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ICAST 2003: New Trends, Tackle and Tools in the Bass Industry for 2004

By Russ Bassdozer

July 9-11, 2003 ICAST Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada - One in five Americans fish and eighty-seven percent of them feel fishing fosters wholesome family values. The persons and firms who supply the products for this wholesome family pastime meet once a year at ICAST (the annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades).

New products for next year are the catalyst that drives ICAST. It's fair to say wholesale and retail new product buyers are the most important constituency group present at ICAST. Buyers size up new products to purchase for next season, and the buyers also review, judge and award Best of Show honors to nearly 1,000 new products in competition across eleven categories of fishing products.

Best of Show Winners by Category / Company / Product:

1. Rod / Sirrus Rods / Spectra
2. Reel / Shimano American Corporation / Calcutta TE 200DC
3. Terminal Tackle / Lead Masters / Powder Coated Jig Heads
4. Line / Stren / Super Braid
5. Hard Lure  / Lucky Craft / Live Pointer 95SP
6. Soft Lure / Pure Fishing / Gulp!
7. Tackle Management / Plano Molding Company / CDS Utility Box
8. Kidís Tackle / Zebco / Spongebob Squarepants Fishing Combo
9. Boating Accessory, Electronic / Lowrance Electronics / X-104 Electronic Sounder
10. Fishing Accessory / Pure Fishing / Digital Lip Grip Scale
11. Clothing, Giftware / Riverís Edge Products / Fishing Toilet Seat

Wholesale buyers are especially important at ICAST since they use this summer ICAST show to help line up what new products they may include in their sales offerings at autumn and early winter "dealer shows" that the wholesalers will hold in their regions for their local retail buyers. New products ordered by local retail buyers at these regional dealer shows, will begin appearing in pre-spring store stocking inventories and on the end of eager anglers' lines by the open of bass season in 2004.

For me, ICAST is a forum to review new products and engage in conversational fact-finding with my peers in the industry in order to help me form accurate perceptions of where the bass sportfishing industry is headed each year. This is so I may help advise those companies that are clients or associates of mine to best position themselves in the industry, and so I may best inform anglers and readers who desire to position themselves on the leading edge of bass fishing innovation on their own home waters.

In conjunction with The Changing Landscape which is a report of trends, tackle & tactics in bass fishing that I wrote last year, here are some new trends or additional insights I observed at ICAST this year:

Circle hooks continue to be a trend. "Circle hooks are a smart thing to do from a conservation standpoint - and they work. If an angler embraces how to use them, the strike-to-catch ratio improves and for those fish that may be released, there is less chance of harm from a circle hook," says Steve Fifer, sales manager for Henry's Tackle, a wholesale firm that supplies over 7,000 sporting goods retailers.

New research and development of natural food source and biodegradable lures. The latest trend to emerge at ICAST this year was significant industry research and development toward natural food source and biodegradable lures that break down and disappear from the environment if the lure is snagged or left behind. A  few such natural, biodegradable and/or non-plastic soft bait products were debuted at ICAST by several lure companies, lead by Berkley's new Gulp! product line which won Best of Show honors in the soft bait category. Gulp! is designed to break down and disappear from the environment if left in water ninety days. Another firm, Kanji International, presented prototypes of what they believe to be the first biodegradable hard bait, a lipped minnow jerkbait hardbait, that if left in water, would dissolve within a short time. Keep in mind, some of these forerunners may be first release products that do not have all the features or benefits fully perfected yet. And at least several other companies are currently busy researching and developing biodegradable or food source product materials but haven't reached the point to openly present new products yet. But there is so much eco-appeal in this budding concept of biodegradable lures that it would not be prudent for any company who offers hard or soft plastic lures to dismiss this biodegradable market aspect completely.

In-store seminars for anglers are a growing industry trend. From the largest mega-fishing emporiums like Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops to chain stores and savvy maverick retail store owners - all are holding seminars to show and tell anglers how to use a bait they may purchase at the store. "When an angler leaves a fishing department with a purchase, the biggest complaint, number one issue among anglers in exit interviews is that the product packaging does not tell how to use it," says Mark Diss of Phalanx Media Group, an advisory firm to the fishing industry. "If the product is not successful for the angler, not only will the product get blamed, but the angler also tends to blame the store for this," says Mark Diss. So the current industry trend toward in-store seminars solves this problem by enabling an angler to leave the store with a product purchase and with the information and confidence from the seminar how best to use it. Manufacturers who partner with such stores, send guest speakers, factory reps and other corporate presence at such in-store seminars can benefit handsomely from this powerful grassroots trend.

