July 14, 2023
- Here's a daily look at news and notes from ICAST 2023, the annual sportfishing trade show in Orlando.
Friday, July 14
As Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Hackney prepared to leave the show floor at the 66th ICAST fishing trade show the other day, he smiled. Life is good for the Hack Attack family this year, with top performances and a likely 18th appearance in the Bassmaster Classic next spring.
The fishing business has been pretty good, too, the longtime pro says.
"I think it’s good," Hackney said as he prepared to jet back to the Louisiana Delta and get ready for the 2023 season’s stretch run with stops on Lake St. Clair, Lake Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River. "It’s better than pre-COVID. COVID was exaggerated in that everybody on the planet was going to go fishing. I think that we’ve lost a little bit of that, but I think that it’s holding on (to pandemic gains).”
While the last few years have been challenging—from coronavirus-induced concellations to supply-chain issues and economic uncertainty—Hackney, a three-time Elite Series winner, sees a silver lining.
“I think maybe one of the positives of having the COVID era, is maybe that it reintroduced or introduced fishing to a whole lot of people who hadn’t been going and they figured out what they were missing,” he said “So, I’d say that the fishing business is good.”
At the Orange County Convention Center last week for ICAST 2023, Hackney said he had talked to boat manufacturers, tackle selling retailers and companies he works with and everything was going well. “A lot of business is steady. … Let’s just say that it’s steady.”
If the business climate in the fishing world is steady, the numerical trends seem to convey that. After the in-person International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show was scrubbed in 2020, the reboot in 2021 saw ICAST attract around 10,000 attendees to Orlando as the world slowly emerged from the worst of the pandemic. Last year, the show grew to the 12,000 mark as international travel restrictions eased and the show took another step towards normalcy.
This year, another step forward was made at the 66th ICAST trade show with host American Sportfishing Association indicating that a total of 13,346 people attended from across the U.S. and from as far away as Japan, Denmark, Peru and Australia. In all, there were attendees from all 50 states, as well as 80 different countries from around the globe.
“This is one of the most impressive shows we have had since I’ve been here,” said ASA Trade Show and Membership VP Blake Swango, in an ASA news release. “The booth spaces are bigger, better, and more impressive each year and I think this is probably the most beautiful show I have worked on.”
While it wasn’t quite the 15,000-plus that had gathered in 2017 when the ICAST and International Fly Tackle Dealer’s show were held concurrently in Orlando, it was still big progress from 2021 and felt more like the ICAST shows of old. That included more than 1,000 entries in the New Products Showcase where 37 award category winners were chosen. Florida-based American Tackle Company took home the show’s biggest honor, the coveted “Best of Show” award, for the fishing rod handle, the G2 Tsuka 2 Complete Carbon Handle.
“To win Best of Show against all of these other products is pretty unreal,” said American Tackle Company marketing manager Kevin Landers.
Looking to the Future
Another positive step forward was the energy brought by a renewed push in the fly-fishing markets as the ASA opened up new product award categories and opened up the ICAST Fly Shop with the help of area fly enthusiasts, including staff from shops like nearby Orlando Outfitters.
While not to the level of the ICAST/IFTD joint-show days, there was an uptick in fly-gear manufacturers as well as fly-industry star power like Andy Mill and Chico Fernandez in attendance.
“Fly-fishing manufacturers responded in a big way,” said Swango. “We had new fly-fishing media outlets attend the show as well. The ICAST Fly Shop seemed busy all week long, and we’re looking forward to welcoming more exhibitors in the fly-fishing world next year. We might even have to build a bigger Fly Shop.”
Looking to the future, a push toward young anglers was evident as high-school fishing clubs and teenage anglers with Major League Fishing and B.A.S.S. milled about the floor. College teams like the famed bass-tournament squad from Auburn University were also in attendance.
“Youth are so important to our industry,” said ASA Vice President of Communications Mary Beth Long. “They have a lot of enthusiasm and a passion for fishing, and this is a cool opportunity for them to come and meet some of our vendors to see other ways that they can potentially have a career in fishing. It’s not just as a pro, but also as a marketing person or writer.”
But it could also be as a fishing-tournament pro, just like Hackney and so many of his colleagues. While he was ready to get home and gear up for the final weeks of the 2023 season, he was all smiles as he wrapped up another ICAST show for his various sponsors—Academy, Strike King, Mossy Oak, Lew’s Reels, Phoenix Boats, Mercury, Lowrance, T.H. Marine and Gamakatsu to name a few.
For Hackney, who has won six B.A.S.S. tournaments and $2.77 million in tournament earnings in his 19-year career, the ICAST show remains what it has always been, a mid-summer break in the tournament schedule, a chance to see fellow competitors and old industry friends, and to see what’s new in the fishing world. And as he prepared to continue walking the show floor before heading for the Orlando airport, he smiled broadly in the easy-going Cajun grin that he is known for.
“You don’t get a lot of free time in here, but when you do, it’s cool to go around and look at all of the new stuff that came out in 2023,” he said.
And with any luck, there will be even more cool new stuff for Hackney and his fishing industry colleagues to look at next summer when ICAST returns for a July 16-19 run in Orlando.
Thursday, July 13
As the next-to-last day of ICAST 2023 got underway Thursday morning at the Orange County Convention Center, anyone walking by the Outdoor Sportsman Group/Major League Fishing booth could quickly see that the day would end with a bang.
Kevin VanDam, or KVD as millions known him, announced earlier this year that after 33 years of competing in pro bass tournaments around the country, the 56-year-old from Kalamazoo, Mich., he would be hanging up his rods and reels and retiring from competitive bass fishing after a career that has no parallels in the sport.
