The second full week of July is eagerly anticipated by fishermen, fishing tackle and accessory manufacturers, fishing tackle and accessory buyers and the fishing press from around the world.  This is the week of ICAST, the International Convention of the Allied Sportfishing Trades presented by the American Sportfishing Association and partners, and everyone in any position related to fishing is eagerly anticipating seeing or displaying the latest and greatest in fishing tackle and accessories.  ICAST 2020, which was the 63rd ICAST, was scheduled for July 14 to 17 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, but had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  However, the folks at ASA and tackle and accessory manufacturers are resourceful and ICAST 2020 was held July 13 to 17 – virtually.

No, it’s not the same.  No one can pick up a virtual reel and feel the weight, balance, and smooth rotation.  The same goes for lures, lines, rods, terminal tackle, and all the accessories.  It was impossible to feel the materials in clothes or check the craftsmanship in tools and see how they felt natural in your hands.  It also wasn’t possible to see old friends, meet new friends, hear fishing stories about the development and testing of products and participate either formally or informally in any of the social mixers and events of an in-person show.

Still, this was an eagerly anticipated event and it filled many of the expectations.  At least on the surface, the industry had been all but stalemated for several months and ICAST was an opportunity to get at least a glance into what companies had been developing while in isolation.  Sort of like I heard often as a kid, “It was good and good for you too!”

ICAST is the biggest show of the year for tackle and accessory manufacturers and I applaud the ASA’s decision to go forward with the show virtually.  It wasn’t the same, but we needed this.  Hopefully, the world situation comes around before too long and we can get back to business nearly as usual.  I don’t think things will ever be the same, but that’s a story for another time.

Fishing is one of the things that has flourished during the pandemic and fishermen are eagerly awaiting and anticipating new products.  In some places fishing supplies have been so in demand the supply chain hasn’t caught up and fishermen are waiting for many of the current popular things to be restocked.  I made a recent inland fishing trip and several times had to go with my second and occasionally third choices for lures and hooks.  The shelves in many tackle shops had as much or more bare space as pegs with the product.

ICAST is not open to the public but is for manufacturers, buyers, and members of the fishing press.  However, for virtual ICAST 2020, the fishing public could view products and seminars.  Many manufacturers made videos or had virtual seminars of their new product lines and had representatives standing by online to answer questions.  Looking through the videos posted by the manufacturers, there are new lures, lines, rods, reels, electronics, and more I look forward to trying in the not too distant future.  I’m a hands-on kind of guy and while I really enjoyed looking at and hearing about the new products through video, pictures, and spec sheets, the proof is in the pudding and I didn’t get to taste any.  Hopefully, that pudding can be served soon.

Most of the products shown at ICAST will begin making their way onto the shelves at your favorite tackle shop over the next few months.  A few may be working prototypes, others are very early in production and maybe Christmas or later before arriving and some may be ready soon, with a few already shipping in small quantities.  At least, this is how it works in a regular year, but no one has any idea how this timeline will be affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Some fishing supplies, particularly those made in China, are already in short supply, with no known schedule for replenishment.

One of my favorite parts of ICAST is the New Product Showcase.  Many years there are more than 700 products entered in the 30 categories.  Even this year there were 434 products from 180 manufacturers.  When I walk in the section of the building reserved for the New Product Showcase it’s like Christmas morning – except I don’t get to keep anything.  This year I had to do that virtually and it’s even tougher only getting a look.

Members of the fishing press and buyers vote on the products to select a “Best of” in each category and a Best of Show award.  I have voted in the past and was registered and approved as a voting member again for 2020.  However, being such a hands-on type of guy I didn’t feel comfortable voting without being able to hold, work, feel and closely check out the new products, so I didn’t vote this year.

Everyone is hoping their new product will not only top its category but win the coveted “Best of Show” award.  Kayaks have a prominent history of winning this award over the past decade since fishing kayaks have surged to the forefront of many kayak manufacturers’ lines.  The legend continued to grow as the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot won the Best of Show award for 2020.  It topped the Boats and Watercraft Category to become eligible for the Best of Show award.