A trend toward new and better overseas manufacturing sources. In China but also Korea and other countries, there are more and better overseas manufacturing sources being discovered and contracted each year. Factories that can make a precision fishing product and make it cheaply. It was not so long ago an eight or ten ball bearing spinning reel was an innovation and expensive. Today such a reel can be reproduced effortlessly with precision, beauty and at low cost by any number of overseas manufacturing facilities. The same applies to fishing rods, soft baits and hard baits. Most any innovation in the fishing industry can be reproduced quickly with precision by overseas manufacturers according to the specifications of US or other firms that engage these manufacturers to do so.

The Yamamoto Senko continues to be an industry driver. In the soft bait sector of the market, the Yamamoto Senko is undeniably a catalyst driving new sales of Senko-like soft bait products for many of the industry's soft bait manufacturers. Between this year and last year at ICAST, the majority of soft bait companies have unveiled competing models of Senko type baits of their own.

Red hooks are a mega-trend. Due largely to the efforts of TTI Industries who popularized the red hook concept in recent years via their Daiichi Bleeding Bait hook offerings, the entire fishing industry is benefiting from product sales of either hook sales or lures with red hooks. Anglers have become so confident of red hooks that the potential exists in 2004 for red hooks to sell better in some circles than bronze or standard color hooks. "Red hooks show consumers that you are with it," says Steve Fifer, sales manager for Henry's Tackle, a wholesale firm that supplies over 7,000 sporting goods retailers.

Superlines keep improving. Braided lines and fluorocarbon lines started appearing on advanced anglers spools in recent years, but are still not yet for everybody. Features of these products continue to become more "user-friendly" for the average angler. At each ICAST show, several new brands of superlines enter the market. In fluorocarbon, newer better variants of "soft" fluorocarbon for spinning reels are an example of the continuing incremental improvement trend here.

Hybridizing and naturalizing hard and soft baits. Hybridizing hard bait head sections with soft bait tail sections continues to be a minor theme in new product development for some companies. A related minor new trend I spotted this year was blending natural fibers (feathers, fur) with soft baits or hard baits. A handful of companies have begun to naturalize hard or soft baits like this since ICAST last year. For example, Ron Troyer, owner/designer of Thornwood Lures has begun to add natural fiber tufts to the pectoral fin area of his premium hand-crafted wooden topwater poppers and propbaits. "The addition of a natural material does not seem to matter as much to my customers on a crankbait that is kept in constant motion," says Ron. "Where it matters most is when you pop or pause a topwater hardbait, letting it rest. The natural material continues to pulse and flutter softly even when the lure body is perfectly still on top of the water. This small tuft of material triggers strikes since it duplicates a motionless baitfish where only the pectoral fins can be seen to move," says Troyer.

Bassdozer's New Product Picks for 2004

We've talked some about the minor and mega-trends in the industry. Now let's talk some about the new tackle and new tools that caught my eye at ICAST. Many new products often gain the spotlight, become a national or regional fad for a year or two...then fizzle. Every veteran bass angler has seen it happen over and over again - the hot period that cools off as last year's scorchers become next year's curdled tapioca.

After you've seen enough of this "boom and bust" phenomena, you will expect it to happen, and it does, beginning at every summer ICAST show and extending through the winter cabin and spring buying fever. We come to expect "new" new lures as soon as the "old" new ones cool down - and manufacturers provide them. I don't think anything Machiavellian or unsportsmanlike is going on here on the manufacturer's part. It's just the way the world turns. It makes everybody happy, especially us as anglers who are always looking for new and better products. Make no mistake, the American fishing male (myself included) does have a shopping gene, and he loves buying and brandishing the latest new fishing products.

