By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
ICAST, the fishing industry's annual trade show, got under way today in Orlando, Fla. Dozens of professional bass anglers will be in attendance – their main function is to help promote their sponsors' new products, but many will also traverse the aisles to get a look at what other companies have produced.
After all, when you make your living with rods, reels, line and artificial baits, it pays to know what's out there.
BassFan spoke with several longtime pros on the eve of this year's show to find out what they enjoy most about the annual gathering. Their answers appear below.
"I've always liked working with sponsors on the introduction of new products. It's the first opportunity that a lot of people, including the buyers, have gotten to see what the companies have to offer. Over the years I've helped to design a lot of different lures and other products, and it's exciting when they're presented at the show.
"Then there's the true business end – sitting in on meetings with the major accounts and hoping to get placement. There's a lot of excitement and pressure involved with that."
"I'm still a tackle junkie at heart and I enjoy all the buzz about the new products and what's going to be the 'next big thing.' Also, one of the things I look forward to is seeing a lot of people I don't see very often – especially some of the buyers. We see the same media at the tournaments and events like that, but there are people from various companies that you only see at this show."
"It's funny, I was talking to a buddy of mine just the other day about bow hunting and we talked about how far behind you can get if you're not up on the latest equipment. As somebody who fishes for a living, I need to know exactly what's available. I like to talk with sponsors and a lot of other vendors and let them explain why they think the new stuff is better than past products.
"I'm looking to pick up anything I can that I might be able to add to my arsenal this fall or next year. It's a constant learning process and if you don't stay on top of it, you can get behind in a hurry."
"I enjoy walking around and going booth to booth and seeing the new stuff people have come up with. You look at some of the gadgets and things and some look good and some just look ridiculous. It's like, What in the world were they thinking when they came up with that?"
"The first thing I like about (the show) is all the cool new stuff – it's almost like Christmas. Some of the stuff you already know about, but some are total surprises and it's really cool how those companies have been able to keep it under wraps.
"The think that really means more to me now, though, is seeing people that I might not have seen in years. The fishing industry is like a big fraternity and ICAST is an awesome get-together. It allows you to reconnect and say hi to some people face to face."
"I'm like a kid who gets to go under the tree on Christmas eve and look at all the presents, and I enjoy calling my fishing buddies back home and texting them pictures of the new products. I've been doing this for 22 years, but I still want to see the newest toys on the block."
"One of the things I'm always looking for is an undiscovered lure or technique that I can figure out an application for. Anything cutting-edge that I might be able to pick up on quicker than the competition could give me an edge.
"It's also a great place to start relations with potential new sponsors. You get to meet people and find out about their products and if you can see yourself becoming a part of that family, you can start to nurture those relationships.
"One other thing I like is it's one of the few times you see other pros in a non-competitive environment, and you run into guys from other tours that you seldom get to see. You can hang out and go to dinner and that kind of thing."
"The biggest thing for me is definitely just seeing people you don't see but once a year. There are people who've helped me with my career who I worked with previously that it's great to get reacquainted with.
"I also come to see the new things – maybe not the showcase stuff, but something like Gear Grabbar. I met them years ago at ICAST and they became a sponsor and I helped them grow the brand, and I didn't even know about the product before I saw it at ICAST."
Tim Horton said the products that intrigue him most at ICAST often come from companies that are not yet well-established in the industry.
"I definitely want to see all the new rods, reels and lures that everybody's been working on all year, but a lot of times the most interesting stuff comes from companies that aren't really established. It's always neat to see the mom-and-pop stuff.
"The Classic is all about the fans, but here we get to roll up our sleeves and see what's new."
"For me it's not so much the new baits because we've already heard a lot about those through the grapevine and even used a lot of them. I'm more interested in the new technology that's out there in things like electronics and other products that could be real difference-makers.
"It's always fun to see all the people – pretty much everybody in the tackle industry is there and I have a lot of old friends who I don't see often. It's like a big family reunion in a lot of ways."
"It's always been pretty exciting for me to go and see all the new lures. There were some things that happened on the tournament trail this year that blew me away, and in the summer you get to go to ICAST and see some things that might be good next year.
"Definitely one of the high points is seeing some old sponsors and people you worked with for years and years. It's fun to see and talk to the people who do the design work on a lot of the new lures."
"I like seeing the new products and seeing which way the trends are going. A lot of times you don't find anything that really burns the barn down, but there are always things that are real interesting and really unique.
"I'll work (a sponsor's booth) for 2 hours and then walk the floor for 30 minutes, and then work another 3 hours and walk another 30 minutes. You have to make the time to see what's there."