By Todd Ceisner
With hundreds of booths and displays set up across the floor of the Orange County Convention Center for the annual ICAST extravaganza, it’s hard to see everything and talk to everybody.
On the final morning of this year's show, though, I made a point to stop by the Jenko Fishing booth.
Never heard of Jenko Fishing? Neither had I, but a couple of its baits caught my eye at the New Product Showcase and being the company name was new to me, I wanted to learn a little more about Jenko and the folks behind it.
Turns out, the person behind the company is a shaggy-haired teenager – Coleton Jennings, a 17-year-old who attends Calloway County High School in Kentucky, launched the company this spring with the help of his family.
What started with him carving a topwater bait out of a kitchen broomstick a few years ago has evolved into a full-fledged business enterprise for the Jennings family. Coleton recently won the TBF High School championship at Pickwick Lake with partner Peyton Porter using some of the baits he designed.
“It was all about trying to gain an advantage on the competition,” Jennings says when asked what drew him to lure design.
As the only bass angler in his family – his dad, Matt, is a crappie fisherman – Coleton was pretty much self-taught as far as learning techniques and baits that worked to catch bass as a youngster. He tinkered with wire baits and hair jigs before getting into hardbaits and swimbaits.
Jennings has an adequate testing facility nearby as he lives a short drive from Kentucky Lake. He says his love for lure design is surpassed only by his drive to build a career around being a bass fisherman.
“I want to be able to continue in the bait business, but it’s more to support my pursuit of a career as a pro angler,” Jennings said while wearing his tournament jersey in the aisle in front of his company’s booth.
He said his first ICAST was a huge learning experience and a good way to get the word out about Jenko Fishing.
“I made the rounds and learned more about the whole business side,” he said. “I’m getting an idea of what to expect, but my favorite part has been meeting all the new people.”
That’s Cool … And So Is That … And So Is That
I lost track of how many times I was asked at the show what I thought were some of the cool new products at the show. Each time, my reply included at least some mention of the new array of Bass Mafia tackle storage options.
The company’s heavy-duty storage boxes are staples in the boats of many pros and the numerous new additions to its lineup really impressed me. From a compact and durable spinnerbait storage box to hook and weight storage pods that are compatible with the popular Bait Coffin to a deep crankbait storage box that will accommodate 6XDs and 8XDs, it was an impressive display of innovation by the Mafia team.
Between the Savage Gear 3D Suicide Duck and Westin’s Danny The Duck, the tackle chatter at ICAST centered on these two fowl imitators. The Suicide Duck took top honors in the hard bait category at EFTTEX last month – Danny the Duck was the runner-up – and was selected as the best new hard bait at ICAST.
The Savage version is a true topwater with propeller-like webbed feet that churn the water during the retrieve. The Westin duck has a small bill that causes the bait to dive (it can reach 2 to 3 feet, I’m told) but a slow retrieve could turn it into a sub-surface bait.
I saw both lures in the water – granted, it was in small lure tanks at each company’s booth – and while some might think they look gimmicky it’s a known fact that bass prey on baby ducks. Remember when Steve Kennedy won the Old Hickory PAA in 2012? One of the fish he caught during the tournament had a baby duckling in its throat.
You be the judge.
Here's Westin's Danny the Duck in action:
And here's the Savage Gear 3D Suicide Duck in the water:
With so much to see and learn about at ICAST, it’s hard to sometimes really pinpoint the products that could have a future at the retail level. Below is a handful of new items that I’d be willing to shell out a few bucks for when they hit the open market:
> Rapid Fishing Solutions – Line Guide and Line Clip. The Line Guide is a useful little tool that takes the frustration out of running line through the guides of a rod during the respooling process while the Line Clip eliminates the kink in fishing line that’s created by the rod tip when the rod is stored for a period of time.
> Cal Coast Fishing – Cali Clip. Another small, but smart gadget that will eliminate a lot of frustration (and line tangles) with your dropshot rigs. The Cali Clip is a plastic clip that snaps on the rod blank and includes a small slot that secures the dropper line between the hook and weight.
> Rat-L-Trap – Stutter Step. This is truly a different take on a topwater bait. The concept originated in Zimbabwe, home of Gregory Budd, the lure’s designer, who used the bait he crafted out of balsa and cedar to catch tiger fish in swift current.