With nearly 1,000 new products debuted at ICAST this year, I can't say I reviewed them all, but here's a handful of the shiny new products you may be likely to see Bassdozer brandishing out on the water in 2004:

Aqua Innovations - For tournament contenders and tournament host organizations, a new principle of livewell and fish tank oxygenation was introduced at ICAST by Aqua Innovations. Unlike standard aeration systems that pump ambient air (at 20.9% oxygen) through a diffuser stone into the livewell water, the Pure Oxygen Livewell Keeper unit can produce greater than 80% dissolved oxygen in 7 minutes. The benefits are better overall health of fish kept in a livewell when returned back to the water, less chance of fish dying in livewells (tournament penalties apply to dead fish), and reduced stress. Fish lose weight and weigh less by day's end when stressed in a livewell, thereby reducing tournament points. 866-601-1296

Awesome Bait Company - Seven models of new Thundershad handcrafted balsa wood crankbaits from shallow-runners to deep-runners in twenty-seven color patterns were presented to the industry at ICAST by Awesome Bait Company president Paul Kaptis. Developed in consultation with Rick Clunn. 866-805-5290

Bagley Bait Company - To commemorate their 50th anniversary, the Bagley Bait Company has re-introduced the flat-sided, square-lipped Bagley B Flat II crankbait for 2004. Since the early nineties, the B Flat II has only been made in special production runs for certain tournament pros. A shallow diver, the buoyant balsa-carved B Flat II has the tightest and fastest wobbling action of all Bagley crankbaits. Can you spell r-e-a-c-t-i-o-n bite? Bagley (I believe for the first time) will also offer a spinnerbait for 2004. The new Spin'n B has a wire arm that allows an anglers to change both the inside and outside spinnerbait blades rapidly without tools, or go from a single to double-bladed bait. 239-693-7070

Berkley - *Best of Show* in the soft baits category was awarded to Gulp!, a new biodegradable non-plastic soft bait material by Berkley. Gulp! has 400 times more scent release than soft plastic and is 100% biodegradable. If left in water for ninety days, Gulp! is gone. 800-237-5539

Concord Industries -  Have your belt, keys and trailer hitch looking good for 2004 with stunning bass art emblazoned on belt buckles, trailer hitch covers, flashlight key rings and leather fob key rings. These make great gifts for bass anglers or for club or tournament award prizes. 800-553-9824

Conquistador Tackle Company - During a coffee break, I ran into John Hollis and Joe Michels whose WiredWorms are premium double hook pre-rigged jigworms using Mustad UltraPoint jig hooks and Gamakatsu tail stinger hooks. When bass are tail-biting soft plastics, an angler will face difficulty using all conventional rigging methods, since the hook lies in the front half of the bait, therefore outside the mouth. Top Western pros like John Murray and Ben Matsubu have long used pre-rigged double hook worms to snare fish that aren't inhaling the head of a worm. Conquistador appears to have raised the bar in terms of superior quality and components in this little-known but useful genre of double hook pre-rigged jigworms.  928-772-3068

Gamakatsu - For 2004, Gamakatsu has designed the Wacky Wide Gap. It has a very short shank with an extremely wide and round bend designed to accommodate the thicker mid-section of many of the newer stick type soft plastic baits like Gary Yamamoto's Senko. The design of this hook also makes it good for drop shot fishing with thicker baits that require additional gap, but don't need the weight of a larger worm hook. 253-919-1722

Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits - The company's new Senko Kit was the hot topic for buyers at the Yamamoto booth. The Senko Kit has 40 Senkos in 6 top colors in a rugged utility box with instructions from Gary Yamamoto himself how best to fish Senkos. For 2004, the new Yamamoto Kahuna Kut-Tail series is ready to begin winning tournaments, five big bass at a time! 800-645-2248

Hart Tackle - Hart's new models of spinnerbaits and buzzbaits for 2004 take the red hook megatrend to the max with red Owner spinnerbait hooks, red silicone twin-tail trailer strands, red eyes, and Bleeding Hart red gill plates under the chin. Most intriguing of all Hart's new features for 2004 is the new Hart Thumper spinnerbait which welds a willow leaf and Colorado blade into one combined blade. 800-542-0774

Lee Sisson Lures - Thirty years ago, Lee Sisson started designing balsa wood lures for Bagley Bait Company. and he has manufactured lures for companies such as Heddon, Strike King, Manns, Arbogast and others. Now Lee Sisson has unveiled his own line of lures at ICAST for the first time. Lee Sisson lures for 2004 are made of Jelutong, a wood with similar flotation and action as balsa but Jelutong is stronger. Lee Sisson crankbaits and jerkbaits all feature a ticker sound chamber insert. Tel. 863-967-4036

