July 23, 2008 by Jason Sealock
The 2008 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) ended last Friday, and my head is still spinning from all the cool new products I sampled firsthand in Las Vegas. It's one of the highlights of the year in the sport-fishing industry, when the world is introduced to what tackle manufacturers have been creating behind closed doors in secret labs for the last several months - and even years in some instances. Every year the media tries to quantify a theme. Last year the theme was definitely "Go Big." There were new, larger swimbaits from just about every manufacturer that makes hard or soft baits, as well as additions to many rod manufacturers' lines to include big, swimbait-launching sticks. If I had to choose a theme this year, however, it would be "Reduction." While the crowd did seem smaller, or perhaps just more evenly spaced, at this year's show, that's not the reduction I was talking about. What I saw at this show were lighter, smaller, reduced footprints in products from the big players in the industry. These included featherlight rods, ultralow-profile reels and diminutive baits that are going to make a big splash in fishing in 2009. It would take a catalog to write about every cool product we saw at the show, but associate editor Curt Niedermier and I compiled a list of a few of our favorites from the show. Look for additional information over the next several months here at FLWOutdoors.com, as well as our Buyer's Guide edition of FLW Outdoors Magazine on newsstands and available to subscribers in late October or early November. ---------------------------------------------- Baits Berkley Gulp! Alive! Crazy Legs Jerk Shad - Well, imagine that. Berkley won another Best of Show in the Soft Lure category. I'm always amazed at how Berkley keeps churning out fish-catching shapes and technologies in the soft-bait market. I personally have quite a bit of experience with their original Gulp Jerk Shads. My main success comes from just jerking the bait once right after the cast where I've seen schooling fish boil. Then I just dead-stick the bait down through the school, sometimes deeper than 10 feet, rigged weightless before one snatches it up. What is awesome about the new bait is the legs are going to kick like crazy on that dead-stick drop. I don't see this bait sinking to 10 feet anymore. And with the new larger containers suspending the Jerk Shads in Gulp, the baits aren't going to kink and will exude even more scent than before. (berkley-fishing.com) Lucky Craft Kelly J - Designed by Kelly Jordon, this new topwater bait features nose and tail spinners on a shad-profile topwater. Meant to cater to bass exploiting bream beds or chasing baitfish in the hot months after the spawn, the Kelly J has a unique flicking action like a fleeing bait. With the same proven colors from Lucky Craft, this bait will do well when bass are chasing baitfish in warm water. (luckycraft.com) Spro Bronzeye Popper - From the makers of one of the top frogs on the market, Spro upped the ante again with a new popping version of its popular BronzeyeFrog65. According to Dean Rojas, the frog walks better and corners better than the original. And the added action from the cupped lip is going to make this a must-have bait for anglers who like to fish the slop or like to snare bass in open-water situations with walking baits. (spro.com) Tru-Tungsten Tru-Life 4-inch Swimbait - The Tru-Life family of swimbaits just got larger. Tru-Tungsten is now offering a shad-sized bait in their Tru-Life series. This bait was on display in a test tank at ICAST, and it was funny to see all the would-be buyers and media standing next to the water with their jaws dropped. Many pro anglers from other booths stopped in to ask Matt Newman and Ish Monroe when the bait would be available. This bait will feature Tru-Tungsten's slip pin and removable tungsten balls to convert the bait from a slow sinker to a floater or a fast sinker to slow sinker (two models) in seconds. Those guys who do well walking Bomber Long As are going to love this bait. (tru-tungsten.com) ima Skimmer - This is one lure I hadn't heard of before ICAST, but I am anxiously waiting for it to hit the market. I love to fish a Heddon Zara Spook or a Lucky Craft Sammy, and this bait is going to be a welcome addition to my topwater-walker box. The bait is slender in profile, and what makes it truly unique is how far it walks from side to side and how erratic it looks. The ima Flit made a big splash last year on the market (look for a new smaller size of that bait this year, too). Anglers are raving about its great action and appearance. Now imagine that great quick-darting action on the surface. I was blown away by the video of it walking the dog. If you like to throw walking baits, you need a few of these in your box. (imalures.com) Rapala Clackin' Rap - Anglers haven't heard loud yet, but it's coming. The new Clackin' Rap features a pass-through chamber that resonates the loudest "clack" I've ever heard in a hard bait. David Fritts recommended hopping this bait on ledges, deep drops or grass as the bait's design allows it to flutter and clack on the drop as well as on the rip. This will be a welcome addition to any angler's rattling-bait box. (rapala.com) Line Berkley FireLine Tracer Braid - OK, so braid isn't terribly exciting stuff. But it's like the tires on your car - you get the cheap stuff and you end up paying more in the long run. And anything that makes driving your car easier is an added benefit. It appears to me the thought process on this new braid was to give the angler almost a bobber-like reference point for watching the line for movement. The 2 1/2-foot section of fluorescent-chartreuse