ICAST 2018 features some true game changers

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Chris Mitchell

One of the great perks/privileges of my job — which isn’t available, by the way — is that I often get my hands on new lures and tackle for testing and evaluation before they’re released to the general fishing public.

Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a new color or size of a lure that’s already in production.

Those are still pretty cool, but they don’t fall into the category of “game changer.”

This year, I’ve seen some true game changers.

So from the floor of the ICAST fishing trade show in Orlando — where a ton of brand-new products are debuted annually — I wanted to give you my personal impression of a few.

Here they are in plain, old alphabetical order to avoid the appearance of favoritism:

Abu Garcia Revo Rocket

This new reel easily passes the eye test with a bright finish that draws your eyes like a Corvette in candy-apple red. But what it does to the eyes is nothing compared to how it blows your mind when you learn it has an incredible 10:1 gear ratio.

That’s not a misprint. It’s not an attempt at deliberate misinformation. 

The reel is really that fast. 

A few weeks ago, I was dying to use the Rocket for the first time on world-famous Lake El Salto in Mexico, and it just so happened we started with deep-diving crankbaits.

My guide, Victor, who I highly recommend if you happen to visit Anglers Inn International at El Salto, instructed me to cast out the crankbait, turn the reel’s handle five or six times really fast to get the bait to the bottom and then stop. But I tried that twice, and it fouled the crankbait both times.

“Never mind, Senor” said Victor. “That reel is too fast for that.” 

In that moment, a guy who only speaks broken English said all you need to know about the Revo Rocket. 

It’s fast enough for any presentation you can imagine.

Berkley topwater baits

Berkley began its steady march into the world of hard baits three years ago, with a line of beautifully painted lures for shallow and mid-depth situations. Their selection included some fantastic options, like the Warpig, the Pitbull and Cutter. 

They dug deeper into the market the next year with depth-probing models like the Dredger, and now they’ve come full circle with an awesome line of surface baits. 

I was able to try four of them at El Salto — the walker, the popper, the Choppo 120 and the Surge Shad. My third cast with the Choppo 120 produced a 4-pounder, and the Surge Shad was a nice surprise with a back-and-forth motion that tempted bass in as little 18 inches of water. 

But it was the walking bait that served as the catalyst for the greatest morning of topwater fishing I’ve ever experienced. It walks back and forth with a simple twitch of the rod tip as easy as any bait I’ve used.

When the bite finally slowed after 90 minutes that morning at El Salto, my biggest five fish would have easily topped 30 pounds.

Huk Tide Point Woven Solid LS

With a full line of awesome Huk products already on the market, the company introduced yet another item that will no doubt be popular with anglers this year in the Tide Point Woven Solid LS.

The shirt has the look of a classic button-down, but it’s one of the lightest pieces of clothing I’ve ever had on. It’s super breathable, so you won’t melt in the July heat — and it looks so good you can wear it to a nice restaurant and not feel one bit out of place.

While they’re not brand-new, I also highly recommend the Huk Sun Gloves.

They fit snug to your hands, which allows you to almost forget they’re there, as they provide sun protection from your wrists to your fingertips. The palms are equipped with silicone mesh that increases your grip, and they dry quickly after you release a fish.

They’re currently sold out on the Huk website — and there’s a reason for that.

Shimano Curado DC

If you pick up just about any baitcasting reel and intentionally try to backlash it, you’ll succeed.

But back in March at Gross Savanne Lodge near Lake Charles, La., professional angler Bernie Schultz and I tried to backlash the new Shimano Curado DC by throwing into a punishing 35 mph wind.

You can click this link to visit my Instagram page and see a video of Bernie and John Mazurkiewicz of Shimano throwing frogs on the reel in that wind. The clip only lasts for about a minute, but they were out there for more than an hour and never had an overrun.

The DC in the title stands for “digitally controlled,” but that’s just a fancy way of saying you can’t backlash it — even if you try. It’s braking system stops the bait for you, whether you making long casts for power fishing or skipping lures under docks.

The reel will no doubt be a hit with young anglers and beginners who are still learning the ins and out of baitcasting. But I think it’ll prove even more valuable for diehard tournament anglers who want squeeze in every possible cast instead of stopping to dig out bird’s nests in their reels.

KVD Mega Dawg

The standard-size KVD Sexy Dawg, which is 4.5 inches long, has been a popular topwater choice for years — and now, its big brother (at 6.5 inches) is about to make its presence known.

The lure is exactly what the name implies: It’s a much bigger version of the walking bait so many have already come to know and love. Its extra weight allows for extremely long casts — and that will make it a valuable tool when schooling fish come to the surface near your boat.

Where a regular-sized walking bait might not be enough to elicit a reaction strike from a an angry bass, this one will try their patience. 

At El Salto, I got two of the most ferocious topwater strikes I’ve ever seen — in person or on video — while using this bait.