Lucky Craft - *Best of Show* in the hard bait category was awarded to the new Live Pointer.  A double strand of stainless wire runs through the flexible jointed swimming tail section of the Live Pointer. The tail wire joins with the hard plastic front head section containing weight balances, rattles and diving lip. Lucky Craft sales manager Chris Armstrong says "The Live Pointer can be used in either a jerkbait or a swimbait situation. The jointed body lets an angler get either action." Also new for 2004 is a larger 4-inch size  Wander 95. You rarely see mention of the Wander (also available in a Wander 80 version), but it is a great bait. The best way to describe the Wander is it has a Senko-like image and action, but made of hard plastic with treble hooks. 714-241-8484

Mojo Lure Company -  ICAST welcomed several new Mojo sinker styles for 2004. Unlike Austin Powers however, these new sinkers help you not to lose your Mojo. All new sinker styles feature the slender cylindrical shape of the original Mojo sinker - one of the best sinker shapes to get soft bait rigs through weeds, rocks and snags. First, the new RockHopper sinker excels in snagless fishing in areas with vast amounts of rocks. "It may not look like a lot of technology has gone into the RockHopper, but this sinker is full of scientific leverage principles, and so unique that we've got a patent pending," says Mojo Lure Company president Larry Glavinich. "Best of all, it's simple to use," smiles Larry Glavinich proudly. Second is the new Rig Saver sinker. Its main advantages are that the Rig Saver sinker can be attached or disattached to a Carolina rig instantly without cutting the line or disassembly of the rig. If the Rig Saver sinker snags, the weight will release from your line at approximately 4 lbs of pressure, allowing you to retrieve your complete rig (minus the weight). And unlike other Carolina rig sinkers, the line runs freely through a wire ring so it is not subject to line-weakening abrasion by the sinker or banging against the knot by the sinker. The third new item, the Pineapple Swivel Down Shot sinker has a line-cushioning knotless swivel clip. One annoying problem with other swivel clips, they can cut your line as you rig up. But Mojo's Pineapple Swivel is designed to help prevent cutting the line during the rigging process. All Mojo sinkers feature a metal alloy mix designed to make a high pitch fish-attracting ringing noise upon contact with the bottom or when using beads in your rigging to add noise to your presentation. 800-474-mojo.

Optimum Baits - Of Optimum's new products for 2004, the new Rabbit Hair Series was most innovative. This new series is seven styles of soft baits with fish-attracting rabbit hair strips imbedded in them. The segue from soft plastic to rabbit hair flows well. "When fish are on beds or when lethargic bass just eyeball baits, plain soft plastics just lay there lifeless on a bed or in front of a bass. That's when we've seen the most dramatic difference with the rabbit hair series," says company owner Tony Paino. "Even when the soft plastic portion of the bait lies motionless, the rabbit hair strip will breathe with the slightest water movement, and when that hair comes alive in front of a watching bass, that is the strike trigger that cannot be gotten with plastic alone." says Tony. 909-676-6384

Owner Hooks - The new Long Neck Worm Hook has an adjustable stopper that can be positioned along the hook shank to rest against the soft bait and hold it in an ideal pre-strike position (adjusted for that specific bait) on the Cutting Point Owner hook. 714-668-9011

Rivers Edge Products - *Best of Show* in the decorative category just had to go to the Decorative Transparent Toilet Seat for the Outdoor Enthusiast which has either hooks, flies or antique lure replicas molded into the transparent toilet seat and cover. For the rest of the bathroom, Rivers Edge offers fishing reel toilet paper holder, antique lure shower curtain, transparent plastic drinking cup, soap dish and toothbrush holder with fish hooks molded into the plastic. To fish-ify the entire rest of the house and to turn everything else fishy in your life, Rivers Edge offers fish cups, plates, car antenna toppers, picture frames, drink coasters, cookie jars, salt & pepper shakers, cream and sugar bowls, cutting boards, oven mitts, pocket flasks, fish phones, lamps, clocks, mailboxes, box cutters, windsocks, fishing rod barbecue tools, magnets, wearable pins, flashlights, pens, fish staplers, bottle openers, playing cards, fish lighters, wrapping paper, wallpaper, Christmas cards, tree lights, patio lights, fish slippers for your toe and feet fins and much more. 888-326-6200

Sirrus Rods - *Best of Show* in the fishing rod category for the second straight year has gone to Ken Whiting, owner/designer of Sirrus Rods. According to the company's web site: "You may come across some words unfamiliar to you here when it comes to fishing rods and their construction. These words: Filament Wound, CO-MATRiX and Multi Modulus. They are not used to create a mystique nor to dazzle and impress you, but merely provide you with terminology to give you a greater understanding of our NEW ROD line, how they differ from existing rods and why we believe SiRRUS rods are the finest dollar for dollar investment a fisherman can make in his equipment, bar none." 702-395- 2173

