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Fishing festival will roll into Gwinnett Center

By Rob Rooks' standards, Georgia residents are some of the luckiest in the world. Mild climates, an abundance of both fresh and salt waters, and the beauty of scenic mountain streams and deep ocean waters - what could be better?

"We are really just blessed to have all these resources right here," said Rooks, an avid fly-fisher and instructor at The Fish Hawk fly-fishing shop in Atlanta. "You've got the Chattahoochee, the Chattooga, the Atlantic Ocean and the north Georgia mountains. These are some of the best fishing locations."

While fishers in the rest of the nation suffer through wintry weather and icy conditions, Georgia temperatures remain pleasant, making even the winter months an optimal time to get started catching those fish.

"Right now, the Chattahoochee is a hot spot," said Mark Castlow, president of the Castlow Group, which holds fishing exhibitions throughout the Southeast, including next weekend's Atlanta Fly Fishing Festival at the Gwinnett Center. "Other fishers have to go out ice fishing, or not go out at all. Not here - we have streams open year round."

Ever since Brad Pitt cast a rod in "A River Runs Through It," fly-fishing has been a growing sport on the American radar, although the sport itself has been around for centuries, Castlow said.

Casting the fly, controlling the line and netting the fish are the basic three steps for understanding the sport.

Though it's not necessarily difficult to learn, fly-fishing can take a lifetime to master, Rooks said. And he should know - he's been fishing for 23 years, and still hasn't caught The Big One.

"I was in Costa Rica one time, and my line hooked on to a massive ... something," Rooks said. "It started pulling my kayak out into the ocean, so I let it go. I had to let it get away."

Unlike other forms of fishing, fly-fishing isn't all about the catch. For most fishers, spending time outdoors and being at peace with the natural world is the most appealing aspect of the sport. Finishing a trip with a fish is just an added bonus, Castlow said.

"It's called fishing, not catching," he said. "Fly-fishing is an art form, and just being outside is the real reward. A lot of people start fishing for the challenge and just to be outside."

Patient, practice and rhythm trump power when it comes to casting, making fly-fishing an ideal sport for women. In recent years, females have begun infiltrating the male-dominated sport, and the trend is continuing to grow, said Leslie Miller, a member of the Georgia Women Flyfishers and coordinator for Casting with Confidence, a fly-fishing program for breast cancer survivors.

"There is more support, more clubs for women fly-fishers now than there used to be, and that, too, has contributed to the rise in female fishers," Miller said. "Plus, it's just so much fun and it's so beautiful. Trout live in pretty places."

Like most sports, it's nearly impossible to pick up fly-fishing techniques without lessons and instructors. After all, "you wouldn't pick up a golf club and automatically know how to play a course," Rooks said.

The Atlanta Fly Fishing Festival, which will be held Saturday and Jan. 21 at the Convention Center at Gwinnett Center, aims to educate both new and old fishers. From boats to boots, the festival will feature the latest in fly-fishing gear. Now in its 11th year, the festival will offer instructional classes, fly-tying seminars and demonstrations from top fishermen, such as Lefty Kreh and Dave Murray.

"The festival caters to people from all across the board, whether you know how to cast a line around a corner, like Lefty sure does, or whether you know nothing about the sport," Castlow said.

Castlow is hoping the family-oriented festival will introduce fly-fishing to a younger generation. Instructors will be on hand to guide kids and their parents through the fly-fishing basics.

"Fly-fishing is three-dimensional, and it is fighting with the one-dimensional world of computer games for kids attention," Castlow said. "When kids are introduced to outdoor recreation early, it creates some of the fondest memories you can have."

If you go

•What: Atlanta Fly Fishing Festival

•When: Saturday and Jan. 21. The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 21

•Where: The Convention Center at Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth

•Cost: Admission is $10 for adults, and children 13 and younger get in free

•Info: Call Mark Castlow at 772-562-5069, or visit www.castlow.com