Anglers gear up for super bowl of fishing

DULUTH -- Seventy-eight men took turns posing for photos with the Forrest Wood Cup on Wednesday afternoon, some serious, some with silly faux celebrations.

As the competitors for professional bass fishing's premier title gathered at the Gwinnett Convention Center's grand ballroom for registration, they rotated through the photo shoot, not knowing which one of them would grasp the trophy again after four days of fishing on Lake Lanier.

Almost to a man, though, they did know one thing -- it's going to be tough.

"It's super tough on Lake Lanier right now," said Tom Mann Jr., a Buford resident and 26-year pro fishing vet. "I've been fishing here for 40 years and I've never seen it any worse. It's really going to be a struggle just to catch five keeper bass."

The Forrest Wood Cup brings together the best anglers in the world each year, traveling to different sites across the country.

Today through Sunday, they'll be trying to reel in a $600,000 payday on Lake Lanier, which has a reputation as one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the United States.

But with less than ideal conditions on the docket, it won't be easy.

"It's loaded with fish, but this time of the year most of them are 25 to 30 feet (deep), and they're hard to find because they're bunched up," 2006 Cup champion George Cochran said.

Added Ish Monroe, a longtime pro with his own show on ESPN: "The lake's a good lake. It's got a ton of fish in it, but catching the big ones is hard right now with the temperatures being in the 90s. Any time you've got that, the fish are going to be sluggish."

"The guy who wins is going to earn it."

The conditions may bode well for Mann and Jason Meninger, another Lanier local from Gainesville. The tandem would conceivably have more tricks up their sleeves and more spots to try to find their bass if they aren't biting -- but even that advantage may not matter this weekend.

"It's going to be just putting your head down and grinding it out," Mann said.