

DECATUR, Ala. — One of the new features of the Elite Series this year is employing marshals to accompany pros as non-fishing observers.

At the Evan Williams Dixie Duel on Lake Wheeler, Ala., we asked two marshals, Chris Pope of Pensacola, Fla., and Wendell Johnston of Belfast, Tenn., to keep journals of their day on the water with Todd Auten and Terry Butcher, respectively.

Here is what Pope to say, as it happened:

Pointed start

Todd's first stop is at a point in the main lake. He makes five casts in 20 feet of water before boating a non-keeper smallmouth. Twenty-five casts later produce another dink but on the 50th cast of the day he boats a 3-pound largemouth.

Todd switches to another lure but several casts and no fish later he returns to the original. He misses a really good fish at the boat. Todd told me that in practice he found that the better fish were biting early.

After an hour he finally gives up on the first spot and runs across the lake to another point. Nothing; Todd thinks the lack of current is killing his chances. He fishes some docks for about 15 minutes and then moves to a cove.

When he hangs up his lure, he grabs the line with his free hand and then just throws his rod down at the lure like a spear. It comes lose — a cool trick.

Move, cast and move again

After missing a couple of fish, Todd puts his trolling motor on high and moves quickly past dead water and back out to the main points. At the next point, he catches his second keeper on the same lure that he started out with. A few casts later, he cranks up and we go back across the lake to another cove, where a third keeper slams the bait.

In midmorning, the skies clear for a while, but the wind starts to pick up. We run about 4 miles and it's a bumpy ride. A lure change produces a strike, but no fish. Soon, we move again, but the fishing is dead. Todd doesn't seem too concerned, and finally tells me that the fishing should pick up as the day wears on because of the approaching front.

We work our way to the dam, and I notice that the sky is really starting to get dark. It's about 11 a.m.

Momentary bad luck

Another lure change gets a throwback at 11:07 a.m. When Todd stops in mid-retrieve to rub his eyes, a bass slams the lure.

"Sometimes the fish give you hints like that," he says.

Back at the dam now, he catches a little smallie. A couple of casts later, and he catches his fourth keeper, a 3-pound largemouth. Yes, it's the same lure that he started with.

Switching to another lure for a while, he gets his fourth keeper. The current is very strong near the dam and there's a lot of debris. He decides to try a nearby cove, stopping long enough to shed his rain suit and add some Rejuvenate Formula to the livewell.

After we run two miles back across the lake, the trolling motor starts going crazy, staying on constant and changing speeds on its own. The only way Todd can control it is to hit the off and on switches. Finally he calls Trip (Weldon, the tournament director) and says he's coming in to get his spare trolling motor. We make the long, rough ride back, but the service crew is on us like a swarm of bees and the spare motor gets us back in the hunt.

The fifth keeper

After leaving Ingalls Harbor again, we run about 4 miles and shut down. Todd asks me to turn my head while he ties on a secret lure. About this time, the first drops of rain start splatting against the water and us. After 12 to 15 casts, Todd gets his fifth keeper, a 2-pounder.

Todd isn't satisfied, and thinks that the fluctuating water level is keeping the bass unsettled. They move up, and then move back out when the water falls. Tomorrow is another day, though. I hope the weather is better, because running into 3 ½-footers is no fun.

My thoughts of the day: If you're going to be a marshal, you better put your big boy pants on, because you're going to go riding with guys who don't play around.

(Auten finished Day One tied for 29th place with 12 pounds, 12 ounces.)