ICAST 2019 - Some 'Wow' New Gear Offerings and a Look at the Novel and Niche
Updated: Feb 24
Note: A portion of this blog appeared in my newspaper column in the July 26, 2019 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Click here to access the paper.
View from atop the lure demonstration tank
Kayaks and boats galore at ICAST "On-the-Water" Event
From the enthusiastic exhibitors at the "hands-on" ICAST On-the-Water event through the three days of touring exhibit booths, looking at new products and talking with friends in the fishing industry, the American Sportfishing Association's annual tradeshow lived up to its billing as the greatest retail show in the industry.
ICAST stands for International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades. This year's event was held in Orlando from July 9-12. Hundreds of exhibitors jammed the show space and more than 14,500 registered buyers from outdoors retailers attended. Of course, there were hundreds of accredited media and government and non-profit organizations there, as well. Beyond the chance to see new products and make deals, the show also features a variety of business-to-business seminars and conservation-oriented seminars, such as the two programs offered this year by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (including one noted in this earlier blog).
A highlight is always getting to see the new stuff, figuring out what might sink or swim in the fishing world over the next year or two. This year, 1,004 new products were entered by 303 companies in the New Products Showcase, sponsored by Fishing Tackle Retailer, the leading business-to-business publication in the industry. Four new retail categories were added this year: Ice Fishing; Cold and Warm Weather Technical Apparel; Coolers and Bait/Storage; and Cutlery, Hand Pliers or Tools. Media representatives and buyers get to vote for the best new products. I picked 11 of the winning entries out of the 29 categories this year -- not bad, I think.
So, what won and what stood out? What seemed absurd, but on second and third reflection had you thinking, "Maybe this isn't too crazy after all?"
Here's a look at some winners and "also-rans" that caught my eye. An asterisk * denotes products I voted for.
First, though, let me make a point. Marketing and PR people really need to beware the term "game changer" - especially when something touted as new and innovative is really just a variation on a theme. However, the best new boat category winner was the Hobie Pro Angler 14 with the new 360-degree MirageDrive* and it is one of the true game changers this year. The propulsion fins can be directed anywhere you’d like. Figuring how to quickly sync rudder and mirage fins can help you make rapid course adjustments, turning on a dime, as the cliché goes. Also, I like how there is no lower unit extending below the boat as there is on some other pedal drive models. Only the fins extend below the bottom of the hull. If you hit something, they flex and can flatten near horizontally. They're made of durable material. As soon as you start pedaling again, the fins snap back into proper position as if nothing happened. At $4,700 - even before you start tricking it out - it's pricey. It's also heavy, weighing about 130 pounds. But, dedicated 'yak anglers have lots to love about this new Hobie.
Virginia’s Seigler Reels* (made in the USA) continues to do The Old Dominion proud, winning the Fly Reel category for the second year in a row. This year's entry was the 4-inch diameter lever drag SF (Small Fly) reel. The large fly reel won last year. Wes Seigler and his team left their small manufacturing location in Virginia's sleepy Northern Neck and relocated to the human hub-bub of Virginia Beach. By all accounts, the move is working out well. The fly reels are pricey (this year's winner has an MSRP of $750).
Shimano is always a powerhouse in the reel categories and 2019 was no exception, winning both the freshwater and saltwater reel categories with the SLX DC baitcasting reel* and the Stradic FL spinning reel, respectively. The Stradic FL comes in 5 models and retails between $199 and $299. The baitcaster goes for $189.
Other reels I looked at and liked included the new Penn Fathom II Star Drag reel, designed for saltwater and retailing for $249 when it's available next month. The other was the Bimini Bay Tsunami Saltx 4000. This saltwater spinning reel has 14 seals to keep water out. It felt exceptionally smooth. It's also $349.