Snag Proof Manufacturing - The Wiggle Wog is a new hollow rubber bait design for 2004. It has the bulbous snagless body of a grass mat frog to slide across the top of snags and grass mats without fouling. And it has a swimbait type tail so that the Wiggle Wog can be pulled under the surface in open water to create an underwater swimming action. 800-762-4773

Stren - *Best of Show* in the fishing line category went to Stren Super Braid which has been designed to address some of the inherent drawbacks in super lines - poor knot strength and slippage, color and coating loss, fraying and digging into the spool. Stren says the new Super Braid will retain its original round shape, color, slickness and strength longer than ordinary super lines that use a wax or Teflon coating, and Stren Super Braid can be worked around the nastiest structure without fraying, claims Stren. It won't flatten and is less prone to dig into itself on the spool with exceptional knot strength and knots won't slip as easily as most braids says Stren. 800-243-9700.

TTI Companies - The rear-weighted Daiichi Bleeding Bait Butt-Dragger hook was added to the TTI Company's Daiichi brand of hooks for 2004. A streamlined pinch-on sinker on the hook shank has pre-cuts so sinker sections can be broken off to adjust it to make it weigh less. "When the weight size is clipped down (if needed) and the Butt Dragger is moved along the shank so the center of balance is fine-tuned to a specific soft bait, the Butt-Dragger can dramatically enhance the fish-attracting action by making a soft bait swim horizontally as it falls," says TTI's marketing director TJ Stalling who adds, "This type of swimming action would be impossible with a weight-forward jig head or nose-down bullet sinker." A screw-in wire clip on the hook eye holds the head of soft baits securely to the Butt-Dragger hook. 800-421-5768

U.S. Reel - The Ray Scott SuperCaster 225 lightweight large diameter spool spinning reel debuted at ICAST. The advantages claimed for light lines (2 lb test and up) are: longer casts, less line twist and lower line memory than any other reel designed for light lines on the market. That alone is a significant claim, yet there's more in that the company claims the Ray Scott SuperCaster 225 is the best choice for lines all the way up to 15 lb test, say for pitching a tube into heavy cover. Your wrist will no longer need to wrestle a heavy-duty saltwater-like spinning reel because the SuperCaster (even with a huge 2.25" diameter spool) weighs under 9 ounces. What's most unique is I believe that the Ray Scott SuperCaster 225 may be the industry's only mass-produced reel still made in the USA. 314-962-9500

Xtools - Soft-padded lightweight Floating Pliers with replaceable tungsten carbon jaw inserts for cutting braided line were what got me into the Xtools booth, but it was the floating watertight digital gripNweigh tournament culling scale that kept me there. The gripNweigh grips the lip of a fish firmly without having to go under the sensitive gill flap or pierce the jaw membrane as with many other handheld scales. It stores five fish in memory, always shows the running total weight for the best five. The culling floats (currently under development) also grip the fish lip without having to pierce the jaw membrane as with most other culling systems, and the culling floats are visually identified as 1 to 5 rather than red, blue, green, etc. To me (and I think to many anglers), this float numbering system may be more intuitive and easier to work with than a colored float system. That is, the first fish weighed goes on the number one float, the second fish kept on the number two float and so on up to five fish. I'd much rather call them one fish, two fish (the first one caught or the second) rather than red fish, blue fish. Makes too much sense, eh? Tel. 877-4xtools

Uncle Josh Bait Company - Although not at ICAST this year, I just spoke with Uncle J's sales manager, Brent Northrup who's excited about Uncle Josh new products for 2004: a crawfish-scented 3-1/2" long Dropshot Pork Worm; the new series 143 Porker, a great trailer to use when swimming a jig; and a silicone skirted Uncle Josh Pork Jig with a "Fast Clip" that prevents pork chunks from blocking the hookset when the hawg of a lifetime inhales it. Plus the Fast Clip makes pork removal a snap. The Uncle Josh Pork Jig with the "Fast Clip" is available in two head designs - one for flippin', another for fishing thick weeds, both with premium 5/0 Gamakatsu hooks. 866-BIG-BASS

Those are some of the new tools, tackle and trends I observed at ICAST and that I am expecting to see lead the bass sportfishing industry into 2004.

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