A hearty and heartfelt congratulations to the winners of the 2020 ICAST New Product Showcase (presented by Fishing Tackle Retailer!) Best of Category award winners. If it were a different year, I’d look forward to finding you on the show floor and shaking your hand … or at least a fist bump. In 2020, however, this will have to do. Your win is no less impressive, and my admiration is real, not virtual.
One big takeaway from this year’s awards is the resurgence of Pure Fishing. After winning no ICAST Best of Show honors in 2018 or 2019, the company and its many brands bounced back this year to claim titles in an impressive six of the 30 categories.
Here’s a closer look at the winners. The product descriptions are paraphrased from those provided in the New Product Showcase.
Best Freshwater Rod: St. Croix — Legend Xtreme
St. Croix’s most sensitive rod series ever expands to eleven models, supporting anglers in a wider range of freshwater presentations and techniques. The re-engineered SCV carbon in the new Legend Xtreme is an example of St. Croix’s constant drive to obtain durability with unprecedented sensitivity. It incorporates an improved, overlaid ART (Advanced Reinforcing Technology) to yield the highest levels of carbon fiber density found on any fishing rod.
St. Croix has five wins in this category since 2012. There were 22 entries by 16 different brands in this category.
Best Saltwater Rod: St. Croix — Mojo Inshore
St. Croix’s most sensitive rod series ever expands to eleven models, supporting anglers in a wider range of freshwater presentations and techniques. The reengineered SCV carbon found in the new Legend Xtreme is an example of St. Croix’s constant drive to obtain the unimaginable – proven Xtreme durability with unprecedented sensitivity. It incorporates an improved, overlaid ART (Advanced Reinforcing Technology) to yield the highest levels of carbon fiber density found on any fishing rod.
“Mojo” must translate to “more awards” since St. Croix’s Mojo series has now won ICAST awards for Best Saltwater Rod (2020), Best Freshwater Rod (2019) and Best Fly Fishing Rod (2018). But that’s just a fraction of St. Croix’s trophy accumulation over the years. In 2018 and 2019, the company swept all three rod categories at ICAST, and Mojo Inshore represents its fourth straight win for Saltwater Rod and seventh win for Saltwater since 2012. That’s unprecedented dominance in the rod categories!
There were 10 entries by nine different brands in this category.
Best Fly Fishing Rod: Pure Fishing — Hardy Zane Pro
Made in England, the Hardy Zane Pro features a reduced blank diameter for better wind penetration and reduced weight. It’s offered in one- and four-piece designs.
It’s good see this legendary brand represented at ICAST and in the winner’s circle of the New Product Showcase. It’s Pure Fishing’s and Hardy’s first win in the fly rod category and the first time a brand other than St. Croix or G.Loomis has won in the ICAST era.
There were four entries by three different brands in this category.
Best Freshwater Reel: Shimano — Vanford 2500 Spinning Reel
The Vanford incorporates a new Magnum Lite Rotor for up to 48% less rotational inertia than traditional rotor construction. The Long Stroke Spool increases casting distance.
This makes four consecutive wins in the Freshwater Reel category for Shimano and 15 wins since 2002 (when ICAST replaced AFTMA). There were 13 entries by 10 different brands in this category.
Best Saltwater Reel: Pure Fishing — PENN Battle III
The PENN Battle III is equipped with proprietary CNC Gear Technology, an HT-100 Carbon Fiber Drag System, and a Full Metal Body to give it the guts and drag to handle serious abuse. Stronger, smoother, and more durable than ever before, the Battle III series has a model for every angler with sizes ranging from 1000 to 10000 and select sizes available in high speed ratios.
This marks PENN’s fifth win in this category since 2012 and Pure Fishing’s sixth win since 2006. The Battle II won the same title in 2014. There were six entries by five different brands in this category.
Best Fly Reel: Pure Fishing — Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Reel
This Hardy reel offers an innovative, original spool/line guide design for use with ultra-thin fly lines. It’s available in a gun metal or black anodized finish.
Hardy took both sides of the fly rod/reel categories — the first time that’s ever happened and the first time Hardy has won for Fly Reel. Pure Fishing, however, is no stranger to success in this category. Pflueger reels won three times in a row between 2015 and 2017.
There were three entries by three different brands in this category.
Best Rod & Reel Combo: Pure Fishing — Abu Garcia Virtual Casting Combo
The Abu Garcia Virtual Rod is the first integrated fishing rod that digitally logs an angler’s catches. Paired with the ANGLR app via Bluetooth from a smartphone, a click of the button in the butt of the rod records catches with location, weather and water data, and documents it in a private logbook. It’s paired with an Abu Garcia reel that matches the rod’s cosmetics.