Lew’s continues its domination of the rod/reel combo category, winning again with its Mach Smash Baitcast Combo*. This affordable $129 package includes a lightweight SLP graphite frame reel with brass gears and a 7+1 stainless steel bearing system. The medium-heavy rod is built on an IM6 blank and has stainless
steel guides and inserts. I love Lew's combos. They always feel good in your hands and handle flawlessly. Plus, the company does great work when it comes to youth and veteran programs. Lew's is also coming up with some cool color options. This year's winner is a vivid red.
LIVETARGET, always a force in the best new lures categories, also had three wins, taking best saltwater soft lure, freshwater hard lure and saltwater hard lure with their new line of lures that use something they call “Injected Core Technology.” Basically, the visible profile of the baitfish that a predator fish sees is encased in either a hard or soft, clear casing. The bait profile with these lures appears smaller to the target fish, while the casing adds splash and vibration that help entice strikes – so goes the theory.
My favorite of the three LIVETARGET lures was the Slow-Roll Shiner* (left photo below) that won the saltwater soft lure category. It comes in 3" to 5" sizes. My second favorite was the freshwater hard lure Erratic Shiner spoon (right photo below), which comes in 1/4 to 3/4-ounce sizes. The best saltwater hard lure was the Flutter Shad (center image), which comes in 3/8-ounce to 1.5-ounce sizes and has a feathered treble hook trailer. The Ghost Tail Minnow was the entry in the freshwater soft lure category. The lures all come in multiple color patterns and sell for $9.99.
In the new and unique arena, the Phantom Spider by Lunkerhunt* was judged the best freshwater soft lure. This big orb weaver or even small tarantula-sized, 3/4-ounce soft bait comes in multiple patterns and has two hooks strategically placed at the rear of the soft body, just like many soft frog lures. My guess any fish that likes to eat insects
falling from trees or shrubs would happily slurp this in. A cool feature is that the lure self-rights itself if it tips off. Fished slowly, it looks startlingly realistic. As much as I thought it a little gimmicky, this was my vote for best new soft freshwater soft lure at ICAST. We took it up to the top of ICAST's lure tank and swam it around in the open water. It would have looked more natural moving over and between patches of vegetation. Where it really looked cool was when the angler simulated the spider trying to climb out of the water. I could imagine a bass or even a big bluegill watching this and thinking a meal might be getting away. Or, maybe it is another novelty lure that won - has happened before...It'll sell for $8.99.
It's always fun to look at new lure offerings from countries other than the U.S or Canada. For example, Australia must have some badass fish if they'll nail an 11-inch long, jointed, hard plastic big lizard painted red and black. But there it was, the $69.59 Bidjiwong from Australia's Barambah Lures. They said it has already caught Murray Cod and should surely work on muskies and pike. Chasebaits Australia also had a cool lure called a Propduster-Glider 6.5, which looks like a small panfish with a hollowed center and a blade in the belly. It costs $29.95, but wasn't listed on their website as of this posting. Chasebaits also introduced the "Smuggler 3.5," which looks like a small, struggling bird -- maybe a sparrow (hey, as I recall, a bat won the best hard baits category a couple years ago). It has a $19.95 price tag. Molix USA had a 7-inch 3-piece-jointed, hollow-body rat lure that swims like the real deal. Now, that's a meal for any predator! And, they say it's a "GAME CHANGER"! $16.95. Westin-Fishing had a good, looking, huge (13 3/4-inch, 11 1/8-ounce) freshwater soft lure called the HypoTeez Inline. I can only imagine how it would feel casting that all day. It truly is a monster of a lure - nice looking, but still a beast. $39.95
Critters with tentacles were in fashion, too -- especially squid and octopi. Savage Gear USA has some new 3D Octopus lures in a variety of colors that look very realistic. They have imbedded rattles and a UV glow finish. $17.99. Ratcheting the octopi game up is Mustad, introducing the InkVader. It's a soft bait that comes in three sizes and has UV, glow and natural color options. Add a soluble ink tablet to the head and it "squirts" ink just like the real deal. $21.49 with 10 ink tablets included. Finally, Chasebaits Australia also offers up an 11.8-inch lifelike squid, featuring fluttering wings, great tentacles and a large 3D eye. $18.99.
