If you’re wondering why every Overall Best of Show winner since 2012 has come from the Boats and Watercraft or Boating Accessory categories (formerly lumped together), the answer is simple.
It’s basic math.
And if you’re wondering how many Overall Best of Show winners have come from the Freshwater Hard Lure, Saltwater Hard Lure, Freshwater Soft Lure, Saltwater Soft Lure, Fishing Accessory, Fly Fishing Accessory, FishSmart Tackle, Eyewear, Apparel (of any kind), Electronics, Footwear, Giftware, Kid’s Tackle, Tackle Management and Terminal Tackle categories, I have your answer.
Not even one entry from any of those categories has ever won Overall Best of Show in the history of ICAST. And you can say the same for Saltwater Rod, Fly Fishing Rod, Fly Fishing Reel and Fishing Combo. Nothing from those categories has ever won Overall Best of Show, either.
And it’s a safe bet that nothing from those categories will ever win Overall Best of Show … unless and until the system is corrected. You see, the current system is technically flawed in favor of the Boats and Watercraft category that has claimed four of the last six Overall Best of Show honors.
So, if you’re a manufacturer of rods, reels, lines, lures or terminal tackle — the things an angler absolutely must have just to be an angler — you have virtually no chance of claiming ICAST’s top prize through no fault of your own.
To see the problem, you first need to understand the voting system. Each product in 26 categories is given an identification number. A voter must record a selection in each category for his or her ballot to be tallied. Then, for the final blank — Overall Best of Show — he or she must select one of the same items just chosen in the individual categories
Simple! But it creates an uneven playing field.
At one extreme, there are hundreds of entries in each of the lure and terminal tackle categories. At the other extreme, there are very few entries in the Boats and Watercraft category — perhaps just six or eight.
If there are 1,000 voters, it’s a good bet that the Freshwater Hard Lure winner receives fewer than 20 votes. That’s hardly a landslide, but it’s tough to get more when you have so much competition.
On the other hand, in the Boats category the winner likely receives at least 200 votes. That’s what happens when you divide those 1,000 votes between just six or eight entries. (Note: Fishing Tackle Retailer has sponsored the New Product Showcase for decades, but ASA does not share even the most basic data … not even with us!)
This means the Best Freshwater Lure is on about 20 ballots while the Best Boats winner is on 200 ballots. When the voters scan their list and make a selection for Overall Best of Show, the Boats choice is represented ten times more often.
So, whose odds do you like to win Overall Best of Show?
If there’s good news about Overall Best of Show, it’s that fixing the system is simple. It just needs to be bifurcated. The first time through the New Products Showcase, voters could vote just as they do now except they would not vote for Overall Best of Show. Instead, they would vote only in the 26 individual categories. Once those votes have been tallied and the winners announced, voters would be allowed back into the New Product Showcase to select one of those individual category winners as Overall Best of Show.
It would be fair, it would be simple, and it would give us a properly representative sampling of Overall Best of Show winners.
I’ve shared my concerns for the system with a couple of people who suggested that the balloting be weighted so that more traditional fishing categories have a better chance of winning … or that Overall Best of Show be restricted to the rod, reel, line and lure categories.
That just replaces one unfair system with another. If we’re going to bring apparel, eyewear and other such categories to the game, we should give them a chance to play. We just need to make sure the playing field is level.
Ultimately, I have no problem with a kayak winning Overall Best of Show, but when it happens four times in six years it’s probably a symptom of a problem. And, at least in this case, the problem is easy to diagnose.
Until the system is corrected and products in all categories are given a fair shot, I have a near fool-proof recipe for winning Overall Best of Show at ICAST. Stop making lures, rods, reels, lines or hooks, and retool your manufacturing operations to build kayaks.