By the time Amtrak Train 91 pulled out of old Orlando Station on Saturday, the once bustling ICAST show floor was almost as empty as the ghostly depot. In the distance, the last remnants of the maze of show booths were being hauled out of town, even as the locomotive began to toil its way towards Tampa.
I was, perhaps, the only ICAST attendee leaving town by train. “Boycotting airlines?” One text message read. “Chosen form of hipster travel?” asked another.
The train is a habit now, a post-ICAST unwind that allows me to simultaneously book cheap flights home out of a coastal city and decompress for a few hours to the rattle and hum of rolling steel. After a full week spent flying from meeting to meeting, booth to booth, and ceremony to ceremony, the Joe Biden Special offers a chance to gather perspective on the proceedings.
These, in short, are my hitchhiker’s observations of ICAST 2017.
ICAST On the Water appears to have found a new home that’s going to serve the event well. That location—a pond positioned outside of the convention center’s North Concourse—proved to be more convenient than Lake Toho, where the event was held during its first two years. Naysayers will note that what amounts to a golf course pond isn’t going to offer much latitude for electronics companies to showcase high-tech sonar, and they’re right; but for the majority of manufacturers—lure markets, rod builders, watercraft companies—the on-site location is a huge bonus.
Several manufacturers I spoke with noted that On the Water can present resource distribution challenges. There are, after all, only a limited number of people to set up booths inside and man On the Water booths outside.
Overall, I enjoyed the renovated On the Water experience, which seemed generally more coordinated than years past, even if it’s still a shadow of the controversial Lake X experiment which birthed the idea in 2014.
The New Product Showcase (sponsored by Fishing Tackle Retailer) may have some issues to work out. As my cohort, Ken Duke, alludes to in his wrap-up, voting seems a bit off. The process, which consists of filling out paper ballets with an astounding number of candidates and categories, could use a modernization. Over 1,400 products were submitted this year. There’s simply no practical way to give each product the full attention it may warrant, which I maintain lends an inherent edge to products with established brand recognition or flashy paint jobs—especially in crowded categories.
That’s one reason that the lure winners seem to be more outlandish every year. That’s no knock on Savage Gear’s 3D Bat, but it’s clear that differentiation can garner more votes than a potential best-selling product.
A separate case panned out in the freshwater rod category, where 13 Fishing’s winner, the $99 Fate Black, garnered jeers from a number of media and manufacturers I spoke with. The open secret that 13 Fishing sent samples of the rod out to voters prior to the show also contributed to that controversy. That savvy move, it should be noted, is not illegal per show rules.
The electronics category seems overcrowded. There’s no logical reason to pit action cameras against radar units, and flashers against 3D sonar MFDs. No one I spoke with had an issue with Humminbird taking home a seventh consecutive category win with SOLIX, but the lumping together of such a diverse range of electronics turns the category into an annual three or four horse race between major electronics companies—some of whom cannibalize their votes with multiple entries.
The Show Floor itself seemed busier this year. I particularly noticed more buyers making their rounds. That’s a testament to the American Sportfishing Association, who has made an increased effort to bring the people who matter most to the show to Orlando in greater numbers.
I’m not overwhelmed by the NMMA section of the show. The boating sector is huge, and while it’s good to see NMMA presenting a presence at ICAST, the area could use some more attention.
Why is everyone wearing jerseys? The ubiquitous fishing jersey continues to be a staple at ICAST, but you’ll see approximately 100 exhibitors sporting one for every real-deal Kevin VanDam or Aaron Martens you see at the show. To exhibitors sporting the jersey as a mandatory booth uniform—just don’t. When it comes to logos, remember: less is more, less is more.
And speaking of less being more, Pelagic continues to have the most popular blow-by booth among male attendees. Almost every male exhibitor I talked to took note of the saltwater gear company—not necessarily for a product, but for the thong-clad booth babes they employed to resounding success. It’s a dangerous move for Pelagic, who in addition to pushing the PG-boundaries of ICAST might also give someone a legitimate heart attack one day. (Seriously, there are a lot of senior citizens walking these aisles, guys.)
One of the most interesting opportunities I have at ICAST, is the luxury of seeing retailer-focused promotions “in the wild” so to speak. BaitCloud presented a solid example of an end-cap. They’ll ship you one like this for a reasonably-sized order, and it includes a t.v. with video roll of their fizzy product underwater. (This one seen at the local Orland Bass Pro Shops.) Nifty.
It’s nice to see companies stepping up to support floor sales with displays. This isn’t a new trend, but I can tell you how shocking it is (as a former BPS employee) to see just how many businesses don’t take advantage of this kind of promotion. Heck, unless things have changed, internal display setup at BPS is still handled by mid-level managers, a desktop printer and an outdated version of Microsoft Word. (These are not design tools.)
You may have noticed that Fishing Tackle Retailer launched a new website during the show. The site is designed to be especially mobile-friendly, and it’s made for easy viewing of the latest stories in the industry via a built-in newsfeed. We hope you’ll dig it.
In the world of theme songs, Bassmaster Classic Champion Jordan Lee confirms his intent to change next year’s intro music from Rick Ross to an as-yet unnamed artist. This year’s highly unofficial ICAST theme song was brought to you by Kendrick Lamar, who serves up a timeless reminder worth repeating before every meeting: be humble.
With ICAST in the books, FTR is heading to Salt Lake City next week to explore the world of Outdoor Retailer. There, I’ll be reporting back from one of outdoor recreation’s largest shows. Chosen mode of transport? This time, plane.