ICAST Through A Steward's Eyes
- "The market rewards innovation."
- "Most of this stuff ' designed to catch fishermen, not fish."
- "Fishermen are hungry for the latest thing but slow to change to it."
These are a few catch-phrases you hear over and over when talking about new products at ICAST – the fishing industry's annual gathering and tradeshow, held 2 weeks ago in Orlando, Fla.
The show always opens with the New Product Showcase Preview – a reception where fishing-tackle buyers and media get a sneak peek at everything the manufacturers are going to roll out in the coming year. Media and buyers get to vote for their favorites, and here's what drives most folks' votes:
What do I think will sell well?
What's truly unique, interesting or different?
Who do I have partnerships with and want to help?
My vote'/s surely influenced by things like this, but I have perhaps a unique perspective: I'm voting for our waters. Voting for products that are likely to benefit fishermen who care about S.A.F.E. Angling – the products that help us pursue our sport with less negative impact on our waters.
Wanna see what's new through a steward's eyes?
The highlight of ICAST for me was one of those not-so-sexy categories: Terminal Tackle. That's hooks and weights and stuff, and it's hardly the most exciting part of the show.
But this year, Berkley Gulp! won it with a non-toxic jighead (pictured above). Not only does it look cool, it's lead-free. Pretty sweet when S.A.F.E. Angling products are a hit with the industry. That got my vote, and it's super that the Gulp! line, which is known for being a biodegradable alternative for plastic, gets married with a nontoxic jighead under the same brand name. Daiichi had some hook entries in the category too, and the company's an important partner for our cause with excellent circle hooks.
In the apparel category, there's been clothing in past years that included recycled post-consumer content fiber. That kind of thing gets a nod. This year, a company called Aqua Design introduced a new wading jacket and a bass-fishing-style jersey. Its New Product Showcase sample had a big Recycled Fish logo on it (see photo to right), and every product it sells has a "We Are Stewards" educational hangtag in it. The company's skyward camo pattern helps you catch fish in shallow and clear water, and every garment is feature-rich. They got my vote, hands-down.
Paddlecraft – canoes and kayaks and stuff - have less impact than motorized boats when it comes to our environment, and Hobie earned the overall best in show. Hobie did it a couple of years ago, too. Another contender in that category, NuCanoe, has shown a commitment to conservation by including conservation education in every boat that ships. Both boats are awesome and both boats would be a delight to own, but NuCanoe got my vote because it's made a commitment to educating anglers about being stewards.
What can you do with a rod & reel to make it a better bet for stewardship? Aside from an educational hangtag program, it's the companies behind the rods and reels that dedicate resources to conservation, and most do that in meaningful ways. I hope that someday we see a rod made out of recycled materials, recycled cork handles, recycled metal guides – that would put stewardship DNA right into the fiber of the rod.
Electronics – same deal. Electronics make us better anglers, more efficient predators, and with that power comes the responsibility to harvest wisely and be sensitive in how we pressure the resource. There were some interesting developments from electronics companies, but none that have a significant conservation angle.
A new category was introduced this year – the FishSmart Award. This category highlights products that help anglers fight barotraumas, and in the future, presumably, will be awarded to "green" or stewardship-minded products. There was only one contender, the SeaQuilizer. The SeaQuilizer lets you clip a weight to the jaw of a fish caught from deep water so that you can return it to the depths, giving it the best chance of survival. It's good news to see products like this coming into the marketplace to complement fish "fizzing" and "venting" tools like the Ventafish that have been on shelves for a few years.
One of the six risks facing fishing is declining participation, so everything in the Youth Fishing category has a stewardship angle. A new brand called 13 entered a higher-end youth rod that looks cool, but Pure Fishing got my vote with its Shakespeare Hide-A-Hook Bobber Kit (pictured above). The fact is that lots of kids live with their moms in single-parent households, and moms worry about stuff like kids getting hooked. If this new bobber's going to make moms feel safer about taking their kids fishing, then get 'em some and get 'em on the water! Other companies have tried hide-a-hook bobbers, but Pure Fishing has the muscle to make it take off, and it got my vote.
The fishing line category had a biodegradable fishing line entry – Bioline – a few years back. The product line is now owned by Wright & McGill (Eagle Claw). That's the only product that's truly beneficial in terms of stewardship. However, The Berkley Conservation Institute has operated a fishing-line recycling program for years, and the reintroduction of Trilene XL/XT this year won best in show in the line category, which is fitting.
In hard lures, there was an interesting entry from the Lucky Bug Lure Co. The company makes a small fly/crankbait crossover that can be cast on a fly rod or a spinning rod. It's a single-hook design, which beats trebles for being fish-friendly. It's made with phthalate-free plastic, which is uncommon – most plastic lures contain endocrine-disrupting BPA, which isn't great for our waters. And it includes natural materials (a feather) which is biodegradable. That gave it my vote, but in this highly competitive category, mine wasn't enough – and may have been the only one that this diminutive and little-known product received.
In soft lures, we definitely root for biodegradable alternatives to plastic. Most soft plastics contain BPA, which I mentioned above is not especially good for fish and fisheries. Berkley Gulp! Alive had a new earthworm that got my vote, but there was one other product that also caught my eye. Uncle Josh, the company famous for making the "pig" in a jig & pig, has a line of baits called "meat" which is just that – pork fat – a truly natural, biodegradable, digestible alternative to plastic. I can't wait to try it (for fishing!).
In fishing accessories, Castalia Outdoors introduced a Kayak model of its Flip Net. It includes a coated-mesh bag that's easier on fish than the cheap nylon or cotton nets, while being lighter and easier to use than heavy rubber net bags. We like it, and it got my vote.
Overall, in a year where most new product innovation was tied to multi-hook rigs in the sensational wake of the Alabama Rig's overnight explosion, there are still plenty of new things to look forward to in 2013 that are less about more, bigger, faster, and still about the core of our sport – connecting with our waters and wild places naturally.
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about the author
Recycled Fish is the national non-profit organization of "anglers living a Lifestyle of Stewardship both on and off the water, because Our Lifestyle Runs Downstream."