July 18, 2021
If you're a serious fishing enthusiast like many of us around here , then you probably know that the middle of July is always a little bit like Christmas for American anglers.
Except that last summer, Christmas got canceled, so to speak, when the 2020 ICAST fishing trade show fell victim—as did most other events—to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the coronavirus emergency isn't over, the world is reopened for business and life is slowly trying to find some semblance of normalcy, even in the outdoor world.
Already this year, the 2021 Bassmaster Classic was held in Fort Worth, won by Hank Cherry and witnessed by more than 147,000 fishing fans, the second largest Classic attendance figure in the event's 51-year history.
In fact, the Bassmaster Elite Series, the Major League Fishing and Bass Pro Tour circuits, and the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit (formerly the FLW Tour), are all putting the finishing touches on full seasons of competition with anglers and fans mingling together once again.
And there’s more news in that regard in the hunting world, since the Pope and Young Club is holding its 2021 convention this week in Reno, Nevada; the Texas Trophy Hunters Association is prepping for three Hunter Extravaganza shows next month in the Lone Star State; the NRA is planning its annual meetings in early September and everything appears to be a go—for the moment, at least—next winter at the ATA Archery Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., and the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
This week, it’s full speed ahead as the annual mid-summer fishing trade event, officially known as the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) show, returns to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. for a July 20-23, 2021 run.
Covid Casualty in 2020
Put on every non-pandemic summer by the American Sportfishing Association, last year's show went virtual after the physical show was canceled. Organizers held out hope that virus conditions would ease as the springtime went along in 2020, but it didn’t take long for news headlines and reality to dictate otherwise.
That left ASA officials with little option but to pull the plug on the show, something that they did on Friday, April 17, 2020, when a somber news release was sent out that confirmed what most of us already knew. And that was that the 2020 ICAST Show was officially canceled as America and the rest of the world embraced an unexpected and unknown way of living life.
In the end, things like sheltering in place, stay at home orders, social distancing, the mandate to wear masks, group-size restrictions, and the difficulty of travel—or even the impossibility of travel when it came to those ICAST attendees who live overseas—and the show couldn’t go on as much as everyone wanted it to.
But that was then, and this is now, and most of the above restrictions are slowly fading into memory, even if the nasty and deadly virus mutates and continues to hang on. While it will be a long time before the nation and the world return to a full semblance of normalcy, whatever that is, the trend has been in that direction in most recent weeks.
Meaning that this summer, it’s back to business as usual—sort of, that is—for ICAST organizers, fishing-industry businesses, professional anglers, and outdoor media, all of whom are scheduled to descend upon central Florida to see what’s new in the fishing world this year.
"ICAST is the annual gathering point for the entire sportfishing industry," said ASA President Glenn Hughes, in an ASA news release. "We bring more manufacturers, buyers and media together than any other sportfishing industry event of the year. That means hundreds of new products, dozens of new connections and many new business opportunities for everyone who attends."
As the 64th ICAST trade show prepares to get under way, this year’s presenting sponsor is Take Me Fishing, an industry effort thanks to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. The RBFF and the ASA work together to promote angling programs and initiatives that help push recreational fishing into new waters and engage people of all ages across the country.
"If there was a positive outcome regarding COVID-19, it’s that more Americans went fishing than ever before," said Hughes. "This year’s trade show allows us to share our successes, exchange ideas and experiences and provide information on how to retain these new anglers."
While quiet rumors have persisted about attendance being down a little bit, that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least according to ICAST trade show and membership vice president Blake Swango.
"Since early spring, our members have told us they want to get back to business, to reconnect and reignite their business relationships,” notes Swango in the ASA news release reference above. "Our industry thrives on face-to-face interaction. It may not exactly be 100% business as usual, but all systems are a go to welcome everyone back to an in-person trade show this July in Orlando, Fla."
All That's New in Fishing Gear
While the supply of products has been problematic for some fishing industry members over the past year or so due to community lockdowns, all but essential businesses being shuttered, and the difficulty in getting components and necessary goods shipped in from overseas, the fishing world is booming thanks to a huge increase in license sales and equipment a year ago.