This is Pure Fishing’s third win in this category since 2009. The others were by Pflueger and PENN. Perhaps more significantly, it ends Lew’s streak of six wins in a row in the Combo category.
There were 16 entries by 12 different brands in this category.
Best Fishing Line: Pure Fishing — Berkley FluoroShield
FluoroShield infuses fluorocarbon in a copolymer, combining the manageability of monofilament with the abrasion-resistance and near invisibility of fluorocarbon.
This marks the 13th time that a Pure Fishing brand has taken home the trophy for Fishing Line, but the first since 2017. There were 17 entries by 14 different brands in this category.
Best Freshwater Hard Lure: Z-Man — ChatterBait JackHammer StealthBlade
This is the stealthy, finesse-based ChatterBait. The polycarbonate blade is clear, so there’s no built-in flash — ideal for many clear water, bright light situations. It comes in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce and in six colors.
It seems hard to believe, but this is Z-Man’s first win at ICAST. Part of the reason may be that the company enters multiple products in this category most years — including four variations of the ChatterBait this year! — so Z-Man competes against Z-Man, and that’s rarely a recipe for contest success.
What I find most impressive is that Daniel Nussbaum and the team at Z-Man perennially find ways to reinvent the ChatterBait and to keep customers lining up to buy each iteration. It’s a template for success … at least for the companies that can innovate enough to pull it off.
There were 50 entries by 22 different brands in this category.
Best Freshwater Soft Lure: A Band of Anglers — Hyperlastics Dartprop Pro SK
The DartProp Pro is similar to ABOA’s popular DartSpin from Hyperlastics, but instead of a molded-in blade, there’s a prop on the front and rear of the lure. Because it sinks, anglers can let it fall to the desired depth and fish it like a spy bait or start cranking fast as soon as it hits the water and turn it into a buzzbait. The body of the lure gives it a big minnow action, while the prop on the tail makes it move erratically.
This is the first ICAST win for A Band of Anglers and Hyperlastics, the brainchildren of legendary tackle designer Patrick Sébile — likely the most decorated designer in all of sportfishing! Sébile remains the only designer to sweep the lure categories at a single ICAST. In 2009 with his namesake company, he won both Best Hard Lure and Best Soft Lure.
There were 41 entries by 24 different brands in this category.
Best Saltwater Hard Lure: Shimano — SP-Orca 150 Flash Boost
This sinking pencil bait is equipped with Shimano’s Flash Boost Technology to constantly emit a fish-attracting flash, even on the pause. Flash Boost Technology suspends foil on small springs inside the lure body with placement and movement designed to mimic the movements and flash of an injured baitfish. It’s equipped with 3X hooks and split rings, through-wire construction and Shimano’s Propulsion Weight Transfer system for increased casting distance.
It’s Shimano’s second win in the history of ICAST’s lure awards (starting in 2002). The company won Best Hard Lure in 2010.
There were 12 entries by 10 different brands in this category.
Best Saltwater Soft Lure: 13 Fishing — The Mullet
The Mullet features a custom HD VMC Weighted Swimbait Hook, hand-painted finishes, high definition holographic eyes, and nose anchors for durable rigging.
This is 13 Fishing’s first win for a Soft Lure — either freshwater or saltwater. The company won Saltwater Hard Lure honors in 2018.
There were 14 entries by 10 different brands in this category.
Best Tackle Management: Plano — EDGE Flex
EDGE Flex adds ultimate versatility to Plano’s popular EDGE boxes. Available in two sizes, every EDGE Flex tackle box includes a revolutionary fully customizable internal divider system that provides customization like never before. EDGE Flex also includes Rustrictor, Dri-Loc Seal, Water Wick, Duraview clear lids, EZ-Label, pre-cut vented dividers and stainless steel hinge pins.
This is Plano’s ninth Tackle Management win since 2003 and second in a row with EDGE. There were 15 entries by 13 different brands in this category.
Best Terminal Tackle: Rapala — VMC Crossover Rings
The Crossover Rings have a dual-channel hood which allows for Neko or wacky rigging. These rings, paired with the Crossover Pliers maximize efficiencies when rigging soft plastics. The rings are made in five sizes to cover a wide variety of diameter plastics. They come in a 10 pack and will be produced in three colors (black, green pumpkin and clear).
