ICAST 2021 is in the books, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to comment on the show. If you were there, you may know a lot of this. If you weren’t, it’ll all be news. Either way, everybody’s ICAST is different because everyone experiences it through his or her own eyes and ears.

As a veteran of many ICASTs, I always benefit from taking a hard look back after attending the industry’s biggest trade show. No matter how often I’ve been, there’s always something I could have done better or different or something to make the event more rewarding.

But this was probably the first ICAST in which the news after the event is about as big as the news generated during the event. I’m talking about COVID and its impact on the show.

Overall, I give ICAST 2021 a grade of A+. I thought it was terrific for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the event itself. It was great to be in the same room with thousands of people who care about the sportfishing industry, many of whom I count as friends. I didn’t get to see them at ICAST 2020 because that was a virtual event, and nothing virtual is as good as the real thing … particularly ICAST.

The impact of COVID was everywhere at the show, but least of all in face masks. I bet I saw fewer than 10 masks among all the ICAST attendees, but the virus made itself felt because so many people who ordinarily attend were not there. Nevertheless, I was extremely impressed by attendance, which I understand was around 10,800.

That’s about two-thirds of the attendance we’d expect in a “normal” year, but it’s outstanding considering the circumstances. Many of the regular attendees who missed the show live in Canada, or Asia, or Europe … or somewhere else with travel restrictions that made it difficult to get to Orlando or to get back home. If I were in their shoes, I would have skipped ICAST, too.

And, of course, there were industry people right here in the U.S. who missed the show because of COVID. I don’t blame them, either. The virus is a scary thing that has taken too many lives and impacted us in too many ways to calculate.

But when I was on the show floor, I rarely thought of COVID. It was a welcome break from the pandemic, and I’m weary of “playing defense” in life. Of course, we didn’t really get a break from COVID at all. It kept going, and I’ve already heard of a couple of dozen people who have tested positive for the virus after attending the show.

Some of them may have contracted it before arriving in Orlando, but some almost certainly got it inside the convention center.

Some of these people had been vaccinated; some had not. Either way, having the virus is not good for the person carrying it or for those he or she contacts.

If you have COVID symptoms — even if you’ve been vaccinated — I hope you’ll get tested for three reasons. First, so you can do the things that will help you recover. Second, so you can inform those who are and were around you that they may have been exposed. Third, so you can take the proper precautions with regard to anyone you plan to meet. It’s a small inconvenience that could make a big difference in a lot of lives.

On a much more enjoyable note, I’ve never heard more positivity at ICAST than I heard this year. I think it was the combination of believing things are getting back to some new normal and the fact that the sportfishing industry is doing pretty well overall.

I saw a lot of cool new products at this year’s ICAST, and I was impressed by the winners in the New Product Showcase presented by Fishing Tackle Retailer. It can’t have been easy to get new innovations prototyped and manufactured during the pandemic, but many companies got it done. Kudos to them.

A hearty congratulations to the folks at Pure Fishing, who won nine Best of Category awards at ICAST, and then took overall Best of Show. The Berkley PowerBait Gilly is the first lure to win overall honors in ICAST history, and the Pure Fishing team did not stumble upon that distinction (as many have). They made it happen through hard work and strategic smarts.

It’s also worth noting — at least to me — that I got to chat with a lot of old friends at the show, and I even made some new friends. That’s always a highlight for me.

A Little About FTR

ICAST is really the only time all year long that the FTR crew is more or less in one place. Day-to-day, we’re spread across all four continental time zones, and we’ve had a lot of additions and changes since the last time we were together. Deborah Smart and Tammy Higgins are new to our Sales team. I’ve known Deborah for years. We worked together at B.A.S.S., and I admire her enormously. If you know Deborah, you know she’s a great lady with impeccable integrity and real industry savvy.

I met Tammy Higgins for the first time at ICAST but knew her late husband Joe. He ran Sales at B.A.S.S. and was the kind of guy who always made you feel better about yourself and the world in general. Joe could restore your soul and faith in humanity just by being in the same room with you. Deborah and Tammy join FTR co-publisher Brian Thurston, Trisha Schulz and Gary Arnold in Sales. It’s a potent force that will lead a lot of companies to more and better business.

Seth Chandler is our “new” magazine designer. He’s been with us more than a year (hence the quotation marks around “new”), but ICAST was my first opportunity to meet him in person. I fully expected him to be 10 feet tall. Turns out that’s only in my esteem. When Seth is not making FTR look as good as it can look, he’s restoring and sailing yachts, managing the marina he owns, or generally making the world a more interesting place. I call him “Flash” because he works so quickly and so well.

Matt Wade is new to Decode. If you’re looking for someone to explain high-tech marketing methods, Matt is your guy. He can take the conversation way over my head faster than a Lamborghini can reach school zone speeds, but he’s also able to bring things back to Earth so even I can follow along. He works with Abby Nichols and FTR co-publisher Carlton Veirs to bring the latest sales and marketing technology to an industry that’s never been close enough to the cutting edge to draw blood.

Our new digital editor is Toby Lapinski, most recently of The Fisherman fame. Before he joined FTR, I had met Toby briefly a couple of times — enough to realize he’s a very nice guy who walks the fishing walk and talks the fishing talk — but in the few months he’s been with us, I’ve come to realize that he has tremendous skills and is a joy to work with on any project. He’s forcing me to elevate my own game as I try to keep up.

Of course, that’s not everybody on our team. Barbara Dase, Zoe Faught, Nathan Benson, and Michael Osburne didn’t come to ICAST, yet their contributions are integral to what you know as FTR. It takes all of us to be North America’s source for sportfishing business news and the pipeline that connects retail, wholesale, and manufacturing.

I’m thrilled to say that FTR has never, ever been stronger, and I’m honored to be a part of it. The chance to see the people I usually connect with via a keyboard or telephone is a big deal, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next opportunity.

And I’m looking forward to the next ICAST. This one was great!