Joe SillsWritten by

A Wayfarer’s Guide to ICAST 2019

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A few weeks ago, I sat on the boat of a Florida-based fishing guide in his mid 20s. As we cast lines for tarpon under a bridge in the Keys, he began to shoot on the industry’s largest trade show. “I can tell you right now, there’s a big difference between the fishing industry and ICAST,” he swore. “I went to my first one a few years ago, and it will be my last.”

I nearly did a spit-take.

This year, I’ll be attending my sixth ICAST, and I’ve got a bone to pick with that guide. As we continued our trip, the young man kept talking, and I kept listening. He wasn’t familiar with FTR, and since he’s not a retailer or manufacturer or someone who wants to have a finger on the pulse of the fishing industry, that may be understandable. But he had heard of a renowned lure-maker in another boat from our party. You would know him, too. The veteran inventor speaks with a heavy French accent and owns multiple IGFA world records along with several awards from the ICAST New Product Showcase. If you’ve ever seen him without a rod in his hand, he likely had a lure in his pocket.

According to my young guide, none of that mattered.

To which I say this—don’t be that guy. If you think ICAST doesn’t matter, you might as well hop on the boat with him and head out to sea.

The unpopular truth about ICAST is this: you get out of it what you put in. That’s why I’m chiming in with a wayfarer’s guide to ICAST. I don’t want to meet you in the Keys one day and hear a sob story about the dissonance between fishermen, guides, and ICAST attendees. Because like my guide—who failed to successfully land one fish—that’s b.s.

A Wayfarer’s Guide to ICAST

  1. Have a plan and write it down — First things first, have a plan. My coworkers will tell you that I’m the absolute worst at making a plan. If it doesn’t involve a print deadline or an obscure travel destination, I’m not likely to remember it. But even I have a plan for ICAST. Whether you’re just jotting the plan down on a notepad, entering it into your smartphone, or using the ICAST app to formulate this plan, it’s critical to have one.
  2. Bring your business cards — I am guilty of violating this one. Never believe that everyone important in the industry already knows you. At ICAST, you are guaranteed to meet new people with genuinely interesting stories and ideas. You’ll want to keep up with them, and while you can use the ICAST app to scan badges, the old-fashioned business card still works best. Want a cool card? Head to Moo and order some luxury cards made from recycled denim, or NFC+ cards that trigger a smartphone action when tapped. (Side note: You’ll also meet some totally annoying people at ICAST. Recommend they book a trip with that guide I told you about.)
  3. Make time for at least one seminar — This is a page from the Sportfishing Summit playbook. ICAST seminars have not been historically well attended, but they have always provided some of the most valuable information at the show. This year the ASA is stepping the game up by hosting 15 business development seminars for retailers, plus a couple of others of general interest or for manufacturers. Topics range from offshore manufacturing to intellectual property laws, podcasts, tournaments and tackle sales, and getting more out of media. FTR’s Ken Duke is hosting “Get More Out of Media!” on Wednesday, and I’m co-hosting “Advertising for Tackle Retailers” on Friday. Come see us.
  4. Go see the pool salesman — His name is Marcus Sheridan and he has some business ideas that could help you. Sheridan was the keynote speaker at last year’s Sportfishing Summit, and he has some seriously valuable information for your business. You’ll need a ticket to help cover his tab, but that’s $50 well spent.
  5. Let loose a little — Don’t be so uptight. If you enjoy an adult beverage, have a beer. There are endless manufacturers dying to hand you a free one at 3:00 p.m. each day. FTR will even buy your beer on Tuesday night at the New Product Showcase reception. Beyond that, there are countless dinners and, on Thursdays, legendary parties to attend at ICAST. Let loose a little and go have some fun. You’ll be surprised how much this benefits your slightly hungover business meeting the next morning. If FTR‘s ownership knew how many ad sales they owed to me burning the midnight oil, I might own a yacht instead of an ’87 Bumble Bee bass boat.

Is there a disconnect between anglers and ICAST?

Back in the Keys, I pondered this question for a while as I watched the tarpon balloon bounce between puffs of cigarette smoke exhaled by my guide. There was nothing else to do, since we weren’t catching anything. So, is there really a disconnect between anglers and ICAST? Of course. ICAST is a trade show, not a consumer show—but the ripples of ICAST lap up on every shore of this sport. From the Florida Keys to the San Juan Sound, you can bet that the tackle, the lures, and the lines in the hands of nearly every guide and angler in America got their start at ICAST.

What better place, then, for you to get ahead of the game?