July 13, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Last summer, the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades—ICAST to most people in the sport fishing industry—gathered in Orlando for the first in-person fishing trade show event since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
And for the most part, after a year of living and doing business in the virtual world, the July 20-23, 2021 show at the Orange County Convention Center lived up to its theme—Back to Business—and went off without a hitch.
Well, sort of. For starters, the show's numerical footprint was down, including overall attendance (10,500 according to a Tweet by the OCCC) and total exhibitors (475 according to a TradeOnlyToday.com story by Alan Jones).
To put that in perspective, back in the "normal" year of 2019, there were some 682 exhibitors at ICAST, filling up 650,000 square feet of floor space while more than 14,500 exhibitors, buyers, media members, professional anglers, and fishing television celebrities roamed the show floor. And in prior years, when the International Fly Tackle Dealers show was held in conjunction with ICAST, there were even higher numbers of attendees at times.
But fewer numbers and a noticeably smaller show floor plan were only a part of the ICAST story in 2021, since the Delta variant of COVID-19 was starting to pick up steam last summer in parts of the U.S. That variant of the world's super-bug peaked in the fall of 2021, causing more illness, more death, more political squabbling, and more chaos. Even so, it wasn’t enough to readily affect the mid-summer ICAST show or discourage people from attending.
While mask usage and vaccination status certainly were talked about by those present—along with the use of plenty of hand-sanitizer stations set up in many booths—the 2021 event was held successfully, although there were some reports of coronavirus illness occurring in the aftermath of the mid-summer gathering. And for the most part, reaction to the first ICAST in-person event during the COVID-19 era was mostly upbeat and positive.
Kevin VanDam, the 55-year old Hall of Fame GOAT of professional bass fishing thanks to nearly $7 million in career earnings, four Bassmaster Classic titles, eight Angler of the Year awards (seven with B.A.S.S. and one with the FLW Tour), and 29 professional wins including one last year on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour, was one of those upbeat about the event.
In a mid-show interview for a story that ran on BassFan.com, VanDam paused from his show floor travels with his wife Sherry, one of his sons, a cameraman, and a collection of fishing fans hoping for a selfie or an autograph with the sport’s all-time best, to give me a thumbs up view of the event last summer.
"I’m just glad we are (here)," said VanDam at the 2021 event. "Actually, I believed that (we would be here all along). Everybody in the industry was ready to get back and they were going to figure out and find a way to make it happen."
"I think that everyone is having a good time," he added. "The people that are here, they are definitely serious and there's a lot of business getting done. I think it's probably been one of the most productive shows for me that I've ever had. Again, I think that everybody who is here, is here for the right reasons."
Now, one year later, VanDam and many others return to Orlando, a place where hopes are running high for a successful ICAST visit next week, one that will not only see the sport fishing industry getting back to business yet again in Orlando during its July 20-22, 2022 run next week, but also finding a 65th edition of the ICAST trade show where things are hopefully getting back to normal as well.
One reason for the pre-event enthusiasm is the current flow of news releases and social media posts that promise a wealth of new product introductions at this year’s show. While trade shows have seen the platform they formerly provided to companies diminished somewhat over the years through pre-show introductions and the power of social media engagement, there seems to be a lot of new gear destined for this year’s event.
Already, there have been several big new product announcements—the recent release of Humminbird’s MEGA Live Imaging TargetLock comes to mind—and there looks to be even more big splashes in central Florida next week.
There's also the promise of more robust attendance and vendor participation. That would follow similar trends in other industries visiting Orlando in recent months since the OCCC notes on its website that it has successfully welcomed about 200 trade shows, consumer gatherings, industry conventions, and sporting events since July 2020. Last year alone, those events included ICAST, the Surf Show, the PGA Tour show, among others.
This year, the OCCC has already hosted several large gatherings that seemed as normal as they could be in terms of regular attendance and participation by vendors. Those include the Design and Construction Week back in February, which drew more than 1,200 vendors and 70,000 attendees to Orlando, along with the MegaCon Orlando event in May, a late-spring event that drew in more than 140,000 fans and celebrities.
And there have been several large volleyball, basketball, wrestling and dance contests at the OCCC, which through May 31, had attracted more than 426,000 attendees this year, along with a projected economic impact of $565 million dollars in the greater Orlando area for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Those figures don't include the recent AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships, which took place from June 14 through July 2, and are not a part of the OCCC numbers referenced above. The convention facility indicated on its website that the AAU volleyball event was expected to bring in an additional 137,000-plus visitors and a projected economic impact for Orange County of more than $175 million.
