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Fish fanatics converge on Lanier, Arena

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Professional angler Jason Meninger of Gainesville shows off a pair of bass he caught on Thursday during the weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center following a day of fishing on Lake Lanier. Meninger, one of 78 fishermen competing for the Forrest Wood Cup, caught five fish weighing a total 13 pounds, 3 ounces.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Professional angler Jason Meninger of Gainesville shows off a pair of bass he caught on Thursday during the weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center following a day of fishing on Lake Lanier. Meninger, one of 78 fishermen competing for the Forrest Wood Cup, caught five fish weighing a total 13 pounds, 3 ounces.

DULUTH -- Dozens of men stand in line behind a curtain, tired from eight hours' work on Lake Lanier and holding their day's catch in vats of water.

An audio and visual mega-board with dozens of monitors and hundreds of switches sits beside them. On the other side of the curtain sit six beautifully painted fishing boats splayed out around a red-carpeted stage, a complex lighting system and five enormous projection screens.

One by one, a host calls their name and it's their turn to weigh in.

All of this is part of the nightly events surrounding the Forrest Wood Cup, bass fishing's premier event, held this year Gwinnett Arena.

"The Gwinnett Arena is just unbelievable," local fisherman Tom Mann Jr. said. "This is my seventh Forrest Wood Cup, and I've been in eight Bassmaster Classics. And this will be the best venue any of those places have ever had."

Those unfamiliar with pro fishing would be shocked at the production value of a Forrest Wood Cup weigh-in.

Dozens of people and several days of preparation work go in to setting up the stage, all meant to put on an unparalleled spectacle for fans and visitors -- and even the competitors.

"This is just really cool," Jake Gipson, one of the few competing college fishermen, said on stage Thursday.

Thursday evening's event saw only a few hundred observers, mostly friends and family. But as cuts are made following today's fishing and Saturday's excursions, the field will narrow and the drama will escalate as the competition comes closer to a winner.

With all-day arena activities just gearing up for the weekend (there will be a tank and a Black Hawk helicopter landing today, just to name a few), crowds will grow and the spectacle will be even greater.

"By Sunday we'll have 'em packed to the rafters," host Charlie Evans told the crowd Thursday.