In short, interest and participation is booming in the fishing world and that will be evident at ICAST as the event's New Product Showcase features more than 675 new products in 30 categories. After media and buyers vote on those new products, the coveted ICAST "Best of Show" awards will be presented on Thursday, July 22 at 2 p.m.
For the thousands in attendance next week—by the way, in 2019, some 682 exhibitors attended ICAST, filling up 650,000 square feet of floor space as more than 14,500 exhibitors, buyers, and media members roamed the show floor—there will be plenty to see and do in the return of the in-person fishing trade show.
That includes daily press conferences, in-booth gatherings, Facebook and Instagram presentations, YouTube videos, live streaming, seminars, and the annual "State of the Industry" breakfast, always a quick sell-out.
At that annual breakfast this year, Jay Baer will open things up with a discussion about how the fishing industry can capitalize on the millions of new anglers that found their way to the water last year as a result of the pandemic lockdowns and time off from work.
After that, St. Croix Rods marketing vice president and ASA board member Jesse Simpkins and RBFF president and CEO Frank Peterson will combine their efforts to talk about how the industry is doing right now—hint, it’s pretty good—and what the future looks like as fishing moves past the worst of the pandemic era.
Put simply, if there’s a silver lining in the deadly aftermath of the coronavirus scourge it’s that business appears to be booming across the fishing world by most metrics and the sky is the limit for sales when you get rods, reels, lines, lures, boats, motors, kayaks, canoes, clothing, sunglasses, footwear, and more into your store.
For yours truly, the best part about the return of the in-person ICAST show just might be the return of the annual ICAST Cup, put on previously by the FLW Tour and now put on by Major League Fishing.
Contested on the steamy summer waters of the legendary Lake Toho near Kissimmee, the central Florida angling hotspot has always been a popular Tuesday morning fixture at ICAST as exhibitors, buyers, and media members—and more than a few bass fishing pros and celebrities—venture out onto the vegetation choked waters of Toho to try and catch one of the Sunshine State’s famous double-digit bass.
I’ve participated in a few of those ICAST Cup events over the years, and I’ve witnessed firsthand new products being introduced on the water and big fish being caught as a result.
In fact, my Outdoor Sportsman Group boss, Jeff Phillips, landed an 8-pound plus bass a few years ago while fishing with Bass Pro Tour and Major League Fishing veteran Keith Poche. As I recall, the Poche team gave the winning team that year—captained by none other than longtime OSG television personality and Hall of Fame bass pro Bill Dance—a good run for their money.
And two years ago at the 2019 ICAST Show, the team that I was on—the 13 Fishing team—finished in fifth place behind the Lew’s Fishing team captained by another legendary bass pro, Peter Thliveros.
Our run at the ICAST Cup trophy came after my teammate and regional fishing pro Jessie Mizell grunted hard, set the hook, and proceeded to land an 8-pound plus bass at mid-morning. It wasn’t quite enough—Mizell and Ricky Teschendorf held up their end of the bargain, while yours truly didn’t—but we came less than four pounds from the derby’s winning glory, just a couple of good upgrades behind the winning weight of just more than 20 pounds.
This week? Well, the third time is the charm for OSG fishing teams, right?
Even if that proves to be a fishing dream for this particular writer, what isn’t a dream is the return of one of the most important angling events of the year. Certainly, there will be a little bit of concern as we continue to try and safely push away from the specter of the deadly pandemic, but there will also be plenty of enthusiasm as the fishing world keeps the "Open for Business!" sign on the proverbial front door and gathers once again.
It all starts next week in the shadow of Disney World, and as our Outdoor Sportsman Group coverage will hopefully show, there’s nothing more magical in all of the world than the sport of fishing.
And the gathering of those who love to talk about it and tell one whopper fishing tale after another. Hopefully, that’s exactly what will happen as ICAST 2021 unfolds in the land of Mickey.