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Diversity adds to the magic of ICAST

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Having tasted success with rod and reel awards at China Fish, Weihai Haibin made its debut at ICAST this year.
↑ Fred Orlach, of French lure manufacturer, Fiiish: The company is looking to build a bridgehead in the US.
↑ Jeff Kolodzinski, of Humminbird shows off one of the three awards won by Johnson Outdoors at ICAST.

One of the very best things about ICAST is its diversity of exhibitors. Small enterprises rub shoulders with multi-brand corporations on a show floor where creativity, not size, is the key currency.

There is no exclusivity on good ideas and nowhere was this more apparent than at last week’s sprawling show in Orlando, Florida.

Fiiish, from France, brought just two lures to Orlando – its Black Minnow and Crazy Sandeel. The former has already made a sizeable impact in Europe by establishing markets in around 10 countries. Now General Manager, Fred Orlach, and his team are taking a close look at the best way to build a bridgehead in the US.

Orlach knows it will take time, not least because Fiiish is ‘picky’ about its partners. Its strategy is founded on working with people who share his company’s passion and philosophy; a partner, not just a distributor. In the meantime, Fiiish has already booked a place on the floor plan for next year.

The first name to come to mind in fly-fishing reels probably wouldn’t be 3-TAND. Even the show guide information refers to a company that ‘may sound new to some.’ Yet 3-TAND has wasted no time in putting itself on the map by being named manufacturer of the best fly fishing reel at ICAST. The TF-70 sealed drag model saw off some very prestigious competitors to remind us that the big brands don’t always win.

Another exhibitor emerging from the shadows of the big guns was Weihai Haibin, a 20-year-old company located in Weihai, China’s closest city to Korea and Japan. Having tasted success with rod and reel awards at the China Fish show in the last two years, company President Sun Haibin is now working on new products for the US market.

Look deep enough and there are always great stories to be heard at ICAST. Keweenaw, one of the many lure manufacturers at the show, has the kind of heritage that would seem to guarantee success. The company’s Fin-Wing lure was developed after World War II by two Finnish Americans, and is still made in America. Its creators used metal from an old copper kettle and tooling from hand-carved wood. Prototypes were tested in an old wash tub. The lure has been catching fish ever since, but was introduced at ICAST for the first time.

Called ‘the lure that swims’, the Fin-Wing is unusual in that it is supplied with two hooks, both treble and single. The lure’s third generation designer is Michael Bekkala, who has refined the design and added colours to create a versatile bait popular for its wide range of applications.

The AA Worms/Optimum Bait company had a mouthwatering selection of lure brands for buyers to consider, including ima, deps, Vagabond and Karaha, as well as its own offerings. CEO Matt Paino was eager to assure visitors that his products offered something uniquely different to the industry and were not ‘trendy makeovers of the same old thing’.

One example is Optimum’s new five-inch Opti Grub, built on the proven Opti Shad design, but with a wildly vibrating curly tail. Optimum’s main import, ima of Japan, has added the Select series, a selection previously only available on the Japanese market.

One of the best-kept secrets at ICAST was the launch of Eagle Claw’s new Scented Hooks. Not even the company’s national sales force knew about its very latest product until a surprise press release on the first day of ICAST.

The Denver, Colorado, business has been working on the new Scented Snells with Garlic and Anise for more than a year, so that the news could be broken at the world’s biggest trade gathering.

Eagle Claw says the hooks are the result of incredible new technology, bringing together fishing’s most successful items – Snelled hooks and scents. Each of the American made hooks is coated in a long-lasting blend of natural oils that are applied as a durable finish.

ICAST was a good show for buyers interested in kayaks, SUPs and other paddlecraft and components. There was a noticeable rise in the number of exhibitors in this sector and, given the ASA’s declared intention to expand the boating side of the show, it looks like getting even bigger.

Johnson Outdoors grabbed the headlines by winning four awards in the New Product Showcase. The company’s Old Town Predator XL won both the boat category and the best product in show category, before taking the best boating accessory and best electronics award with its Minn Kota Ulterra Trolling Motor and the Humminbird ONIX 8SI respectively.

Hobie’s new tandem, the Pro Angler 17T, also made a big impact. The Californian company is keen to make the point to buyers that the 17T is not just a Pro Angler 14 with three feet added on! The new model has three different seating configurations – in-line tandem, face-to-face and solo, as well as space for standing. Visitors to the Hobie booth were also able to see two new inflatable SUPs and a variety of new accessories.

With temperatures outside the Orange County Convention Centre soaring over 100 degrees, it was no wonder that the Yeti Coolers booth saw plenty of foot traffic. A chat with Ryan Seiders, who runs the company with his brother Roy, reveals that Yeti is a company thinking on its feet. Yeti has repeatedly doubled sales in the last few years yet is still looking ahead for other opportunities for brand extension.

As an add-on to conventional hard-sided coolers, the company has launched the Yeti Hopper 30, a soft, leak-proof, bag-style cooler that received enthusiastic approval from visitors. Lending from the wet-water raft market, the Hopper uses an 840 denier dry-hide fabric that is smooth and flexible yet ‘tough as nails.’ Unlike its namesake, it won’t be hard to find.

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