ICAST isn't just about new fishing products. It's not all about negotiating with buyers in the booths or working with media to generate buzz about some new gadget. It's not only limited to backroom deals or commitments to deliver.
Sometimes, the industry pauses at its biggest trade show to pay tribute to a legend.
That's what happened Wednesday afternoon when Luck "E" Strike held a press conference that was ostensibly about introducing a couple of new lures. These sorts of press conferences happen all the time at ICAST and are met with varying levels of interest by the media. The Luck "E" Strike meeting was bustling with activity. Writers, photographers and videographers had been clued in to what was about to happen.
Two of the company's premier pro staffers — four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn and 2012 Classic champ Chris Lane sat behind a dais, ready to answer questions about the new baits. Only Lane was "in on" the plan.
As proceedings began, Luck "E" Strike product development director Bobby Dennis took the microphone and turned the tables on Clunn, using the moment and venue to pay tribute to one of angling's all-time greats as the sport celebrates his 40th year of professional fishing.
It would be all but impossible to list all of Clunn's achievements in the world of bass fishing over those decades, but just about everyone would agree that such a list must begin with the four world championships (1976, 1977, 1984 and 1990). In addition, there are the 32 Classic appearances (a record), including 28 in a row (also a record), more than 400 appearances in B.A.S.S. events (another record), 14 career B.A.S.S. wins, a Red Man All-American win (1983), two WON Bass U.S. Open titles (1983 and 1986), a fascinating series of books on fishing, nature and awareness (Angler's Quest) and several million dollars in prize money.
Dennis commented on what Clunn has meant to fishing fans and the industry, reminiscing about the friendship they've shared for decades and calling him a hero to millions, a title that the angler balked at: "Heroes are people like policemen and firefighters who risk their lives for others."
Clunn (who will be 68 next week) commented on some of the changes he's seen in the sport over the last 40 years, saying "When I started, the weather was the biggest variable in finding and catching bass. Today it's fishing pressure. We are the number one variable."
He noted another development in the sport, too. A high school youth in his hometown of Ava, Mo., recently won the state junior bass championship and called to tell Clunn that his high school had officially sanctioned bass fishing as a sport. What's more, they want Clunn to coach the team. "Something like that was just unimaginable 40 years ago. The entire sportfishing industry needs to support youth programs like these."
You'll be glad to learn that Clunn's career is not over. Wednesday's tribute was just a pit stop on a road that fans everywhere hope has many more miles ahead. He's posted three top-10 finishes in the Bassmaster Elite Series over the past 11 events and is in the hunt to lock down his 33rd Classic berth. While celebrations like these are usually reserved for athletes who are stepping away, Clunn made clear that his journey was not nearly over and that he had no plans to retire.
"For some people in our society, retirement is a tragedy. It's the end of their being productive and contributing something. We need productivity from everyone who is capable of contributing. Fishing is my vehicle, and I plan to keep going as long as I'm physically able."
At the Luck "E" Strike press conference, that was the best possible news.