While I’ve watched ICAST from afar for many years, the 2012 show was the first I attended in person. My foremost impression is that you cannot appreciate the true scope of the event unless you’re physically present. The sheer size of the show is overwhelming with over 400 exhibitors and 375,000 feet of show room floor, which makes for incredibly sore human hoofs by the end of the 8-hour day. The theme of the week was growth. Fishing license sales are up and both exhibitors and buyers were optimistic about continued industry growth. This is all great news.
The second thing I noticed is that every single manufacturer has developed the greatest, most innovative products. It’s to be expected that a business will put its best foot forward, but the hyperbole becomes incredibly redundant. It feels sacrilegious to say it while you’re attending, but most of these products are more flash than substance. When it comes to baits, I’m pretty much of the ilk that if you put something in front of a hungry bass, it will eat. Or as David Dudley so eloquently said a few weeks ago, “It’s Lake Champlain in June – they bite.” That being said, we diehards are always looking for subtle advantages when it comes to putting fish in the boat. Below are a handful of new products that caught my eye and will be in my boat soon.
Damiki Anchovy Shad
I’ve seen some pretty strong trends emerge while covering the FLW Tour this season. As we all knew they would, umbrella rigs have played a significant role in 2012. With each tournament, the rigs get smaller and smaller – from Andy Poss’ original Alabama Rig to the tiny Mini Frenzy that casts more like a spinnerbait. As the rigs evolve, so do the swimbaits. The new Anchovy Shad from Damiki fits the bill as a sleek and downsized swimbait. Despite its small profile, the paddle tail still has some impressive kick. Originally, the Anchovy Shad was designed to be a fluke-style bait. But Damiki changed tails late in the production process and couldn’t be more pleased with the results. The finished product is a 4-inch swimbait where the tail is actually wider than the body itself. Damiki appears to be ahead of the A-rig evolution, which is impressive.
Trigger X Goo Bug
Another trend I observed is companies designing hybrid flipping baits that are part craw and part beaver. Damiki had one called the Knock Out, but I was especially intrigued with the new Trigger X Goo Bug. The feature that struck me was the cupped claws. Troy Lindner, the winner of the EverStart Series Western Division on Lake Havasu, agreed and said the cupped claws allow the bug to really grab or catch the water. Lindner also recommended cutting the tail down the middle for life-like pinchers, mimicking a perfect defensive position when resting on the bottom. This little trick works especially well when bass are on beds. Like the Anchovy Shad, the Goo Bug is also a somewhat smaller 4-inch bait and is best rigged with either a 3/0 or a 4/0 hook. It could potentially be used as a jig trailer with a little trimming, but Rapala officials see it taking off as their premier flipping bait. Lindner also pointed out he’ll get great use out of the upsized Probe worm on his clear Western lakes. Several Rapala pro staffers had requested a larger size and the company obliged by increasing the length an inch. It’s still a prime drop-shotting finesse presentation, but the profile is just a touch bigger. The Trigger X Slop Hopper also made its official presence although this bait was used considerably by Canadian angler Jeff Gustafson at the season-opening FLW Tour Open on Lake Okeechobee (when it was still a prototype). “Gussy” threw it as a buzzing bait, but Lindner pointed out that it can be trailered on a swim jig or on bladed, vibrating jigs. Not surprisingly, it also works well on umbrella rigs.
HALO Daylite flipping stick
HALO Fishing is a South African company that recently began introducing its products to the U.S. market. After opening an Okeechobee, Fla., office, HALO wisely went out and secured three of the best flippers on the planet to help design the U.S. rods. After eight different prototypes, pros Randall Tharp, JT Kenney and Brandon McMillan finally came to a consensus and launched the HALO Twilite Series. The 7-foot, 11-inch flipping stick was the rod used by Tharp as he pulled over 100 pounds from Okeechobee’s thick, matted vegetation in winning the 2012 season opener. From my perspective, the Twilite Series is ridiculously light for being so big and sturdy. But I was more impressed with HALO’s mid-level rod, the Daylite Series. The 7-foot, 6-inch Daylite has braid-resistant guides and appears incredibly strong and durable. It’s not quite as light as the Twilite, but I’ve never felt another flipping stick that is. What really caught my attention was the price tag. While it might not quite be suitable for the touring pro, for $79.99 the average fishing enthusiast is getting an extremely solid stick. I wasn’t the only one impressed as major retail buyers were rumored to be striking deals. Also of note from the HALO camp is that McMillan and his wife Bri are leaning towards a full time move to the FLW Tour in 2013. McMillan finished second in the EverStart Southeast Division points race with a victory at Seminole thrown in.
Luck-E-Strike owner John Hendricks has always been offended by people who gouge fishermen. Thus, it’s become a personal mission of his to bring quality baits to anglers while continuing to focus on competitive pricing. Last year, Luck-E-Strike introduced the RC2, a new line of squarebill crankbaits designed by the squarebill legend himself, Rick Clunn. This year, Luck-E-Strike dug deeper – literally and figuratively and the finished product is known as the Freak. Both the RC2 and the Freak lines have stayed true to Hendricks’ mission. “The deep-diving squarebill is a natural evolution,” said Clunn. “I worked on this design for two years and have fished it for about six months. The Freak is now the only deep-diving squarebill on the market. Everyone likes shallow-diving squarebills so I always felt a deep-diving squarebill would perform just as well. And it does.” Clunn fishes the Freak similarly to the standard RC2. “I still try to use the biggest squarebill I can get away with. As we know, bigger baits lead to bigger bass. But the clearer the water the smaller the bait you must use. The same is true with fishing pressure.” With those thoughts in mind, Clunn designed three deep-diving sizes, but the medium size did not make it to ICAST in time. Clunn and fellow pro staffer Dion Hibdon confirmed that the Freak will consistently stay in the 15-foot depth range. With long casts and the right line, the bait can dig much deeper. Clunn and Hibdon are quick to point out that the most important feature is intense deflection or how the bait bounces off cover. I tend to disagree. I say the best attribute of the new Freak is the $7.99 price tag.
Speaking of those umbrella rigs again, I saw two pieces of tackle organization equipment that will greatly help tame those wiry contraptions. The Plano Alabama Rig Box is the perfect permanent storage solution – holding up to four rigs cleanly. For the rods already out on the deck, the Angler Innovations Rig Jacket slips right over the tip and secures the uneven tendencies of the protruding wires. In less than seven months, these umbrella rigs went from nearly unmanageable to no big deal thanks to these products.
Lastly, what’s up with all the scantily-clad women at ICAST? That was something I never expected. Needless to say I won’t include any photos. The entire event is professionally done and with the public not being allowed, I don’t see any reason for the excess skin. Kind of a strange juxtaposition if you ask me.