Budd reached out to Bill Lewis Outdoors CEO Wes Higgins via the company website’s “Contact Us” page. Budd sent Higgins a video of the bait in the water and Higgins was immediately sold. After Higgins tested one in his local YMCA pool, he saw the potential the bait had to offer bass anglers a whole new topwater option. The Stutter Step should start showing up in stores this fall.
BassFans should find the Line Guide (left) and Line Clips from Rapid Fishing Solutions to be handy little tools to have.
> LIVETARGET – Swimbait Series. Grant Koppers & Co. at Ontario-based LIVETARGET have done it again by bringing their match-the-hatch mentality to an extensive lineup of anatomically correct and realistic pre-rigged swimbaits. From adult and juvenile trout to various species of shad and even a perch version, no detail was overlooked with these baits.
> ANGLR Tracker/App – There are a bunch of apps out there now that allow anglers to track their fishing trips and share their successes with online communities. The ANGLR app does that, too, but with the addition of the Tracker device that attaches to a fishing rod, you can now track how many casts you’re making, which direction you’re casting, how long it took to land that last fish and also drop waypoints on a map with the push of a button. Bottom line, it’s the dawn of the analytics age in the fishing world.
> ProNav Angler – This is another digital gadget that allows anglers to add GPS autopilot features to a bow-mounted electric trolling motor, regardless of brand, with a simple plug-and-play device that attaches to the shaft of the trolling motor. ProNav Angler syncs with an app on a smartphone or tablet and gives users the ability to manually control the trolling motor from their mobile device or plot routes as well as hold on a location using the Spot-On Anchoring feature. This device eliminates the need for an expensive sonar/chartplotter unit to interface with the trolling motor.
When Will It End?
Just an observation, but it felt like each aisle included at least one premium cooler maker and/or a bait company debuting a new glide bait the size of my forearm. It certainly appears consumers feel the more options, the better.
Let’s Stay on the Water
Three years ago, select members of the media were invited to historic Lake X in central Florida for a pseudo ICAST preview. It had never been done before, a pre-show event that allowed companies to show off their new products where they’re intended to be used – on the water.
If you wanted to see what a yet-to-be-released bait looked like in the water, you could do it. If you wanted to cut loose a cast with a new rod or reel, it was encouraged.
Manufacturers set up tents in a shady grove, boats and pro staffers were available for product demos and photo shoots. The venue was interesting and appropriate – Lake X was the old Mercury outboard testing facility that had not been open to the public previously. There was a mystique about the facility – guided tours about its history were also offered – and there was some excitement about being able to try out baits or rods and reels before they made their official debut at the show the following day.
Everything about it made sense.
Last year, FLW stepped up and offered to run a small bass tournament as part of the ASA-backed On The Water event at Lake Toho. The addition of the ICAST Cup added a little friendly competition to the ICAST experience while Big Toho Marina again proved to be a great tournament host facility. At the same time, bass fishing in Florida in the dead of summer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
There are still plenty of ways to have an engaging experience without 60-plus three-man teams spreading out across Lake Toho in a four-hour shootout.
Have a casting and flipping contest. Have a few pros launch their boats so they can take a writer or camera crew out to show off new products. Do a Q&A on stage with manufacturer reps about certain products. I’m just not sold on the idea that a fishing tournament needs to be part of ICAST, even though the proceeds raised are given to Keep America Fishing.
This year, all but two of the booths were occupied at the On The Water event, a sign that manufacturers are embracing the chance to put new products in the hands of those of who reach a broad base of their target audience.
I firmly believe there should be a block of time where media/buyers – the same folks who vote in the New Product Showcase – get to talk to manufacturer reps and test new products so when it’s time to vote later the same day, voters will have had some hands-on experience with the tackle/equipment and can make informed decisions.
The Lake X event in 2014 was the right idea and ASA should consider a return to that format. Nothing against FLW, the organization that went from having no ICAST presence to being a highly-visible supporter of the show, but the focus should be shifted back to the new products.
The tournament is a neat concept – I enjoyed my time as a competitor the last two years – but it adds little to the core experience of ICAST.
> This year’s ICAST show came a week after the launch of the crazy-popular Pokémon Go app. It was surprising to see none of the marketing gurus hit on the chance to draw people into their booth by making it a Pokestop. I had numerous conversations about the app at the show and saw some people wandering around International Drive playing it. Maybe next year.
More To See
> Check out the photo gallery below for more new products that caught my attention at ICAST this year.