The Only Constant is ICAST

It sometimes amazes me how much of my time is dedicated — one way or another — to ICAST. In our print magazine, we run ICAST previews, ICAST tips and all manner of ICAST insights. These often start in March.

The new gear roundups are seemingly all about ICAST as we chase down descriptions and images of products that are often little more than a concept until (you guessed it) ICAST.

Then there’s the scheduling of breakfasts, lunches and dinners around the event itself. I started booking my ICAST 2018 schedule at ICAST 2017. My slate will be completely full by early June.

And at every step along the way, people will ask me what trends I see in the industry. What’s happening? What new things are companies making? What have they stopped making? Where are things going?

Of course, there’s no better place to get a grip on such things than ICAST.

I truly wish I had the answers — real answers — instead of speculation based on what one person can see, hear, read or divine with a Ouija board and Magic 8 Ball.

Of course, not everything is speculation. I can tell you with great certainty that fishing rods are getting lighter, stronger and more sensitive. Reels are getting faster and will have smoother drags. Line will be lighter, stronger, cast further and have a smaller diameter. Baits will be more realistic and have sonic this or that.

Some trends never change. They are an inexorable progression toward an end that does not exist.

Rods are always getting lighter, stronger and more sensitive. They’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember. I bought my first baitcaster in the mid 1970s. Apparently, we were all Hercules back then — able to use “heavy” gear all day long without collapsing under the strain of an Ambassadeur 5500C and 5-foot-6 fiberglass rod.

Reels have always been getting faster. The earliest revolving-spool reel had a gear ratio of 1:1. When I got started, 3.5:1 was pretty standard, but if you got a Gator Grip conversion kit, you could trick your reel out and get it up to around 4.7:1. At that point, you were flying and didn’t have to work so hard to fish a buzzbait or spinnerbait. Today, 7:1 is about average for a freshwater baitcaster.

How did we do it back then? Were we superhuman?

I’d like to think so, but I know better.

And what’s the endgame for these perpetual trends? Today’s rods are so light you barely know they’re there. Reels are often faster than the effective speed of the lures they cast (though there’s value in faster reels — much, much faster, I believe).

I’m not sure there is an endgame, but these perpetual trends are the ones that may fascinate me the most. They’re linear. We are here (pointing to a spot on the product development line) … and we want to move along that line toward lighter or stronger or more sensitive. The goal is not even visible. It’s out there … somewhere. The trend is all about pushing along that imaginary line and coming up with something that’s further along it than anyone else has … for now.

Occasionally, we get a quantum leap forward. The introduction of the graphite rod in the early ’70s was such a leap. Same thing for the thumb bar on casting reels a decade later or fluorocarbon line in the ’90s.

Slow, steady progress that’s occasionally jump-started by a major development. That’s the fishing industry in a nutshell. Maybe that’s every industry in a nutshell.

Of course, that description of product development and trends does not apply to more sophisticated tackle categories, like marine electronics. That industry is dominated by the big jump forward.

So, who will give us the next quantum leap? I have no idea, but I guarantee that at least a dozen companies will stop me at ICAST and tell me that their new product is “game changer.”

And if we’re lucky, one of them actually will be.