A few weeks ago, I was asked to attend a special meeting in St. Cloud, Fla., at the former Mercury Marine test facility known as “Lake X.” Although the meeting had little to do with Mercury Marine, I was excited to see this once top-secret property firsthand.
You see, Lake X is legendary. For decades, stories have circulated about its incredible fishing and secretive testing conducted by Mercury’s racing division. But like NASA or the Pentagon, to gain entry you had to have special security clearance. And though I’ve been a longtime member of the Mercury Pro Team, I was never granted access.
In the mid 1980s, Mercury moved out of the facility and sold it. Today it's owned by the Kenneth Kirchman Foundation — an organization whose primary mission is to educate the public on Florida’s ecology and wildlife. Focused primarily on the young, they offer field trips and youth camps to bring kids closer to Florida’s natural habitat … and Lake X is the ideal setting.
Lake X is sanctuary to an abundance of native wildlife, including turkeys, deer, bobcats, alligators and a variety of waterfowl ... not to mention a healthy population of big bass! It’s reputed as one of Florida’s best trophy bass fisheries, so you could imagine my excitement about finally getting to see the place.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring professional anglers, media and industry people together to explore an idea — one so simplistic, yet incredibly brilliant … it’s a wonder it had never been implemented before.
The concept? To provide marine and tackle manufacturers a unique outdoor venue to showcase their new products in advance of this year’s ICAST show, which would be held at the nearby Orange County Convention Center.
Among those who attended the meeting were Ken Duke of B.A.S.S., Elite Series pros Shaw Grigsby and myself, Greg Finenco of Bass Pro Shops, local law enforcement and various representatives of the Kirchman Foundation.
After hearing the proposed concept, the group’s reaction was unanimous ... the event should and would take place!
Although the idea was a go, next came the logistical problems of bringing it all together.
The Orange County Convention Center is located approximately 45 minutes from Lake X. Realizing most ICAST patrons would be without transportation, the foundation volunteered a shuttle service, which will run hourly to and from the property throughout the day.
To enhance the experience, Danny Beard and Mike Rayburn of BullFrog sunscreen products agreed to cater the event. The two are competitive barbecuers, calling their team the "Sun Pigs."
Additionally, there will be large tents with tables and chairs to complete the lakeside setting. Vendors will have the option to bring exhibits or use the provided tables to display their wares, while demonstrating those products on the water with reps, buyers and media.
Many will have their own pro staffers on hand — including guys like Brent Chapman, Randy Howell, Peter Thliveros, Chris and Bobby Lane, Rich Howes, Patrick Pierce and many others. We’ll all be there to help with product demos and to provide access to the lake using our competition boats.
Among those companies already committed are Rapala-VMC, Power-Pole, Shimano, Fuji Rod Components, Raymarine, Hildebrandt, G. Loomis, Lew’s, T-H Marine, Star Brite, Bass Pro Shops and other industry leaders.
Part of the event will include tours of the property and Mercury’s old test facility. Rich with history and typical of an old Florida setting, Lake X is quite scenic. Its shoreline is lined with century old cypress trees and lush fields of maidencane grass. And its dark, tannic water is home to some of Florida’s best fishing.
This is a project we’re all looking forward to, and it’s an effort that could influence the buyers who ultimately stock the shelves of your favorite tackle and marine stores. But better than that, it will help bring awareness to the Kirchman Foundation and its mission of introducing America’s youth to the outdoors.
That alone makes it all worthwhile.
If you're a manufacturer interested in displaying new products at Tackle-X, a retail or wholesale buyer who wants to "try before you buy" or a media person looking for the latest in the tackle industry, contact Tackle-X via Dave Underwood at email@example.com.