Plano's new EDGE tackle trays were selected as the best new Tackle Management product. EDGE borrows, a bit, from Flambeau’s earlier Zerust technology, which added corrosion-resisting inhibitors into some of the plastic components of the tackle boxes. Plano does the same, calling their version " Rustrictor." EDGE is built on the Plano 3600 and 3700 Stowaway footprints and comes in 10 different options, with units designed for spinners, terminal tackle, crankbaits and more. It has a great latching system and an o-ring gasket that helps keep things dry when the box goes swimming or gets wet in the boat.
Another tackle management tool I liked was the Tak Logic Lure Lock LED Lighted Box*. $18.99. This small, sectioned tray has lithium battery powered LED lighting on the base, letting you see your lures if fishing in the dark or letting you recharge lures that glow, such as many jigs/bibits used by ice fishermen.
Frequent winner Costa Del Mar again topped the eyewear category with its new polarized Waterwoman glasses ($269), featuring Costa's 580G color-enhancing features, which block yellow light while boosting red, greens and blues, enhancing colors and contrast. The "G" designation reflects a glass that's 20 percent thinner and 22 percent lighter that typical polarized glasses. I also checked out WileyX's entry. The WX Compass* glasses ($160) come with the company's unique facial-cavity shield that helps cut down on wind, dust and more. The Kryptek Neptune pattern was featured. I've always liked that all of Wiley X's adult glasses meet ANSI and EN standards for protection, including flying objects.
Here are some photos of a few other category winners, with links to company and product websites. The coveted Best of Show winner is at the end.
Frogg Toggs is entering the footwear market and their first entry, called "Skipper," won best in category. With air mesh uppers, this lightweight shoe is designed for fast drying and easy drainage. It will cost $69.99, but won't be available until 2020. Personally, I think if a product is not available to the public in the year it is entered, it should not be judged a best new product for that year. While these may be fine shoes, they are 2020 models. I think manufacturers sometimes come to these shows with demo products that are more trial balloons than actual production candidates. If they generate interest, they get made; if not, they fizzle and die. Contest organizers should look at this.
The "Fillet Table Beverage Management System" by 13 Fishing solves the age-old issue of what do you do with your beer when you've got a fillet knife in one hand and a fish in the other. This updated take on the old stadium beer can drinking hat/helmet holds two units of your favorite beverage, plus has a built-in knife sharpener, bottle opener and a Bluetooth speaker. At first, I thought this was a total goof but, now, I don't know. This little novelty may have merits. And it's just $99.99. Buy two...
The 110V Electric Fillet Knife by Bubba was the winner in the Best Cutlery, Hand Pliers or Tools category. It is a nice package with the knife sporting a solid, sure-gripping handle and a motor that delivers a lot of torque. It comes with four blade offerings so you can match the tool to the type of fish you're
cleaning: 7” E-FLEX, 9” E-FLEX, 9” E-STIFF and 12
” E-STIFF. It sells for $125.99.
While I liked the knife, I eat a lot of blue crabs and oysters so the item that caught my eye was the Coastal Kitchen Collection by Toadfish Outfitters.* It has a nice shrimp tool that de-veins and butterflies in one movement, a wicked oyster opener with a slightly curved end that should help with leverage, and a crab claw cutter. Tool handles are made from recycled plastic bottles. That package goes for $88.
Plano Synergy won the best Cool or Bait/Storage category with the Frabill Magnum Bait Station 30.* It can aerate up to 30 quarts of water. You can use it to keep alive hundreds of small bait fish or a large number of bigger fish, such as mullet or menhaden. It feels strong enough to sit on. It sells for $179.
I also liked the new Calcutta Renegade 11 Liter Hard Cooler, the smallest of the company's line of tough, roto-molded coolers. The entire line goes up to 125 liters. It's jokingly called the six-pack and a sandwich size, but whatever you put in there, it will stay cold. The cooler is built like an ice chest freezer. I had fresh fish fillets on ice for three days without any worries. It comes in four colors: white, tan, gray and orange. One particularly cool feature is the small LED light near the drain plug.
