ICAST 2019: The Best stuff we saw


So, what the heck is an ICAST, the ICAST or just ICAST?


First off, to an angler, “I Cast” sounds like a pretty good motto or plan, doesn’t it? Kinda like,“I Cast. Therefore, I fish.”


In actuality, ICAST stands for the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, produced by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), held each July at the Orlando Convention Center in central Florida. Basically, it’s the annual get-together of the who’s who of the fishing industry, showing off their new products, making them available to distributors and retailers, whilst simultaneously scoping out the competition and renewing old acquaintances.


As outdoor magazine editors, we enjoyed the privilege of attending last month, and getting to see what’s new in our industry. For a fishing buff, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.


While ICAST is not open to the general public, perhaps the next best thing to being there in person is allowing us to share our perceptions and perspectives on what we witnessed, beginning with, perhaps most importantly:


The Great Boat Integration Race

For those of us who fish out of a boat, the elephant in the room was the heightened arms race among makers of sonar, GPS, electric trolling motors and other accessories like hydraulic anchors.


Just as with “smart homes” that let you remotely set the thermostat, turn lights on and off, and see who’s at the front door, integration of all those electronic devices in your boat is a big thing these days. Who wouldn’t want to use a small remote control or touch pad display to control boat speed, direction, path, drop an electronic or physical anchor, and more?


Pieces have been under development in this race for several years, and now we have more choices than ever, with further refinements to come.


History of boat integration—the One-Boat Network

First to the party was Johnson Outdoors. It purchased LakeMaster digital mapping and made it a proprietary product. Behind the scenes, engineers created technology that allowed Humminbird sonar/GPS units to ‘talk’ to LakeMaster maps, and for both to talk with Minn Kota trolling motors. Next thing you know, you can ‘tell’ your boat to stay in 12 feet of water and it follows the contour without you doing anything other than focusing on fishing.


And let’s say you want to stay right where you are until you tell the boat you’re ready to move on? That was made possible too, and named Spot-Lock.


Bluetooth integration with Talon anchors and Cannon downriggers is a recent development that also helps you focus on fishing and less on running equipment. Just push buttons and you can deploy or raise anchors and downrigger balls. (Cannon downriggers further integrate with Fish Hawk X4D units to show you actual depth, water temp, and speed at each downrigger ball.)


We’re getting deep into the weeds, but over the past few years you could sense the alarm bells going off at other manufacturers that could not tout rival systems.


New systems announced

At ICAST 2019 we saw pushback, especially in the form of new trolling motors with proprietary integration features. Garmin introduced the Force and Lowrance the Ghost. For the first time, we have choices when it comes to systems that connect sonar, GPS, and trolling motor.


Both new systems allow you to navigate to waypoints and follow paths you set up. They also let you “anchor” to a spot by telling the trolling motor to keep you there. But, at least as of now, neither can follow a contour on a digital lake map.

It will be fun to watch how well each system performs in the real world, and track angler feedback. And watch as new features are added.


Brushless and versatile motors

As a sub theme, both new trolling motors from Lowrance and Garmin feature brushless motors that promise longer run times off a single charge and more power. Significantly, both also can be used as 24- or 36-volt systems simply by adding a third battery. That’s versatility that also simplifies the shopping process.


New Motor Guides

Not to be left in the dust, venerable trolling motor brand Motor Guide also announced two new models at the show: Tour and Tour Pro. The Pro has a GPS anchor function built in. Both models offer optional built-in sonar transducers with HD+ resolution that, the company says, are “compatible with most major fishfinder brands.”


If you love ‘spot-lock’ or ‘anchor’ (where the trolling motor keeps you right where you are) and don’t care about deeper integration, Motor Guide has you covered.


Where does this leave us?

In the best spot we’ve ever been to, when it comes to advanced boat control. Many anglers will forever be happy with putting a basic trolling motor on the boat and using a basic depthfinder to fish. But if you want more, you can have more than ever, with more options lurking just over the horizon.


Bank-fishing gear

This was a good year if you like to fish from shore, too. In particular, we saw the fulfillment of a vision started by bass fishing legend Mike Iaconelli as he champions a subset of the sport he calls “street fishing-slash-travel fishing.”


The idea behind Ike’s assembled gear is that you can hop planes, trains, buses, bikes, skateboards, you name it, and move among fellow city dwellers with everything you need to fish a variety of species.


The goal is to have everything you need on your back and in your hands, to fish varying weight baits and line.


Ike Ritual 50 Backpack

Your tackle is stored in a specially-designed backpack that Ike created with Flambeau, loaded into modular containers and pockets. Everything you need to catch smaller fish or big ones moves with you down the sidewalk as you check spot after spot. You might be on shore one day, in a kayak the next day, then hop a plane to go fish with friends in Montana.


