Last week brought the ICAST show to Orlando, and attendees were greeted with everything new in fishing. As reported here, I attended in order to uncover all the new goodies, as well as keep a pulse on the industry as a whole.
ICAST is normally a spectacular event, and this years’ show was no exception. With a strong economy comes strong sales for recreational brands, and that was apparent in the general feel and overall party-like atmosphere.
In keeping with tradition, I tried to do very little business at the show, and instead immerse myself in all the new products so I could report my findings. Most ICAST introductions won’t hit the shelves until fall, so my snooping can give us all a jump on new gear, thus giving time to warm up the ol’ American Express.
To summarize, it’s evident that the current era continues to be one dominated by what marketing executives term "lifestyle brands." These are products, often introduced as real, hardcore items, that somehow propel into modern-day culture and gain cult-like followings. Occasionally, the goods’ performance is secondary to its trend. Examples in the bass world include Under Armor, Costa Del Mar and Yeti. Again, this year at ICAST, it became apparent that such lifestyle following represents a pot of gold to marketers. However, I did notice a slight shift, common with these types of things, as the HUK brand now seems to be gaining leverage as the premier clothing line in fishing.
Another theme to the 2016 show can be summed up in one word: kayak. There were kayaks everywhere. In fact, had a group of friends been separated and planned to meet “by the kayaks,"they’d have never found each other.
Demand for such products is likely a result of two things: America’s renewed approach to healthy, environmentally friendly recreation, and the overall inflated costs of power boats. As we’ve mentioned here, many manufacturers, especially those producing bass boats, need to get on board with this trend and begin to offer consumers realistic ways to get on the water without taking out a second mortgage. It’s evident they’re missing the boat.
Coolers were another category that obviously experienced tremendous growth. While I’m truly not sure what the difference is from one mega-insulated box to the next, it’s evident that buyers have been given the right to choose.
Moving to the newest diehard bass fishing items, the place to be at ICAST was, again, the new product showcase. Each year, I find myself hypnotically drawn to this display in hopes of finding a secret that no one else has. New lures are always at the top of my list.
In this month’s In-Fisherman magazine, Steve Quinn, the premier bass writer of our generation, ponders the yearly introduction of new frog lures, and if it will ever end. I found that comical as I, too, have often used topwater frogs as an example of a lure that catches as many fishermen as fish. Once again, the phony amphibians didn’t disappoint, as many manufacturers brought out new models, pondering the question of why.
Soft plastics are also big right now; look for revisions of realistic swimbaits and small, delicate, ultra-lifelike worms to be a big player this season.
On the hardbait side, the overall theme centers around lure size. Big baits are in, likely given a boost by Strike King’s pro staff mopping up winnings using magnum plugs. The key players are within the Japanese market, releasing giant hardbaits complete with incredibly realistic movements and paint jobs, as well as whopper price tags.
Befitting the theme of past ICAST shows, a few manufacturers take creation a little too far, and are somehow rewarded in terms of recognition. A case in point: the hardbait ICAST award winner was a furry duck, a lure sure to catch a few muskies and make for great stories, but unlikely to make true waves in the industry.
As usual, lure development and sales continue to be based on a number of factors, not all of which take into consideration the ability to catch fish. An overall lack of magnum flutter spoons within the new product showcase surprised me; it seems the few manufacturers that dare to make these beasts continue to have the category to themselves.
An additional breath of fresh air: Freshwater umbrella rigs were nearly non-existent.
Once again, ICAST was great. My overall joy was topped off by a pet project, Minn Kota’s new Ultrex, winning the overall Best of Show award. Through the years a number of fishermen, myself included, helped introduce the idea of an electric-steer trolling motor that was driven with cables, combining the best of both worlds. And, as Minn Kota brought the dream to fruition, I was lucky enough to extensively test the prototype and offer suggestions. I must say, to witness the final product take down the title left me feeling a bit proud. Congrats to great people at a great company.
Now we move on, excited to see how much better we can fool fish with our incredible advancements, yet bewildered by their reluctance to join the fun.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)