In news that seemed almost inevitable given recent COVID-19 headlines, the American Sportfishing Association made it official on the afternoon of Friday, April 17, 2020 with news that ICAST was being cancelled this summer.
The news came two weeks after ASA officials had originally said the show in Orlando would proceed as scheduled. But with the nation still under various "shelter in place" and "stay at home" orders and with social distancing and group-size restrictions in place for another few weeks, holding the show became an impossibility given the coronavirus crisis.
Somber reaction came quickly from both industry members and professional anglers responsible for promoting so many of the new products at each summer’s ICAST show.
"It's the smart thing to do for the industry," said Kevin VanDam, the Kalamazoo, Mich. angling great with four Bassmaster Classic titles and several Major League Fishing titles on his resume.
"It's unfortunate though, because there are so many companies that are really struggling right now. But with the numbers, the fact that no one can travel internationally, things like that, there were a lot of concerns [about being able to pull it off]."
Edwin Evers, himself a Bassmaster Classic champion as well as the defending points champion and REDCREST champ on Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour circuit, agreed. "I was just like 'Wow!’," said Evers, a Talala, Okla. resident. "I don't know what else to say about it. It really stinks bad. In the back of my mind, I was hopeful we'd open things up and get back to normal. I guess I was surprised [by the decision]."
Another member of the Bassmaster Classic champion fraternity, Randy Howell of Guntersville, Ala., echoed the sentiments of VanDam and Evers. "It was a surprise to hear that ICAST was cancelled," said Howell, also a member of MLF’s BPT fishing circuit. "But I definitely understand with all the uncertainty in the world right now. … This show is an international show with many countries represented each year, so I'm sure safety and wellness were the deciding factors."
"Events and trade shows are one of the many highlights of this industry," stated an Instagram post by Clenzoil Unlimited, a CLP marine and tackle product company based in Dade City, Fla. "Bringing everyone together for that perfect business/leisure balance. Although it's no surprise, we're bummed to hear the official cancellation of #ICAST2020. Here’s to getting through these times and sharing a beer together for next year's happy hour."
The travel and health concerns were some of the main factors that went into ICAST officials pulling the plug on the 2020 show.
"Two weeks ago, we asked for your patience as we strived to make the best business decisions we could on behalf of our exhibitors, members, staff and all our show attendees," ASA president Glenn Hughes said in an ASA news release. "Cancelling this year's show was the only decision that could be made when considering everyone's well-being and the impact the pandemic is having on the sportfishing industry and our economy."
ICAST joins other high-profile outdoor industry groups in shuttering key 2020 shows, a list that includes the NRA Annual Meetings, the Pope and Young Club Convention, and the International Fly Tackle Dealers show, among others.
But amid all the glum reaction surrounding the official ICAST cancellation, there was a glimmer of good news, too. Because, as the world has found quick ways to continue with business, education, church gatherings, and even birthday parties through various virtual means, ICAST has also made plans to follow suit.
"Despite cancelling our in-person show, we are committed to keeping all of us connected as a global community this July," said Hughes in his news release statement. "As the largest sportfishing industry trade show in the world, we look forward to producing ICAST 2020 Online, our version of a 'virtual trade show,' that will provide a wide variety of tools and a wealth of information that you've come to expect from us. We will share more with you very soon!"
Hughes remained confident that this is merely a temporary detour for the fishing industry as the world weathers the pandemic storm. "There is no doubt that we are in unchartered waters, but we are confident that we will get through this together and stronger than ever!" he stated. "As we always have."