Daily Limit: Your show of shows

ICAST is upon us, your show of shows where only those in the industry can go.

Well, and media types like myself. Some 1,000 media members attend the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trade convention, searching to report on the products that will fly off shelves in the next year.

The 2018 version is this week in Orlando, and you can expect the crew at B.A.S.S. to provide reports on much of the new stuff there that will improve the fishing experience.

The American Sportfishing Association runs the show, and it boasts numbers like 600 exhibitors in almost 2,000 booths and 15,000 registered attendees. In 2017, 1,153 of the total attendees came from 73 countries outside the U.S. You bet it’s international.

Most all the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers will be there, too, hawking the latest gizmo of their sponsors and checking out stuff. Their expertise on using the products – even if they just learned about them – is at many times crucial in the marketing. A lot of times, it’s the angler who works with the company to develop and fine-tune the product.

Stephen Browning and David Walker come to mind for their months and months of work helping develop lures like the Hollow Body Sunfish for LiveTarget.

“It was not a one-step, two-step process,” Browning said. “There’s probably 40 rounds … that we’ve been tinkering around the past two years. You got to send it right back to them and say this is what we don’t like, and they start changing.”

Their work was appreciated by company founder Grand Koppers, whose reputation of creating lifelike lures is in the name. The aforementioned Sunfish was one of just a handful of Best of Show awards the team has received.

The awards from the show create discernible dividends for a business. Voted on my media and buyers, the awards are a stamp on approval that gives companies plenty of marketing mileage.. We’ll get into it later, but the ASA is altering the voting procedures for the awards this year.

On the showroom floor, the companies big, small and in between put on their most fabulous spread, from Abu Garcia to Berkley, from Garmin to Humminbird, and from Zebco to Z-Man.

But what is ICAST really about? We asked a long-time attendee, Gary Guidice of Blue Heron Communications, and he boiled it down to an old adage in fishing tackle sales – you only had to catch the fisherman – no longer being valid. Now, he says, “you have to catch a lot of fish.”

Immediate social media aids with that. The business has become rather sophisticated, from sales estimates driving manufacturing to estimates on how much media will report on a product. The idea behind the show is to get purchasers excited about the newest must-have.

“The consumer is the most important guy in this chain, but next would come the dealers,” Guidice said. “If it’s not in the shop, or not in Bass Pro, Walmart or wherever, the consumer doesn’t know about … if he reads up on it and he knows and enough people ask, the dealer is going to get it.

“Generally, this thing is so sophisticated and gotten so good through the years, these guys can forecast pretty much what consumers are going to be wanting … how many they’re going to want.”

Relationships drive much of the ICAST interactions. The Daily Limit got to know ASA official Bert Kaplan, an octogenarian who’d been to more of these conventions than probably anyone else – close to 60. He told great stories of the early days, like when he was arrested with some real characters in Chicago for leading a “Dixieland Jazz Band on Rush Street” at 4 a.m.

After catching up with him another time or two, he was gone. R.I.P. Bert.

Then there’s the innovators, like Larry Davidson, who just wanted to keep plastics on his hook. Necessity was the mother of invention as it led to Trapper hooks that feature two right angles at the bottom of the hook. Davidson’s now part of a team that’s won two Best of Show awards.

And speaking of awards, and inventions, let’s put a good swing on how Ralph Steinhauser prototyped his first No-Tangler kid’s rod. Interest to the KidCasting booth was drawn by his daughter, Connie, who was holding up a big-head picture of him. Turns out he was home battling cancer, but his story would be told.

Steinhauser built his first rod, which features line on the inside of the blank – out of a golf club. The former engineer at GM now has his name on stores across the country for developing a new way for kids to fish without wrapping line around most anything and everything.

Who’s next? We'll be looking.