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Saltwater fishers cast off from Gwinnett County

Would it sound like a fish story if I told you the biggest saltwater fishing club in America meets right here in Gwinnett County? Well, it's true.

On the second Tuesday of every month, the Atlanta Salt Water Sportsman's Club gathers at Winfield Hall in Duluth. More than 80 families drive in from all over the Southeast.

I say families because club president Tom Mauldin of Monticello stresses this is a family club, not just a bunch of guys getting together to fish.

Twenty years ago, Atlanta resident Leon Brown yearned for the deep-sea fishing of his childhood. Now living 300 miles from the nearest body of salt water, he wondered if other landlocked fishermen were as frustrated as he was. He tested the waters by putting out brochures in a few tackle shops.

The first meeting reeled in 80 saltwater anglers. Atlanta Salt Water Sportsman's Club soon became a local phenomenon like the Atlanta Ski Club, which is the largest ski club in the nation.

The club sponsors about seven tournaments per year, some in the Bahamas. Contestants fish just for fun, and the club especially encourages junior anglers to join in. Winners receive only plaques and pats on the back.

As devoted as its families are to fishing, the group finds other ways to have fun, including picnics and a fall leaf cruise, where everyone gets together to share tips, information, memories and, yes, even some fish stories.

But fun is only part of the saltwater club experience. More than 20 members have expanded their knowledge and skills by earning their U.S. Coast Guard licenses. Many apply their expertise to the betterment of the environment by doing research on conservation issues. One year, the club donated $1,000 to the Save Our Sealife Committee in Florida.

This fishing family includes people from all walks of life. Duluth resident and charter member Bob Michael, whose kids grew up in the club, now fishes with his grandchildren. Galen Forbes, an Ellijay teacher who plans the group's Christmas parties, boasts of reeling in a 350-pound blue marlin all by herself.

Brad Williamson from Lawrenceville caught his first fish in a catfish pond in Arkansas, but this Osborne Middle School student is now hooked on saltwater fishing.

"With freshwater fishing, you throw in the line and wait. With saltwater fishing, it's constant. You're always doing something," Brad said.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Atlanta saltwater fishing club is considered one of the foremost authorities on the sport. Members' fishing skills rival those of saltwater fishermen anywhere in the world.

I know. I know. This sounds like some kind of fish story. But if you don't believe me, you can check it out for yourself. Call Lenny Pisarski at 678-472-6608, e-mail skidoable@juno.com or visit www.aswsc.org.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.