The past month has seemed rather normal … at least to me. I attended the Bassmaster Classic in Fort Worth, Texas, and enjoyed a lot of it. It was the first time seeing many industry friends since the previous Classic in March 2020 — pre-pandemic.

Hank Cherry won that Classic, so it was only fitting that he repeat as we attempt a return to sportfishing normalcy. (Shout out to Warren G. Harding for that reference!) Congratulations to Hank and to Pure Fishing for developing and providing the rods, reels, lines, and lures for his win. Their Stunna is obviously a winna.

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One of the best events I attended at the Classic was a media lunch hosted by SPRO. There was good Mexican food, great camaraderie, terrific looking new products (like the Flappin’ Frog) and Mexican food. Did I mention the Mexican food? I also got to try out the camera on my new phone. That’s Syd Rives holding up a Flappin’ Frog in front of a U.S. flag. America and bass fishing, what’s better than that?

Nothing at all.

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My mailbox and front porch have been the envy of my fishing buddies. It seems that every day brings something new and interesting that thousands of us will get to see at ICAST this week. Rod tubes, reel boxes, sunglass boxes, packs of lures. It’s better than Christmas. I just need more time to use it all … but don’t stop sending it. I’ll eventually find the time.

For the record, though, I now have enough koozies for a major metropolitan area. To make matters worse, I’ve never actually used a koozie. If someone hands me a cold beverage, I invariably finish it before it has a chance to get warm.

Please take me off your koozie distribution list … if you have one. I’m begging you.

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For me, ICAST begins on Monday with a couple of meetings. On Tuesday, things will be in full swing. I’ll pick up my badge, help set up the FTR booth, and see the show start to take shape. That’s also when I’ll see the rest of the FTR team for the first time in a long while without the aid of Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, or something else that requires my phone or computer.

Which reminds me — my least favorite word as we climb out of the pandemic is “virtual.” I have decided that nothing “virtual” is good. Nothing virtual is virtuous.

That’s not to say that the video conferencing tools we’ve all used during the pandemic are not marvels of the digital world. They certainly are, and they’re here to stay. I just don’t like them because they serve as a reminder of some of what we’ve lost in recent months.

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Living in Florida probably gives me a different perspective on the pandemic than that of people living in other states. We’ve mostly been “open” for the past year or even longer. Our governor (Ron DeSantis) has been aggressive about maintaining the business drivers that push the Florida economy. Tourism suffered greatly, but not nearly as much as it might have.

And fishing was declared an “essential activity.” I’ve always felt that way about it, but it was good to see it classified that way by our state government.

I’m wearing my “Make America Florida” T-shirt as I write this.

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Over the past week or so, as I wrap up my preparations for ICAST, I’ve probably averaged 300 emails a day related to new fishing products or ICAST exhibitors or people who want to sell me a list of ICAST attendees. Many of these emails get deleted immediately. Others get just a glance. Only a relative few break through and get real attention. Those are the ones I get from people I know or that come from companies with something interesting to say or to show — companies smart enough to grab my attention quickly.

One of the fastest ways to get deleted from my inbox is to start a message with “Ken, are you or any members of your team going to be at ICAST?”

If you think there are no stupid questions, please read that one again. Anyone who knows me or knows anything about FTR knows that ICAST is one of the busiest times of our year. It’s all-hands-on-deck, and the week simply flies by as we do as much as we can.

Of course, we’re going to be at ICAST! If these senders did their homework and knew their audience, they’d would start that message very differently.

I click the “delete” button immediately on these emails.

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One of my favorite things about ICAST is the New Product Showcase Reception presented by FTR. It starts Tuesday night at 5:00 p.m., and it combines the two things that make ICAST worthwhile.

First, it’s ground zero for the industry’s new products. All the companies in attendance — more than 600 — have evaluated their new offerings and picked the best of the best to compete against the rest of what the industry has to offer. Over the course of the show, buyers and media will vote to decide who gets the trophies and bragging (marketing) rights. Attendees can walk the miles of aisles in an effort to see “everything,” but a visit to the New Product Showcase is the best shortcut to what’s new, innovative, and exciting.

Second, the New Product Showcase Reception is a great reunion for buyers and media (exhibitors and their agents are mostly not allowed in). It’s a chance to catch up with industry friends you only see once or twice a year.

The two most common questions at the NPS Reception are “How have you been?” and “Have you seen the new …?”

What’s more fun than that?

Nothing at all.