This is VMC’s third win in a row in the Terminal Tackle category and fifth win since 2004, making the brand Rapala’s most successful when it comes to ICAST awards.
There were 26 entries by 13 different brands in this category.
Best Electronics: Humminbird — CoastMaster Charts
CoastMaster charts deliver captains the information to fish and navigate with confidence, with complete coverage for all U.S. coastal waters on one card. Anglers can identify fish-holding areas by utilizing detailed depth contours, points of interest, navigational aids, and predictive tides and currents. And as part of the One-Boat Network, anglers can pair a Humminbird chartplotter and Minn Kota trolling motor with i-Pilot Link to automatically follow a depth contour.
It’s really impressive how dominant Humminbird has been when it comes to Best Electronics honors at ICAST. With the CoastMaster Charts win, the company has notched nine of the last 10 awards. That’s not just great technology and design; it’s also great marketing.
There were seven entries by seven different brands in this category.
Best Fishing Accessory: American Tackle Company — Tsuka Handle System
American Tackle calls the Tsuka Handle System “the most advanced rod handle ever produced.” While fishing rod blanks have improved through modern advances in carbon and resin systems, handles have remained relatively static. This new handle has a complete integrated system utilizing the same carbon material used in the best fishing rod blanks to offer a handle worthy of modern blank technology.
This was American Tackle’s second win in a row for Fishing Accessory. There were 34 entries by 24 different brands in this category.
Best Fly Fishing Accessory: Plano — Frabill Floating Trout Nets
Frabill’s new Floating Trout Nets put the net frame directly on the water surface for ease of catch and release. The comfortable rubber handle includes a lanyard with carabiner, fish-friendly dipped micromesh netting and five classic hoop shapes with flat bottom netting.
Frabill earned its first award in the Fly Fishing Accessory category this year. There were two entries by two different brands in this category.
Best Kids’ Tackle: Pure Fishing — Abu Garcia Gen Ike EZ Cast Baitcast Combo
Designed for the youth angler learning to throw his or her first low profile baitcasting reel, the Ike EZ Cast Baitcast Combo features an Anti-Backlash System that can be turned on and off and allows for tangle-free casting. This combo is Mike Iaconelli approved!
Pure Fishing dominated this category between 2010 and 2013 with four straight wins. There were nine entries by eight different brands in this category.
Best Boat and Watercraft: Johnson Outdoors Watercraft — Old Town Sportsman Autopilot
The Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot motorized kayak leverages Minn Kota’s GPS Spot-Lock technology. Motor to your spot faster and hold your position on your spot no matter the conditions. Controlled with a touch of a finger using the i-Pilot remote, your hands remain free to fish. The Autopilot features a seamlessly integrated, saltwater-ready 45-pound thrust 12V Minn Kota motor that’s compatible with lead acid or lithium ion batteries.
There were just three entries in the Boat and Watercraft category and all three came from Old Town, so you had to like their chances. Nevertheless, Spot-Lock is wildly impressive and a consumer favorite feature, so it’s no surprise that the Sportsman AutoPilot took top honors. This represents the fourth win in this category by Johnson Outdoors Watercraft in the past eight years.
Best Boating Accessory: Minn Kota — Raptor Shallow Water Anchor
Raptor debuts two industry-first anchoring technologies: (1) Active Anchoring which monitors anchoring force and adjusts to keep the boat pinned to the bottom, and (2) Auto-Bottom Mode which automatically detects bottom hardness to determine the right amount of anchoring force. Raptor boasts a five-year warranty and will be available in 8 and 10-foot lengths and in black, white, red and silver.
With the Raptor, Minn Kota captures its fourth win in this category in the past seven years. Yeti is the only other company with multiple wins in Boating Accessory during that time … including the infamous LoadOut Bucket (2017).
There were 15 entries by 12 different brands in this category.
Best Technical Apparel – Warm Weather: AFTCO — Diffuse Air-O Mesh Fishing Shorts
This is the first pair of technical fishing shorts made entirely of AFTCO’s breathable, yet durable, Air-O Mesh technology — great for warm, humid climates.
It’s AFTCO’s third win in a row in this category. The company has dominated the apparel categories since 2018.
There were six entries by six different brands in this category.
Best Technical Apparel – Cold Weather: AFTCO — Reaper Windproof 3-Layer Softshell Jacket
This jacket is constructed from a durable stretch soft shell rip-stop fabric with an ultra-warm Hexatron fleece lining and integrated fleece mask.
