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What a difference a couple of years makes. After having no show in 2020 because of the pandemic and a noticeably smaller show in 2021, ICAST came roaring back to Orlando, Fla., July 19-22 with larger crowds, more vendors and an enthusiastic mood that belied any talk of an economic downturn.

“Attendance topped 12,000, which represents a 20 percent increase over 2021 and exceeded our forecast,” says Glenn Hughes, president of ICAST promoter American Sportfishing Association. “We had 560 vendors this year compared to 475 last year with 191,000 square feet of booth space, which is 30,000 square feet more than last year.”

A Water Demo Day was held on the pond adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center.

A Water Demo Day was held on the pond adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center.

Those numbers don’t reach the attendance figures of 2019, but that’s largely because Asian and European vendors were still largely absent, according to Hughes. One of the differences this year was the increase in Canadian traffic, although, Hughes added, “There’s still room for improvement there.”

And while the overall crowd might be smaller than in 2019, revenues for the ASA might have come close to being the same because, for the first time in 15 years, the rates for booth space went up. The association’s financial goals for the show were easily met.

The past two years have perhaps been the most volatile ever for the fishing industry. Participation by newcomers was up, but staffing shortages and supply-chain issues were troublesome. This year, while participation was slightly down and supply-chain issues were starting to fade, the new stumbling blocks were rapid inflation, interest-rate hikes and predictions of a looming recession.

Rates for booth space were increased for the first time in 15 years.

Rates for booth space were increased for the first time in 15 years.

Fishing Participation

The 2022 Special Report on Fishing, released by the Outdoor Foundation and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, details the current state of fishing participation. A total of 14 million anglers dropped out in 2021, while 11.7 million returned or went fishing for the first time. Overall, some 52.4 million people went fishing. The fastest-growing segment was cemented by youth ages 13 to 17. A decade ago, only one in five anglers were in that age range. In 2021, that number was one in four.

One of RBFF’s initiatives is the distribution of First Catch Centers to states, to encourage families to learn how to fish. “We realized a large part of the constituency we were trying to reach lived in urban areas, and they didn’t want to travel far, so we decided to find a way to take the fishing to them,” RBFF CEO Dave Chanda says.

The centers, built on trailers, are given to states to run the program. Each center contains up to 180 rods, reels, nets, coolers, tents, pop-up tents and lots of tackle. “By the end of summer, we’ll have 28 units in 24 states,” Chanda says.

Phil McKinnon, Brian McKinnon and Jac Arbour represented startup PacBak, whose P88-MK cooler won won Best of Show in the New Product Showcase.

Phil McKinnon, Brian McKinnon and Jac Arbour represented startup PacBak, whose P88-MK cooler won won Best of Show in the New Product Showcase.

Super Tuesday Events

The day before the convention opened featured Major League Fishing’s ICAST Cup tournament, held at Lake Tohopekaligain in nearby Kissimmee, Fla. The tournament, during its seven-year history, has raised $72,000 for Keep America Fishing. This year’s winning team of Colton Jennings, Harbor Lovin and Matt Hinman bested a field of 58 teams with a stringer of bass that weighed 21 pounds, 11 ounces.

Water Demo Day took place at the 5-acre pond adjoining the Orange County Convention Center’s North Hall, and 41 exhibitors put their products in the hands of media and vendors. One side of the pond featured watercraft, such as kayaks and standup paddleboards, and the other end gave attendees a chance to try out rods, reels and lures. The New Product Showcase reception Tuesday evening gave media and buyers a sneak peek at more than 900 items vying for one of the annual contest’s 30 category wins and Best of Show.

Keynote speaker Paul de Gelder

Keynote speaker Paul de Gelder

Industry Breakfast

On Wednesday morning, the Industry Breakfast kicked off the first official day of ICAST with a report from Hughes about the state of the fishing economy. He reported excellent numbers but predicted a flat remainder of 2022, with cautious optimism.

The keynote speaker was Paul de Gelder, who kept the crowd enthralled with the harrowing story of losing his hand and leg to a bull shark, and the subsequent rescue and rehab. As a member of an elite naval clearance diver squad, he learned to embrace a never-say-die mentality that has served him well. Originally in the Australian army, de Gelder related its informal motto: improvise, adapt, overcome. It seemed particularly appropriate for the fishing industry during these challenging times.

Best of Show

The winner of Best of Show in the New Product Showcase was a startup from Wasilla, Alaska, that had only heard about ICAST three weeks earlier. The PacBak P88-MK Combo Cooler has a flip-down tabletop that transforms it into a portable kitchen, allowing anglers to vacuum-seal fish immediately after cleaning them.

The Shimano Stella FK took home the New Product Showcase award for Best Freshwater Reel.

The Shimano Stella FK took home the New Product Showcase award for Best Freshwater Reel.

“We just began our Kickstarter campaign 58 days ago,” spokesman Jac Arbour said at the show. “We are absolutely floored to have not only won our category — going up against the biggest names in the industry — but to also to win Best of Show. Our traffic at the show and online exploded.”

What Attendees Said

Pure Fishing vice president of marketing communications Marc Kempter says he was amazed by the positive energy at the show, especially “considering the economy is in flux, and we’ve been coming through some tumultuous years. The traffic has been phenomenal. What’s great about ICAST is instead of doing a one-off meeting that focuses on a few products, we get to show our vendors our entire brand portfolio.”

Danny Ascencio-Hall, director of sales for Brunswick Corp.’s Advanced Systems Group, says he saw attendance being “way up” this year. “I think the quality of the conversations has been higher than typical,” he says. “One thing that really stood out was the booths. The top manufacturers like Rapala, Costa del Mar and all of us had premium booths, and the presence showed off our products well.”

Most anglers and boaters aren’t too focused on negative economic trends, he says, “because a lot of people have boats on backorder, and they don’t want to get out of line.”

Ever-Present Covid

Last year’s show was held during a Delta-variant Covid-19 surge, so ICAST this year had a different atmosphere. And although Florida and other parts of the nation are experiencing a new explosion of cases of the BA.5 variant, handshakes were the order of the day, and few masks were worn.

“I’ve been vaccinated twice, and I’ve also caught Covid twice and don’t want to get it again,” Hughes says. “But fortunately, this new strain doesn’t seem to hit people as hard. I think most people here want to live their lives, and they’ve decided that it’s worth it for them to come to the show.”

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.



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