Schultz: My top ICAST picks

Now that the dust is settling on ICAST, I’d like to offer a review of the products I felt were some of this year’s best.

Before I do that, please note that none of these selections are from the brands I represent. They are simply products that caught my eye during the show and worthy of recognition.

With that out of the way, here are my top picks.

Safety first

Lifejackets are the type of product most of us take for granted. So long as they fit and float, we’re good.

But they should get more attention than that. Lifejackets save lives — provided they are worn —and some do a better job than others ... in fact, a much better job!

With that in mind, my pick for best safety device at this year’s show is the Mustang Elite PFD. I chose this particular product for several reasons. For starters, it ranks among the safest and most reliable in its class … which should be of concern, especially if you fish tournaments, where high-speed runs and rough water conditions are commonly encountered.

According to Mustang, the Elite PFD provides 1 1/2 times the buoyancy of standard foam-style PFDs. It features “intuitive side adjusters," which provide a more comfortable, secure fit while leaving plenty of mobility at the neck, arms and shoulders — areas where other PFDs can cause soreness and fatigue.

Like Mustang’s other self-inflating jackets, the Elite PFD utilizes “hydrostatic inflator technology” that inflates only when submerged — not from heavy rain, spray or high humidity. The inflator’s status indicator shows green when the jacket is poised and ready, red when it needs recharging. There’s also a back-up oral inflator.

The new Mustang Elite PFD is light, incredibly buoyant and offers great visibility. It's everything you need in a PFD.

When deployed, the bright yellow-green inflation cell offers maximum visibility, even under low light. The Mustang Elite PFD is not cheap, but its fit and function make it a great value.

A better rod blank

Most bass anglers prefer to buy their rods off the rack, and that’s understandable. Today’s rods are extremely well designed and constructed. But for those who require very specific actions or features or who simply prefer to do it themselves, custom rods are the only option.

For those individuals, I recommend Point Blank.

Introduced by Anglers Resource, the concept behind Point Blank is truly innovative: By combining super thin wall construction with a radical taper, their blanks are amazingly light, yet strong. In fact, they are easily the lightest blanks I’ve ever held.

According to company marketing director, Jim Ising, Point Blank is essentially two-thirds the weight of competitors' blanks, yet 30 percent stronger.

By applying high quality carbon fibers of varying modulus to each section of a blank, specific bending characteristics can be achieved — which then can be applied to particular types of fishing.

ICAST has all the latest and greatest, including these rod blanks from Point Blank, the lightest I've ever held.

Take an umbrella rig, for instance. These are generally awkward and heavy contraptions to throw, and most anglers settle on a flipping stick or heavy-duty cranking rod for the task — even though neither is ideal for the application. Add the fatigue factor of casting this oversized tackle throughout the day and … well, you get the point.

Umbrella rigs aren’t the only application for custom rod designs. Topwaters, jerkbaits, swimbaits and various light-line spinning techniques might also call for very specific actions.

Drop-shotting, for instance, requires a blank with optimal feel and sensitivity, but one with the proper give to prevent pulling the hook out of a bass' mouth. That’s another area where Point Blank shines. Each shaft features scrimless construction (scrim is random patch-like fibers applied for strength). Instead, they employ a series of individual carbon fibers laid out in a net-like pattern that’s less helter-skelter. This not only distributes the stress, it improves the transmission of even the most subtle vibrations. That translates to superior sensitivity.

Point Blank shafts are available in 20 different lengths and actions, and retail between $149 and $199. For more information, email [email protected].

High & dry

If you’re a tournament angler, guide or a serious weekender, staying dry is critical — not only in the rain, but during rough water runs as well. After all, when you're comfortable, you fish better.

And that brings me to my last recommendation: Simms' new ProDry GORE-TEX® rainsuit.

Dryer, lighter and all-around better. That describes the new Simms ProDry GORE-TEX rainsuit.

As if Simms rainsuits weren’t already light enough, the company claims their new ProDry™ jacket and bib combo is 25 percent lighter than the previous version. Less weight means less fatigue, and to any angler making repeated casts throughout the course of a day, that’s huge.

The new ProDry Jacket features a higher collar with vents, Tuck-Away 3-Point Storm Hood, Dry Cuff engineering to block water at the sleeves and an adjustable cord management system for a snugger fit. The jacket has zippered pocket storage that includes an eyeglass cloth inside a flush chest pocket.

The ProDry Bib offers an easy on-off, full-length center zipper with interior waist adjustment. Like the vest, the bib pockets are smartly tailored with ample storage. The most significant improvements, however, are in the leg height adjustments and advanced suspender system, which are designed to significantly reduce shoulder fatigue.

The new ProDry rainsuit comes in three colors and sizes small through 3XL.