As a kayak fisherman, I really enjoy seeing kayaks win their category and the Best of Show award.  Fishing kayaks have been growing and improving at an incredible rate during the past decade.  When I first began kayak fishing, adding a rod holder to any kayak was sufficient for it to become the fishing or angler model.  Now, there are naval architects designing fishing kayaks so they can be stable and quick, which were once believed to be noncompatible features.

Not to cast any shade on the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot, but anyone considering purchasing one should know that in many states it is classified as a boat and must be registered as a boat.  This is because of the 45-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor.  I’m in N.C. and this is one of the states where adding any mechanized propulsion makes a watercraft a boat, regardless of size.  Kayaks and canoes that are paddled or pedaled and sailboats less than 18 feet do not need to be registered.

This is a neat kayak and will have many happy and loyal owners, but potential buyers need to know if and how it should be registered and the expense for that.  (The registration fee for vessels less than 26 feet in N.C. is $33 annually or $93 for 3 years.  This increases to $53 annually or $153 for 3 years for vessels longer than 26 feet.)  It was said in the discussion that annual registration will exceed $100 annually in some states.

Other products that topped their categories at ICAST 2020 include:

Boating Accessories: Minn Kota Raptor Shallow Water Anchor;

Boats and Watercraft:
Johnson Outdoors Watercraft Old Town Sportsman Autopilot;

Giftware:
Garmin Quatix® 6X Solar Watch;

Footwear:
Under Armor Micro G Kilchis;

Eyewear:
Costa Del Mar, Inc. Ferg;

Lifestyle Apparel for Women:
Simms Fishing Products Women’s Challenger Jacket and Bib;

Lifestyle Apparel for Men: AFTCO Saba Recycled Seam-Free Boardshorts;

Warm Weather Technical Apparel: AFTCO Diffuse Air-0 Mesh® Fishing Shorts;

Cold Weather Technical Apparel: AFTCO Reaper Windproof 3-Layer Softshell Jacket;

Soft and Hard Coolers: Yeti Roadie 24;

Electronics: Humminbird CoastMaster Charts;

Cutlery, Hand Pliers or Tools: Line Cutterz Dual Hybrid Micro Scissor;

Fly Fishing Accessory: Plano Synergy Frabill Floating Trout Nets;

Fishing Accessory: American Tackle Company Tsuka Handle System;

Kids’ Tackle: Pure Fishing, Inc. Abu Garcia Gen Ike EZ Cast;

Terminal Tackle: Rapala VMC Crossover Rings;

Tackle Management: Plano Synergy Plano EDGE FLEX;

Ice Fishing: Rapala Strikemaster Lithium 24V;

Fishing Line: Pure Fishing, Inc. Berkeley FluoroShield;

Freshwater Soft Lure: A Band of Anglers Hyperplastics Dartprop Pro SK;

Freshwater Hard Lure: Z-Man Fishing Products Chatterbait® Jackhammer™ Stealthblade™;

Saltwater Soft Lure: 13 Fishing The Mullet;

Saltwater Hard Lure: Shimano North America Fishing SP-Orca 150 Flash Boost;

Fly Fishing Rod: Pure Fishing, Inc. Hardy Zane Pro;

Freshwater Rod: St. Croix of Park Falls Legend Xtreme Spinning XFS76MF;

Saltwater Rod: St. Croix of Park Falls Mojo Inshore JIC79XHMF;

Rod & Reel Combo: Pure Fishing, Inc. Abu Garcia Virtual Casting Combo;

Fly Reel: Pure Fishing, Inc. Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Reel;

Freshwater Reel: Shimano North America Fishing Vanford 2500 Spinning Reel;

Saltwater Reel: Pure Fishing, Inc. PENN Battle III Reels.

Some of these items may already be in stock at your favorite local tackle shop and more will be coming soon.  There are also many interesting lures, gadgets, and accessories that didn’t win their categories on the way.  Virtual ICAST was interesting and far better than no ICAST at all.  I’ll go so far as to say it was needed and I thank the ASA and sponsors for going forward with it in virtual reality.  Still, I’ll look forward to ICAST 2021 and to be able to play touchy-feely with the great new products shown by the tackle and accessory manufacturers.