ICAST '23 is in the books, and with the show came a number of surprises in terms of new products. Before we go there, I find it’s always important to emphasize the overall feel and trends of the fishing industry.

There’s been a leveling out for most manufacturers since the pandemic. It’s now evident that sales numbers like those of 2020 and ’21 aren’t sustainable, and that much of the country is back to work and spending a little less on fishing.

This is not to be confused with a downward trend. Five-thousand dollar trolling motors and bass boats eclipsing $100K are not signs of a weak market. Neither were the catastrophic traffic jams all around Orlando as families jammed the theme parks.

Overall, America continues to spend. Of all the diverse groups of fishing industry cohorts I spoke to, from pro anglers to manufacturers reps, tackle store owners to hopeful start-ups, all reported strong business.

Positive reports always result in lots of new gear. The overall ICAST theme is for the big players – manufacturers well-established in their space – to now introduce multiple new products instead of just one. A couple of new rod series. Several new lures across multiple categories. Numerous new pieces of apparel.

We saw that at Z-Man, the bass and inshore powerhouse that now battles with giants like Rapala and Berkley for a place in everyone’s tackle box. Innovative gear there included freshwater and saltwater baits, but perhaps the most curious was Z-Man’s category winner, the ChatterBait EVO.

What could possibly be new to a Chatterbait, you ask (as did I)? This one has a better trailer keeper than any previous lure, a chip-resistant blade and a slightly longer hook shank. Chatter-guru Stephen Browning reported that this modification makes the lure easier to shake free from a snag. Also, the lure is priced at 10 bucks. Better, AND less money? It appears.

Bambuie Baer is a unique company with an interesting dropshot weight designed for heavy-cover fishing. It features a high-end swivel and a smooth, round line-tie. Something to check out for a unique flipping look.

There were lots of new fishing lines, especially brightly colored braids. A flouro won the best fishing line award, but there needs to be better consideration of the diversity of this category. Braided line can’t be compared to nylon or fluoro and needs its own spot. We’d all benefit from a closer look at this labor-intensive field.

Lipert introduced a scissor-style, electric shallow-water anchor. In other words, the look and function of a Power-Pole, with the ease of install of a Talon. No hydraulics to maintain – something I’ve always been a fan of – but proven holding power. Could this be the wave of the future?

No surprise, lithium batteries were everywhere, and now fully infiltrating every corner of fishing. One practical battery concept that may fly under the radar, however, was a small device offered by Amped Outdoors.

Their Bluetooth Smart Battery Monitor allows users to check on the status of marine batteries, how much power is currently being used, and how long the current charge will last. It left me wondering: Why isn’t this technology built into every fishing boat on the market?

Thankfully, I found my baby animal lure in the new product showcase. I joke, as every year I’m amazed that some manufacturer finds it necessary to introduce a bass fishing lure that mimics a critter. Most of the time, it’s a ducky, sometimes a turtle. For 2023, Natural Selection Lures bucked the trend and brought us Alex the Gator, a baby alligator soft-plastic lure. It’s going to take a big, mean bass to eat this guy.

The Swinging’ Ned Rig Jighead from VMC won its category award, and it’s certainly a winner. Immediately when I handled this lure (yes, it was me who tore open the carton in the showcase), I saw the appeal of this jig in the hands of a finesse specialist. Everything is refined. The hook, the keeper, the shape of the head, all small, sharp and specialized. It will be interesting to see if finesse swing-head fishing becomes a thing.

For me, the Best of Show Award was a no-brainer, but didn’t go to the right product. Nothing against the winner, but the Bubba Scale has the most potential to truly change the world of fishing.

Let’s back up here and explain my thinking. For years, since the inception of the MLF catch, weigh, release concept, I’ve had one reoccurring thought in the back of my head. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Figure out this technology for the rest of us, specifically those engaged in grass-roots style competition.

Infiltrate to the club anglers and small buddy circuits. Have a way for these guys to run a fair tournament without hauling fish around in a livewell, and combine with all the excitement of an updated score-keeping system.

It appears the braintrust at MLF had the same idea. Together with the Bubba company, they introduced a scale capable of culling and storing an angler's top-5 weight and posting that weight to a scoreboard in real time through an app. The scale underwent over 16,000 hours in testing and works in rough water.

If the unit works as described, and there are no technological hiccups in the app (both were adamantly guaranteed in a high-profile press function), I feel this technology could change bass fishing forever, and represents the greatest advancement in conservation of the resource since the development of the livewell.

Possibilities are endless. I can’t help but think back to summer days, navigating my boat through the maze of floaters at the boat ramp, watching as another bass club packed up their scales and left for the sports bar. How things would have been different if they hadn’t hauled those bass around all day. If embraced, this technology could end such careless waste.

Want to have tournament at a catch-and-release lake? Go for it. How about bragging rights between you and a few buddies on different parts of the lake, or even different lakes? What about keeping better track of your five best in practice? All are possible.

Technology was everywhere at ICAST '23, some good, some over-the-top. Regardless, we’re seeing advancement and refinement in fishing continue, with an emphasis on products for advanced anglers. Consumers can expect more, and they’re likely to get it.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)