Thoughtfully designed with fishing in mind, there are pockets and holders for spools of line, tools, plastics, hard baits, and more. About $65 and available now.


Ike Travel Rods

Ike himself designed both spinning and baitcasting versions of these new travel rods, to create what he wants in a compact package that makes pond hopping easy, even if you hop all the way across the pond to fish other parts of the world.


Hard plastic case included, with a bump-out that lets you keep the reel on the rod in the case if you want to.


These rods from Abu Garcia are three pieces, and each comes with two tips so you can change the action of the rod while out there fishing, to handle different weight baits. On the casting rod, both a medium-heavy and medium action tips. On the spinning rod, both medium and medium-light.


Both versions of the rod are about $150, available late summer.


Note: the rods are cosmetically paired with the Ike series reels, a baitcaster with 6.6:1 or 8.0:1 gear ratio and spinning reel, available in two sizes, 20 and 30.


Bank-fishing sonar

Add a castable sonar unit and you can look the water over like a pro, even making your own contour map of good spots.


Deeper CHIRP+

Announced at ICAST, Deeper Sonar has a model coming with CHIRP technology.


CHIRP is a big deal, because unlike traditional fixed-frequency signals, it sends out a range of frequencies with each pulse. It begins transmitting lower frequencies, then moves through higher frequencies. It’s semi complex, but CHIRP uses what’s called pulse compression to analyze signals coming back, processing way more information than traditional sonar.


Bottom line: you see more detail. Smaller objects are separated better from each other on the display. Objects close to bottom are more easily shown as being separate from bottom.


On the water, you will notice the difference in detail and clarity.


Deeper Chirp+ is scheduled to be available in the U.S. as of late July, with a MSRP of about $330.


Vexilar SONAR Phone

Vexilar’s SONAR Phone is a superb product in this class as well. For shore fishing where you want to be able to cast the unit and reel it over your spot, choose the T-Pod.


About $130 and available now.


Other Cool Stuff

Band of Anglers and its good-looking lures

Led by legendary lure designer Patrick Sebile, the Band is having fun creating the latest in soft and hard bait offerings. We love the look of the Dartspin and Dartspin Pro, made from Softough material. Precision cutouts that help you rig them well, and exceptionally tough, a la ElaZtech from Z-Man. We also love the look of the swimbaits in the Spooltek line. They feature a concealed leader (patented) that comes out when you set the hook, to keep toothy fish from cutting you off. Prior to that, there’s nothing to see but the swimbait.


The Twitshad (hard) and Twitcher (soft) also caught our eye, in the saltwater lineup.

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LIVETARGET Injected Core Technology

Emphasis at LIVETARGET is on a new concept being used to build both soft and hard baits. Imagine a realistic baitfish body enclosed in a larger clear skeleton that creates hard-thumping swimming action, erratic fluttering, and more.


We’ll be giving these baits a good go and will report back on effectiveness, but they sure look good and the concept is one to buy into, especially for clear water situations.


The Slow-Roll Shiner is a paddle tail soft bait, Ghost Tail Minnow is a dropshot-style plastic.


Flutter Shad is a freshwater jigging spoon, and Erratic Shiner a casting spoon.


Freestyle Frog is a good-looking twin-tail soft bait.



What’s goin’ on at Mustad?

To borrow and modify a line from the movie Moneyball, the company nicknamed ‘Hooks R Us’ is about so much more than hooks these days.


Tungsten sinkers with laser-engraved sizes you can actually read. Thoughtfully-designed jigs of many styles. Walleye rigs. Tools, accessories and knives.


MaxScent PowerBaits

Our experience with Berkley MaxScent baits has been on smallmouth, largemouth and pike, but they seem to have something special. When was the last time you hooked a fish, fought it halfway to the boat, had it come off, then the fish immediately bit the bait again and you ended up landing it? It has happened so commonly that we are believers.


Look for MaxScent indicator on the package. Available in various shapes and sizes.


Shimano SLX DC baitcasting reel

There are two kinds of people in the fishing world: those who can cast with a baitcasting reel and those who create a backlash by looking at a baitcasting reel. Perhaps there is a third person: anybody who can cast with a baitcasting reel but would love to quit worrying about causing a backlash, especially when casting into the wind.


Enter Digital Control, or DC, from Shimano. A microprocessor gathers data from the reel spool 1,000 times every second (let that sink in), real-timing control information that applies brakes or eases up on the spool to optimize casting distance while at the same time preventing backlashes. Set it on 4 and it’s pretty much impossible to get a backlash. This technology has been around for a while but only available in Shimano’s higher-end reels like the Calais until now.


Curado DC broke new ground last year at $249, and at $189, SLX DC is going to change the fishing experience for those who have struggled to use baitcasters in the past, or are beginners now. The power, control, and excellent drag performance of a top baitcasting reel in an easy-to-master casting machine.