With one Bass Pro Tour event remaining in KVD's final season, he was honored with a retirement party that gave industry friends and fellow pros a chance to shake his hand, get a selfie and an autograph, and say good bye. VanDam is without question the sport's GOAT with four Bassmaster Classic wins, eight Angler of the Year titles, 29 career tournament wins and $6.9 million in career earnings.
VanDam and his wife Sherry seemed genuinely moved by the retirement reception and large crowd that had gathered.
VanDam reminded everyone that while he is retiring from competitive fishing, he's not leaving completely, anticipating an even bigger opportunity to impact the sport and champion conservation causes. That will include more television work, more YouTube and social media content, and remaining a spokeperson for major sponsors like Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats, Mossy Oak, Strike King, Lew's, Huk, YETI Coolers and more.
As he thanked everyone for coming, he then turned and said simply "Now, can I have a beer?" as the crowd laughed and applauded. After a legendary career and then some, no one was about to deny the king of bass fishing. Long live the king.
Wednesday, July 12
The 66th ICAST opened for business Wednesday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando with a packed showroom floor and a first look for many at the fishing products new to the market. But there may not have been a bigger crowd that congregated around the Outdoor Sportsman Group booth when legendary bass man Bill Dance showed up to sign autographs—lots of them. The 82-year-old icon disappoint his fans.
Dance, who we featured as the “Elvis of ICAST" earlier this week, held their attention for almost two hours on the Orange County Convention Center, signing dozens of ball caps emblazoned with his signature orange T on the forehead, shaking hands and posing for photographs. He held a smile the entire time.
Organizers were expecting a ramped-up ICAST this year with more than 600 exhibitors and 12,000 attendees. Even the New Products Showcase’s Best of Category award reception Wednesday night drew a crowd that seemed much larger than recent history. In all, 1,087 new products were unveiled in 37 categories, up from 30 last year.
The Battle of Trolling Motors
There’s a "winner” among the three exciting new trolling motors unveiled this year at ICAST. The Garmin Force Kraken, Minn-Kota Instinct and Power Pole Move ZR all offer features to impress even the most discerning angler.
All three were entered in the Motorized Boat Accessories category in the New Products Showcase. A surprise to some, Power Pole’s Move ZR won the Best of Category award, and is one of the favorites to win Best of Show, which is decided Thursday afternoon.
Stay turned to gafmag.com for a more in-depth look at the Power Pole Move ZR in the coming days.
Tuesday, July 11
Sun, Rain and Stars Highlight Super Tuesday
After afternoon and evening storms caused travel problems for those inbound to Orlando Monday, the Super Tuesday opening kickoff to ICAST 2023 saw bright sunshine to start the day.
While the first hour was Florida’s standard summertime fare of sunshine, high humidity and building heat, the second hour saw another part of a typical day in the Sunshine State as storms rolled in from the west. That brought an approximately half-hour interruption to the On the Water event, sponsored by Garmin, and held on five acres of open space and a small lake located just outside the spacious Orange County Convention Center.
After the weather moved through, the event continued at a slower pace, as companies and other attendee soldiered on to continued highlighted the newest fishing products in the industry. Held the day before Wednesday’s official trade-show opening, On the Water gave attendees a chance to see, touch and try out new products.
Some of the new-product news came from Rather Outdoors, which owns several well-known fishing brands, including Strike King Lures and Lew’s rods and reels, among others. The company’s manager of trade shows and media relations, Mark Copley, took a moment to visit after ducking indoors with everyone else during the storm.
“It’s On the Water Day, but we got some water on top of our head, didn’t we?” he laughed. “I think it is important because what On the Water allows is for people to actually get out there and see it, touch it, feel it, throw it, watch it in the water if it’s a lure, or throw a rod (and see how it performs).
Copley pointed to one of the company’s brands, Martin, and noted that a new packaged fly-fishing kit was being introduced this year and the OTW Day gave people a chance to make some observations about it prior to the show opener. “I don’t think anything replaces the touchy, feely, see what it does (aspect) of this day.”
Stars Came Out
There were more than 45 exhibitors displaying products or services at the event and perhaps a couple of hundred or more were in attendance.
That included some fishing celebrities, including legendary professional bass tournament pros Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin, longtime Outdoor Sportsman Group television personalities who were busy posing for photos and signing autographs for fans.
“Isn’t this great?,” grinned the 78-year old Houston, a Cookson, Okla., resident and 2008 inductee into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame. Known as “America’s Favorite Fisherman” due to his long-running television show that airs on the World Fishing Network, Houston has been to a number of ICAST Shows during a career that made him a millionaire and produced two B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year awards. “I missed last year because of another commitment, but it’s good to be back here at ICAST.”
Martin, a 2003 inductee into the IGFA Hall of Fame and a nine-time winner of the B.A.S.S. AOY award, continues to be active in the sport even at 83 years of age. In addition to the Sportsman Channel television show he continues to film, he guides out of Roland Martin Marina and even builds handcrafted long paddle turkey calls. Already this year, Martin said he’s been out on the water more than 100 days.
But he took a few days off to come to ICAST, a show he has been attending since the suit-and-tie days decades ago when he attended the 1971 show. More than 50 years later, he is still a attending, looking at what’s new, and interacting with fans.
“Back then, it was strictly a buyer’s event,” said Martin, as he signed autographs and posed for photos.. “The show has changed a lot, but I still enjoy coming and wouldn’t miss it.”
Neither would dozens of other, even if the typical Florida weather day tried to suggest otherwise.