I just returned from the American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA) annual Sportfishing Summit which was held this year in Naples, Florida. Despite being a member of the ASA for many years, and having attended many ICAST events which are run by the ASA, this was the first time I made it to the the big event; I only wish I had begun attending sooner. Lets take a look at the 2021 ASA Summit.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect at the Summit. I knew it was an opportunity for the leaders in the sportfishing industry to gather, share ideas and discuss how we can grow this great sport in which we all love, but how this was to be accomplished was not so apparent to me before I arrived.

Day one was what one would expect, a chance for the newbies such as myself to get accustomed to the event as well as an opportunity for those who had attended past events to make the rest of us feel at home. I bumped into a handful of industry folk for whom I’ve had longstanding relationships with, but I also met and spoke with many for whom I was only vaguely familiar and some of which I had only communicated with electronically in the past.

This is and was a huge part of the Summit as it provides a platform for attendees to get some real one-on-one time with the people who make decisions and lead the recreational sportfishing industry; to my knowledge there is no other single event which affords this unique opportunity. The day ended with a welcome reception where I witnessed my first wild Florida alligator of the trip, and I turned in early after a long day of travel and networking.

Day two was where things really got underway, kicking things off with breakfast followed by a look to where the ASA and the industry can and will be heading in the next few years by ASA president, Glenn Hughes. Glenn provided an overview of the ASA’s strategic direction and plans for the future. He addressed the primary strategic directives including building the sportfishing community, improving content and communication, growing revenue, enhancing the value of the ICAST show and events, growing retailer engagement, increasing regional engagement and sustaining and growing advocacy efforts.

This led to an informative session led by Government Affairs vice president Mike Leonard and the Government Affairs team including Michael Waine, Danielle Cloutier, Connor Bevan and Kellie Ralston. They provided not just an overview of the GA team itself, but also a look at the progress and challenges the team has faced in recent months. From striped bass in the northeast, to red snapper in the southeast, to water issues in the west and everything in-between, this team has been and continues to work hard for the ASA, its members and those we all represent and serve.

Following the Government Affairs team presentation, the first of two keynote speakers was up as Joey Coleman took the stage. Joey is a recognized expert in designing the customer experience to dramatically increase your customer retention and your bottom line, and the subject of his session was, “Never Lose A Customer Again.” He dazzled all in attendance as he took us through a whirlwind ride and presented a very simple path to follow to not only convert those one-time customers into repeat customers, but how to keep them coming back and ultimately convert each and every one of them into a fan of our brand.

After wrapping up with Joey Coleman, an excellent lunch was served which led into the first slate of afternoon committee and subcommittee meetings. The meetings were followed by an evening reception followed once again by an early bed for me as I wrapped up my first full day at the 2021 ASA Summit.

Day three began bright and early with breakfast followed by more general sessions, this day led off with the subject of “Keeping Our New Anglers On The Water” as led by Stephanie Vatalaro, Senior Vice President of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. Stephanie was joined by an esteemed panel including Rob Southwick, President of Southwick Associates; Travis Owens, Vice President, NA Customer Experience, GM Fin-Nor/Van Staal, Pure Fishing, Inc.; and Jeff Kolodzinski, the Fishing Content Brand Manager for Johnson Outdoors.

While 2020 provided seemingly unending challenges, the one upside to the global pandemic proved to be the public’s renewed interest in fishing among other outdoor activities. The panel shared insights from their unique perspectives, and both Travis Owen and Jeff Kolodzinski discussed some of the many steps their companies have been and currently are taking to engage, educate and retain as many of those new anglers as possible.

Keeping on a high note, the second keynote speaker 2021 ASA Summit was on tap as Ken Schmidt took the stage shortly before lunch. Ken is a speaker, author, former Harley-Davidson executive and an avid angler. He is also one of the ASA’s most popular keynote speakers having provided insight into building a fanatically vocal fan base during the 2015 Sportfishing Summit. I first saw Ken speak several years ago at ICAST 2016 and was excited to hear him once again—he did not disappoint! Seamlessly blending motorcycle metaphors with business insight, Ken held everyone’s attention as he took us on a wild ride with an end goal to “Keep Customers Active.”

After another networking lunch—which is more than worth the price of admission to the Summit! —we all broke off once again for committee and subcommittee meetings. After sitting in on one of the meetings, I had a very short window of time to kill before Thursday evening’s reception, dinner, and awards presentation, so I did what everyone but me seems to do when in Florida, I went fishing. I managed several ladyfish, a mystery dropped fish and a beautiful snook.

Friday morning began bright and early as the previous afternoon’s fishing success motivated me to rise before the sun and greet the sunrise on the beach. I added several more catches to the trip total including another snook and several jacks before I was greeted by a school of tarpon that showed me in short order while they carry the nickname of Silver King as the two fish I hooked proceeded to make a hard b-line for Mexico before parting my leader. Despite coming up short this time around, the sight of a 3- to 4-foot tarpon rocketing across the surface as my reel’s drag screamed for mercy is not an experience I will soon forget!

Back at the hotel the 2021 ASA Summit closed out with breakfast followed by the general membership meeting. Committee and subcommittee meeting minutes were read, Glenn Hughes and Jesse Simpkins made their closing remarks, and it was announced that the 2022 ASA Summit will be held on October 25 – 28 at the Westin New Orleans—See You There!