AFTCO has taken home top honors in this category three years in a row, and the company swept both the warm weather and cold weather subcategories — first time that’s ever happened. There were 11 entries by eight different brands in this category.
Best Lifestyle Apparel for Men: AFTCO — Saba Recycled Seam-Free Boardshorts
Saba is AFTCO’s first product to integrate recycled material into the fabric. These are the lightest shorts ever made by the company. This was accomplished by reducing the amount of seams and unnecessary trims.
AFTCO is riding high with three consecutive wins in the Lifestyle Apparel category. There were 14 entries by 10 different brands in this category.
Best Lifestyle Apparel for Women: Simms — Women’s Challenger Jacket and Bib
The Women’s Challenger Jacket and Bib are built with a waterproof/breathable two-layer Toray fabric and are designed to fit women. The jacket features an adjustable hood, a center-front zipper with a waterproof storm flap, a chest pocket with a built-in sunglass chamois, and handwarmer pockets. The jacket and bib are sold separately.
This is Simms’ first win for lifestyle apparel of any kind and the first time the category has been subdivided between men and women. There were six entries by five different brands in this category.
Best Footwear: Under Armour — UA Micro G Kilchis
The Micro G Kilchis features highly breathable, quick-dry textile upper welded synthetic overlays for abrasion protection, plus full-length Micro G foam midsole for long-lasting, responsive cushioning. The shoes offer rapid water drainage from ports built into lateral and medial sides of the midsole. Non-marking rubber outsoles maximize surface area contact for excellent grip on wet surfaces. The versatile collapsible-heel construction makes for easy slip-on while the comfortable stretch collar construction allows for barefoot-capable wear.
This was Under Armour’s first win in the Footwear category. The company won two apparel titles in 2015 and 2016.
There were four entries by three different brands in this category.
Best Eyewear: Costa Del Mar — Ferg
“Ferg” is derived from the name of the founder of Costa Sunglasses — Ray Ferguson. The frame features top and side shields, integrated textured Hydrolite rubber and vented adjustable nose pads.
Costa’s success in the Eyewear category is the envy of all New Product Showcase competitors. The company has won 10 times in a row and 13 times in the past 15 years. It’s a record that is unmatched in any other category by any other brand.
There were 16 entries by eight different brands in this category.
Best Ice Fishing: Rapala — Strikemaster Lithium 24V
The Strikemaster Lithium 24V’s new lightweight auger head combined with the popular Lite-flite lazer drill, brings more power, more holes, and stable ergonomic handling in the lightest, most compact peak performer in its class. It will drill 100 holes per charge with the 6-inch drill and 50 holes per charge with the 8-inch drill.
This is just the second year of the Ice Fishing category. There were 23 entries by 13 different brands.
Best Cutlery, Hand Pliers or Tools: Line Cutterz — Dual Hybrid Micro Scissor
Line Cutterz is the world’s first dual hybrid fishing line cutter. The Micro Scissor consists of a patented corrosion-resistant fixed ceramic blade in the back end and a stainless steel scissor action in the front end. This dual hybrid fishing line cutter offers anglers a fast, safe, convenient and durable way to cut braid, mono and fluorocarbon fishing lines. Attach it to hats, retractors, PFD’s, lanyards and fly fishing vests so you always have a fishing line cutter within reach.
This is just the second year of this category. There were 16 entries by 12 different brands.
Best Cooler: Yeti — Roadie 24
The Roadie 24 hard cooler is 10% lighter, holds 20% more, and even performs 30% better thermally than its predecessor. Plus, it’s tall enough to accommodate bottles of wine and slim enough to squeeze behind the driver or passenger seat of a car.
This is just the second year of this category and the first time Yeti has won it. Yeti coolers have already won for Boating Accessory and Fishing Accessory.
There were seven entries by five different brands in this category.
Best Giftware: Garmin — quatix 6X Solar Smartwatch
The quatix 6X Solar marine GPS smartwatch uses the sun’s energy to extend battery life up to 24 days. Designed for life on the water, the quatix 6X Solar is preloaded with specialized boating, fishing, cruising and sailing capabilities.
This represents Garmin’s first win in the Giftware category. They’re the ninth different manufacturer to win this category in the past nine years. That’s likely because it’s a bit of a grab bag category, and companies often enter a product in Giftware when it doesn’t quite fit anywhere else or when the entry would compete with another of the company’s products in another category.
There were 11 entries by nine different brands in this category.
One of these products is going to win ICAST 2020 Overall Best of Show honors. If you’re a voter, it’s in your hands.