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Fans enjoy spectacle of bass fishing championship

Chris Jones, right,  hosts the Forrest Wood Cup bass fishing championship day one weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Thursday. Many bass fishing vendors are on site to promote their fishing hardware.

Chris Jones, right, hosts the Forrest Wood Cup bass fishing championship day one weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Thursday. Many bass fishing vendors are on site to promote their fishing hardware.

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Retired Air Force Col. Tim Dearing, of Loudon, Tenn., shows off a bass that he caught in Lake Lanier on Thursday, as the Forrest Wood Cup bass fishing championship holds a weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center after the first of four days of fishing.

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Fisherman Troy Anderson, left, is introduced by host Chris Jones, right during the Forrest Wood Cup bass fishing championship weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Thursday. The event continues today through Sunday.

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Chris Jones, right, hosts the Forrest Wood Cup bass fishing championship day one weigh-in at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Thursday. Many bass fishing vendors are on site to promote their fishing hardware.

DULUTH -- At a Forrest Wood Cup weigh-in, bass fishing becomes a spectacle.

Ask legendary angler Gary Yamamoto, who strolled onto the stage at the Arena at Gwinnett Center not only with his day's catch in tow, but with a long-haired chihuahua friend named Bella.

Ask big-name fisherman Luke Clausen, who came out -- onto a red-carpeted stage backed by massive video screens and flanked by a series of decked out fishing boats -- to the, uh, interesting song choice of "Milkshake" by Kelis.

Ask pro Bryan Thrift, whose toddler son came teetering up the runway while his dad showed off a pair of impressive bass for the cameras.

"I don't think (the general public) know's what it's like," fan Todd Bethune, of Dacula, said. "I don't think they know it's this big."

Added friend Tony Foxworth, from Duluth: "It's exciting. We really enjoy coming to it."

The Forrest Wood Cup is the biggest tournament in bass fishing, and the annual competition has returned to Gwinnett. With fishing throughout the day on Lake Lanier before weigh-ins at the Arena at Gwinnett Center (not to mention a massive expo that runs Friday through Sunday), it's a big deal.

The winner after four days of fishing is given the biggest prize all year: $500,000.

The Cup was decided on Lanier -- a world-class fishery for largemouth and spotted bass -- just two years ago, but the sport's top anglers are back again.

"It's a wonderful lake," said Yamamoto, who posted one of the day's top total weights. "It's got a lot of fish."

For the pro fishing novice, here's how a Forrest Wood Cup works:

-- Anglers (and co-anglers, which compete in another division) disembark from Laurel Park in Gainesville each morning, wandering Lake Lanier for several hours in search of good spots and big fish.

-- Each angler is allowed to bring in a total of five fish each day. They're weighed together in a well-choreographed event each night at the Gwinnett Arena.

-- The higher total weight, the better. A cut is made Friday night after the first two days of fishing, and those remained compete for the final two days.

-- The highest total for the week wins. Anglers are allowed both largemouth and spotted bass.

-- The fish are returned to Lanier each night. FLW Outdoors boasts a 98.9 percent survival rate.

Each night, attendance is free for fans who want to catch all the weigh-in action, which begins at 5 p.m. Heavy rainstorms late in the afternoon hampered the crowd Thursday, but by the time the weekend rolls around the Arena at Gwinnett Center will be filled to capacity.

For a big-time fishing enthusiast, it's a dream come true. And for a local, it can be both awe inspiring and empathy inducing.

"We see some of these guys coming up there with no fish," Foxworth said. "And we're like, 'I've been there.'"

A huge FLW Outdoors Expo also begins today and runs through the weekend at the neighboring Gwinnett Center. Events include demonstrations, giveaways and opportunities to meet professional anglers.

The expo will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Sunday.