The Humminbird Mega 360 unit (below) by Johnson Outdoors won the Electronics category. The 360-degree transducer mounts to your trolling motor shaft and give an exceptional view of structure, letting you scan all features, even without running over the top of it. It has a 125-foot range in all directions. $1,199.
One product that really piqued my interest in the electronics category was the new Aurora Sport* color night-vision monocular-style camera by SiOnyx. I'm a bit of a thermal and night-vis junkie, so seeing night vision in full color, when it's usually just that hazy green we all think of, was remarkable. The water-resistant Aurora Sport can shoot 720p video in day or night. It can also shoot .9 mp images. It weighs just
under 8 ounces and is a one-hand operation. You can also set a time lapse function to collapse hours of shooting into one quick video. The unit accepts a 32GB SD card and transfers with a USB 2.0 port. It is also wi-fi capable for instant sharing on social media. The unit can also be mounted on rifles and integrated with your scope to give both night vision and video-recording capability. Incredibly, it costs less than $400.
Who doesn't like good warm weather technical apparel? These AFTCO Overboard Submersible Shorts won that category. They're super light, fast-drying, stain resistant and have a Cordura-lined pliers pocket. $99.99.
One interesting product that didn't win was something called "Survival Shorts." These are shorts that have a flotation device built into them. You can see a video about them here, but I don't know...The best option still seems to be wearing a flotation device as much as possible, especially when running at speed. The newer inflatables that don't activate until you hit the water are comfortable and affordable.
The winner in the best new Ice Fishing category was this Ice Helix 7 CHIRP GPS G3N All-Season* by Johnson Outdoors. It's Lakemaster and Navionics compatible, and includes the new AutoChart Live Ice, which allows anglers to create custom contour maps on the ice. Anglers take data points at multiple hole locations and then display the layout of contours below the ice. You can also configure the unit's screen to increase lighting and recharge glow-painted lures. $799.
The Garmin Force won the Best New Boating Accessory category was judged overall Best in Show by voters. According to Garmin, a new brushless motor design lets the unit operate quietly, with almost undetectable levels of sonar and steering noise. The unit is said to deliver as much power while running at the 24-volt option as other units running at 36 volts. And, it’s also the first trolling motor to include built-in Garmin CHIRP traditional and Ultra High-Definition ClearVü and SideVü scanning sonars. It has wireless chartplotter integration and built-in autopilot with anchor lock. It has a wireless foot pedal. Folks who have tried it say they love its "steerability." It also has a handheld remote control with a sunlight-readable, transflective display. Control your motor from anywhere in the boat using the point-and-go gesture steering capabilities. If you happen to drop the remote, don't worry; it’s water-resistant and floats. $3,099.99
Other Winners and stuff...including one helluva tuna snack!
Best Lifestyle Apparel: AFTCO/American Fishing Tackle Company, Yurei Air-O-Mesh Performance Shirt Best Technical Apparel Cold Weather: Simms Fishing Products, M's G4Z Stockingfoot Wader Best Fly Fishing Accessory: Simms Fishing Products, Dry Creek Z Sling Pack Best Fishing Accessory: American Tackle Company, MW20 Finesse Set Best Fishing Line: PowerPro Moon Shine Braid* Best Kids’ Tackle: Anything Possible Brands, The Bumblebee by ProFISHiency Best Terminal Tackle: Rapala, VMC Bladed Hybrid Treble Short*
Hats off to the crew in the XTRATUF booth. This Honeywell brand brought the A game on the show's opening afternoon, bringing in a fresh, 200-pound bluefin tuna and a charter captain/chef to cut it down into generous sashimi-sized bites. Plus, they had an array of great sauces and condiments. I went through the line a couple times - so good. Wonderful idea. Lots of great happy hours in booths in 2019 with several live music options. The Grammy-winning bluegrass group The Steel Drivers even did a set in the Shimano booth. I'm already looking forward to next year. Good fishing!