Lew’s Custom Lite reel

Strand: I’m looking at the reel as Mark Copley from Lew’s is holding it. It looks the same size as other baitcasting reels I have seen. He asks if I’m ready and puts it in my hand, and it’s as if he has not put anything in my hand. I look at my hand, and sure enough, the reel is in it.


It seemingly doesn’t weigh anything. Actually, it weighs 4.9 ounces, made of tansotech material, and it’s called the Custom LITE.


If you’re in the market for a new casting reel, give this one serious consideration.


Gear ratio 7.5:1, in right- and left-hand versions. $279.


Shimano Stradic FL spinning reel

The Stradic has been in the sweet spot where value meets performance for years, and is known as the reel lineup that undergoes continuous evolution. These latest models have the same gearing found in the flagship Stella reels at a fraction of the price.


Starting at $200 and going to $230 for larger sizes, spin one and you will recognize the quality.


Lew’s Mach Smash combo

Make it six years in a row for Lew’s to win best freshwater rod-and-reel combo, every time with an iteration of the Mach lineup. Originally aimed at youngsters competing on high school and college bass teams, these setups are much more than that. Quite simply the best value on the market, if you want a good quality rod and reel at an affordable price.


Average anglers can afford to line up multiple rigs on the bow of the boat and cycle through lures like the pros.


Mach combos come in baitcasting and spinning models. You can’t get more fishability for the money.


St. Croix Legend Glass rods

Why are we talking about fiberglass rods in the age of carbon fiber?


Because there are distinct advantages with the kind of glass rods made by the finest rod makers, and nobody is doing more with the material than St. Croix.


“We have total control over the manufacturing process,” said Dan Johnston of St. Croix. “On our proprietary IPC-tooled mandrels we use our linear S-glass to make the lightest, most sensitive glass rods on the market. Linear S-glass is unidirectional, running from butt to tip.”


By contrast, E-glass produces rods by forming a mesh pattern over a mandrel. “Strong as an ox,” said Johnston, “but heavier and not nearly as crisp, responsive, and sensitive.”


Glass rods bend ‘moderately’ with a slower action than carbon rods, and that helps keep fish hooked especially as they jump and fight close to the boat or shore. Also, because fish inhale baits, a glass rod helps avoid “pulling the lure away” before hooks are set.


Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon

The coolest thing we saw in line was this Sufix fluoro, a line that finally, potentially, means you can spool your whole reel with fluoro and have supple, castable line that is hard for fish to see and that helps you achieve additional depth because it sinks.


PowerPro Super8Slick V2 Moonshine Braid

And speaking of seeing…the folks at PowerPro added Moonshine braided line, which glows in the dark when exposed to black light, making night fishing visually easy-breezy.


Aqua-Vu HDi (high definition) cameras

Technology advancements let Aqua-Vu HDi Generation 2 models optimize picture quality in environments ranging from crystal clear to coffee-stained water. Dark red tinges, or the super-green look common on older cameras are automatically adjusted so you see much clearer images.


Our pick for boat use is the HD 10i Pro, Gen 2. Big beautiful LCD display that can be wired to your boat’s battery system and installed on a RAM mount.


Display is brighter than most sonar screens, with great clarity. You can now see the display well on a sunny day.


Accessories such as trolling fin and telescoping pole are easily added to a track built in to the camera. Angle of viewing easily adjustable using the integrated ‘dorsal fin’ with several slots into which the cable snaps.


The 1080p (high definition) systems start with a 7-inch ‘standard’ model at $600. The 7-inch pro version is $800. Standard 10-inch model is also $800, and HD 10i Pro is $1,000.


Difference between regular and pro models: onscreen water temp and depth, noticeably brighter displays, and longer cable.


Serious tools that add fun and help you catch fish.


Kayaks jacked and packed to the max

Just an observation here, but it was so obvious that it was hard to miss or dismiss: ICAST featured at least 20 different kayak manufacturers, each with their own brand of portable wizardry, features, storage, propulsion, setups for rod holders and electronics, along with manufacturers of roof racks, truck bed racks and more. What was largely a cottage industry just a decade ago has grown into a surprisingly strong segment of the fishing market, allowing anglers to fish local waters on a budget, and access near-inaccessible waters with ease.


Of special note is Hobie’s Mirage Drive 360 with Kick-Up Fins, featuring a full 360 degrees of seamless steering mobility, plus Kick-Up Fin technology for chasing fish through the shallows, paddling across logs and rocks. Available exclusively on their Mirage Pro Angler 12 and 14 Series for 2020.


Also, Old Town’s Topwater 120 with the all-new ultra-stable DoubleU Hull, quietly glides through any water condition while providing a stable, comfortable stand-up fishing platform. The Topwater 120 is easy to maneuver and even easier to transport, and it includes many of the built-in fishing features that are becoming standard in the kayak industry.