Daily Limit: ICAST invites public to virtual show

Come one, come all to ICAST 2020.

The annual fishing industry trade show will take place, albeit online only, and for the first time the general public is welcome to look into the future of the industry.

The American Sportfishing Association holds the huge show for industry representatives each summer, bringing together manufacturers, buyers and media from around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to scramble, adjust and prepare the icastfishing.org website, which will host exhibitors’ products starting today.

“You don’t know what you don’t know until you go do it,” ASA president Glenn Hughes said, “so when the board made the decision on April 16 to cancel the show and do it as a virtual show, we figured that three months was enough time to do it. We’ve put together what I think is a terrific event, but we could have used some more time.

“In that short period of time, we made a full pivot from a physical show of 15,000 people to a virtual show that we think will reach hundreds of thousands of people.”

The online show, presented by Takemefishing.org, is down from the regular 650 exhibitors to about 175, who will present more than 300 items for the new product showcase. There will be online voting by retailers and the media for the popular best of category awards, which will be announced Wednesday night. The overall Best of Show will be awarded Friday morning. The State of the Industry welcome, usually a breakfast, will feature a video message from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, among others. There will also be the full slate of business and conservation webinars.

It’s different, but these times call for it.

The ASA was understanding of exhibitors’ travel concerns with the coronavirus looming, so it refunded or credited companies. Formed by 800 members, the organization uses ICAST as its main fundraising event, and membership has its privileges. Hughes said he thinks with opening the internet show to anyone with an internet connection, the exhibitors presenting products digitally should receive a great bang for their buck.

“The association is made of its members, who are the backbone. Not only do I thank them very much — that money goes to support all the important things we’re doing here in Washington, D.C., and around the country to support conversation and represent the industry — it makes a difference,” he said. “But they’re also going to benefit by having a little bit more spotlight on them.

“Without trying, we put together a website and an app last year that had about 80,000 folks come onto it during the course of ICAST week. I don’t see why that couldn’t be tenfold easily.”

The pandemic has changed much about how business is being done, and Hughes believes it’s important the worldwide fishing industry adjusts. Social distancing has put much of normal life on hold but has led to a resurgence of fishing, with record license sales in many states.

“It’s an interesting situation that we’re in,” Hughes said. “I feel badly for those who have been impacted directly, physically and health-wise and their family members. With that said, our industry took a trip in early March and April, but it’s exploded since then. The biggest problems our manufacturers have now is producing and distributing enough product. That’s from almost every fishing tackle, rod and reel manufacturer as well as the retailer in trying to provide products.”

That fishing gear is in high demand is a great sign for the industry. Hughes noted anecdotes of consumers emptying shelves at some outdoor stores then going to other outlets searching for tackle or gear.

“It’s a relatively good problem to have. There are more people fishing. New people are fishing and people who haven’t fished in a while are fishing, so it’s very exciting for the industry,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to take advantage of this time to ensure that they have a good experience when they go out fishing, that they enjoy the outdoors, that they find fish … Let’s make sure it’s a positive experience and keep them coming back next year for more.”

The ASA board of directors, which includes B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, certainly didn’t want to cancel the show. Holding it online keeps a needed presence that might help facilitate a sustained growth. Most all the major sponsors of the Bassmaster tournament trails have adjusted alongside the ASA to go fully digital.