ICAST promises to add another chapter in the ongoing return to economic normalcy in a city and region that thrives on tourism dollars spent at such places as Disney World’s Magic Kingdom—which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, by the way—along with Universal Studios, Sea World, and other notable attractions.
Next week's fishing trade show has its own sizable economic footprint, evidenced by the fact that last summer's ICAST show brought into the region some $27.9 million dollars. And that’s noting the fact that attendance was down nearly 5,000 people from previous years, along with vendor numbers being down, partially due to the absence (as reported by Alan Jones in the story cited above) of somewhere between 110 to 130 international vendors who couldn't journey to ICAST due to travel restrictions.
While this summer's show isn't back to its pre-COVID numbers in terms of participants and vendors, those figures are certainly up a sizable amount since last summer. In fact, as of this writing, there are a reported 563 exhibitors heading into Orlando next week. And that includes many of the fishing industry's biggest names this year—including some companies who sat out the event last summer—in terms of rods, reels, lines, lures, electronics, trolling motors, outboard engines, and accessories, to name a few categories.
Those businesses will be participating on the show floor next week, which has noticeably fewer empty holes this year. Most of those companies will be competing for New Product Showcase awards at the end of the so-called Super Tuesday (July 19, 2022), when media members descend on the new product area to get a look at what's new and best in the freshwater, saltwater, and fly fishing categories.
That event caps a busy Super Tuesday that begins with the annual ICAST Cup fishing tournament on nearby Lake Toho, one of the most famous big bass lakes in the Sunshine State. Beginning at 6:30 a.m., the event features four-person teams consisting of local anglers, industry representatives, media members, and even famous fishing celebrities, all competing for a big trophy and bragging rights when the 9:30 a.m. weigh-in begins courtesy of Major League Fishing.
Almost as soon as the 2022 ICAST Cup is awarded to this year's winners, attention then shifts to a five-acre space of grass and water on the outside of the OCCC North Building for a mid-day run of On the Water, where buyers and media can test out tackle, fishing gear, kayaks, and SUPs before the show floor even opens.
Following the events of Super Tuesday, and the first of several evening gatherings and dinner events around Orlando, the actual ICAST show opens up on Wednesday morning, July 20, 2022 with the State of the Industry breakfast at the OCCC.
During that annual breakfast, which is usually packed with attendees, Shark Week television host and former Australian Navy diver Paul De Gelder--who lost his right arm and part of his right leg to a bull shark during a 2009 dive off the Aussie coastline—will give a presentation. Afterwards, he will be joined by ASA President Glenn Hughes and ASA Board of Directors Chairman Jesse Simpkins, the VP of Marketing for St. Croix Rods, who will both tell breakfast goers about the latest information and trends that are impacting the recreational fishing world.
Even with supply-chain issues, shipping problems, COVID 19-related travel restrictions, and other challenges over the past couple of years, nearly all reports indicate that sportfishing in the U.S. has grown significantly as Americans have rediscovered the wonder of the outdoors world and opened up their bank accounts to purchase new gear.
ICAST and many of the companies exhibiting there have reaped the financial benefit of that recent growth and economic pulse, and now look to the future as they try and figure out how to keep those gains and prevent a loss of both participants and their hard earned dollars in the future.
For now, even as the pandemic starts to fade somewhat into the background of public consciousness for many—at least in terms of news headlines, illness severity, hospitalizations, and deaths that were topping the daily headlines in 2020 and 2021—the fishing industry is very much back to business, hoping to return to normalcy in the post-COVID era, and look ahead successfully to the future.
ICAST and its parent organization ASA (American Sportfishing Association) are already doing the latter, confident enough in the show's future that dates are already booked for 2023 (July 11-14), 2024 (July 16-19), and 2025 (no dates have been announced yet).
But for now, all eyes in the sportfishing world will turn towards the land of Mickey Mouse and the beautiful landscape of central Florida, where ICAST 2022 will soon run its course.
With daily updates here on Game & Fish and through the internet sites of some of our Outdoor Sportsman Group sister publications like Florida Sportsman, In-Fisherman, and BassFan.com, OSG will be there every step of the way next week in Orlando. And with social media posts and Facebook Live events to wrap up each day, there will be a wealth of news about what’s new, innovative, noteworthy, and interesting from the floors of the Orange County Convention Center, the center of the fishing world for the next several days.
Tune in, and enjoy the ICAST Fishing Trade Show through our various OSG platforms next week, seeing all that’s new in the sport fishing world this year. If you do, we don't think you'll be disappointed!