Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him how to get to ICAST, the world’s largest fishing tackle trade show, and he’ll wind up broke and starry-eyed, having placed orders for a load of the latest fishing tackle, accessories and gear and gathered a long list of new business contacts.
The 2017 version of the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (July 11-14) at the expansive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., did not disappoint.
It was the largest ICAST to date, says Glenn Hughes, vice president of industry relations for the American Sportfishing Association, which hosts the show. More than 580 exhibitors took up 1,982 booth spaces, filling the massive hall. Thousands of tackle distributors, dealers, retailers and outdoors media representatives crisscrossed the space, checking out the offerings for the 2018 sales year.
Included in the annual affair are the world’s leading manufacturers of everything related to fishing. There were lures for fresh water, salt water, inshore and offshore; fishing rods of all kinds, sizes, makes and models; and reels to catch everything from panfish in the backyard pond to big-game black marlin off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and trout in a distant mountain stream. There also were sunglasses, accessories, bags, buckets, rod holders, rod racks, tools, nets, gaffs, pliers, gear, tackle boxes, fishing line as fine as a human hair or strong enough to haul a pickup truck; paddlecraft from sit-on-top kayaks outfitted with sophisticated fishfinding electronics, rod storage for six fishing rods and electric motors to standup paddleboards rigged with 6-hp outboards.
The importance of ICAST as the fishing industry’s marquee event is obvious. It is literally the launch pad for innovation, design, branding and reaching out to eventual customers. Many of the latest industry developments are unveiled during the much anticipated New Product Showcase each year. Award winners from 25 categories have seen their sales jump during the following season.
“Everybody comes to ICAST looking forward to what’s new for the coming year, and this year was no different,” Hughes says. “We had over 1,200 products brought to the showcase by 300 companies. It’s a very important part of the show to network and to buy products. We’re excited about the award winners. I think it shows this industry is not short on ideas.”
The Best in Show winner, Bote Boards, a standup paddleboard builder in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., introduced a paddleboard that has an optional modular rack upon which a 6-hp outboard can be mounted.
“This was totally unexpected,” says Bote founder Corey Cooper. “We first came to ICAST four years ago as we began to get into the fishing market. I don’t know how winning this award is going to affect our business, but it has to be a positive thing. ICAST has been my favorite show for years and has been the most fun trade show we go to.”
One of the products that drew a lot of attention was Bixby, a water propulsion device for kayaks, paddleboards, snorkelers and scuba divers. Bixby LLC founder Houman Nikmanesh says he had been told for years to come to ICAST to show his products, and now he’s glad he did.
“Our first day here was very productive and we met some high-end people who are very interested in our product,” says Nikmanesh, whose company is based in San Diego. “They are decision makers — manufacturers, distributors, retailers — and some of them were international, too.”
Mike Donigian, vice president of sales for Cuda Brands, makers of fishing tools and accessories, says ICAST has been very good for his company.
“We launched here in 2014 and exploded,” Donigian says. “We doubled our business every year coming out of ICAST. Our goal leaving here is to make sure the world knows where they can find us and what products we have to offer. We’re launching over 30 new products this year in categories we’ve never had product before. We’ve got new landing nets and bait nets, six different kinds of gloves, new knife sharpeners and a tackle center available for use on kayaks, in boats and trucks, which we think is going to open it up for us.”
Donigian says the fishing world is a big place and it’s hard for a company, especially a small one with limited staff and resources, to get everywhere. ICAST eliminates that need.
Lure manufacturers created a stir with dozens of creative new offerings. Live Target introduced about 10 products, including lures that mimic a small school of baitfish — lifelike realistic soft swim baits that look more anatomically correct than actual shiners, mullet or menhaden. Rapala came out with a line of large trolling plugs with a lip that enables the lure to dive to 40 feet while being pulled behind a boat.
Savage Gear, a division of Okuma Tackle, won its fourth consecutive best-in-category award by introducing a lure that resembles a bat. It comes in four colors, and when fished it looks like a small mammal struggling to get itself out of the water, making it easy prey for walleye, muskie or largemouth bass.
Jessy Cusack, co-founder of Boston-based Zombait, spent three solid days doing explanatory videos for outdoors media outlets about his new technology. It’s a small battery-powered fish motor that, when inserted into a dead fish, will make it seem as if the fish is alive and swimming.
“This is our first time at ICAST, and we heard for a long time we had to come here,” Cusack says. “We’ve been generating a buzz to find retail partners and strategic partners so we can become part of this industry. We’re trying to help people rethink how they fish with live and dead bait.”
The fishing industry celebrated its week in the spotlight in style. With an annual participation of about 47.2 million Americans, fishing is the nation’s second-largest outdoor activity to running, says the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
The dates for ICAST 2018 have been set for July 10-13. Hughes says the show will remain in Orlando, but will move into larger halls in order to expand. For more details, follow ICAST on social media or go to ICASTfishing.org.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.