line, followed by a 2 1/2-foot section of black line, will expose the slightest movement and be akin to a fly-fisherman watching a strike indicator floating on the surface. I think it will be critical in mat-punching and heavy-cover applications, as well as fishing deep weedlines. (berkley-fishing.com) Reels Shimano Curado E Series - These reels won the Overall Best of Show at ICAST and for good reason - they're one fine piece of machinery. The reels feature an ultralow profile, very high-tech-looking upgrade to the "old green Curados" anglers fell in love with years ago, and either a cranking gear-ratio option or a high-speed gear-ratio option. The swept knobs and handles all add to the aesthetic beauty of the reels. They are feathery light in weight and smooth on cast and retrieve. Now "going green" has new meaning in the fishing industry. These Curados seem much improved over last year's offerings, while giving anglers a nice price drop as well. The reels will retail for about $180. (fishshimano.com) Ardent F500 Flip-N-Pitch Reel - Looking like something from a science-fiction movie, the new F500 is the first technique-specific reel. Technique-specific rods have been the trend the last several years, but reels have always been about the speed and spool size instead of the technique. Now there is a reel designed just for flippers and pitchers. The narrow spool and noticeable absence of a level-wind guide put this reel in a category all by itself - one of a kind, if you will. The reel pitches like butter, even on a long pitch to distant targets. The handle is made of stainless steel to withstand an enormous amount of hookset and angler pressure on bass in gnarly cover. It features a constantly locked drag that only slips if the reel is about to break. This is a true power reel for fighting bass in heavy cover and a wise investment for anglers who like to fish the thick stuff. (ardentreels.com) Daiwa Special Edition Hyper-Speed TD Zillion - Daiwa pulled out all the stops with the 50th Anniversary Hyper-Speed TD Zillion reel. Each reel is serial-numbered for authenticity and displays the 50th Anniversary logo on the spool. But this reel goes way beyond being a collector's item. The bright red color is appropriate, as it boasts being the fastest reel on the market at an amazing 7.3:1 gear ratio. That's 32 inches of line retrieved in a single handle turn. Add an aluminum frame, 11 ball bearings, plus a roller bearing, and Daiwa's exclusive Magforce-Z automatic antibacklash control, and anglers will be treated to one of the finest reels on the market. This reel just screams quality. Heck, this reel just screams. (daiwa.com) Optics Costa Del Mar Silver Mirror Lenses - Costa Del Mar makes quality sunglasses, and they expanded their line with the option for silver mirror lenses. Ordinarily this wouldn't really interest me, but I tried a pair out for a day and noticed a big difference in how the mirror tint lays over the copper lenses to make a pair of sunglasses that lets your eyes relax in burning glare on the water. They look sharp cosmetically, but more importantly, there is a noticeably improved comfort to these shades. They're definitely worth a look. (costadelmar.com) Smith Optics Interlock Frames - Smith optics debuted their Interlock frames at ICAST. This unique concept reduces swapping lenses out during a day or week of fishing into a simple twist. By twisting the arm on these shades, the frames are opened and the lenses are easily removed and replaced with different tints. If it's dark and cloudy in the morning, you can go with a clear lens or a high-contrast yellow lens. If it's bright and sunny at noon, you can swap the lenses out for a much darker tint, and then change it up again. The frames come complete with a lifetime warranty and three shades of lenses for roughly $150. Additional lenses can be ordered. (smithoptics.com) Rods Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Rods - These things not only look cool with an earthy, brown tone, but the unique material in the grips is extremely comfortable. The new trolling line-counter rods are very unique. The first line guide from the reel is a built-in line counter that doesn't get manipulated by line diameter or spool size, which can happen with conventional reel counters. The rods have very sensitive tips with a lot of backbone. Bass guys will even like these rods for some finesse techniques. They have a lot of tip action with enough backbone to horse on a 30-inch walleye or an 8-pound bass. (fenwickfishing.com) Berkley Lightning Rod Shock and Berkley Cobalt Fire Rods - For consumers looking for the best budget-priced rods on the market, it's hard to beat a Berkley Lightning Rod. The latest offering in the Lightning Rod line is the new Shock line of rods. These rods are specifically designed for anglers who want to fish with superlines (no-stretch lines like braid and FireLine). The Shock features great detailing, a split grip to reduce the weight of the rod, a Strike Amplifying Tip (S.A.T.) and a suspended reel seat. The S.A.T. is basically a slower-reacting tip made out of a blend of fiberglass and graphite that absorbs the shock of no-stretch lines. Berkley believes this will help with hooksets and landing fish. The suspended reel seat is very cool in that it adds to the overall sensitivity of this rod by removing the dampening effects of the reel from the equation. We've been testing one, and it's an amazing rod at this price point. The Cobalt Fire line of rods for saltwater showcases 26 rods, covering everything from inshore spinning rods to jigging casting rods. The styling is awesome on these rods, featuring blue-titanium guides with flanged Zirconia rings with blue effects spiraled throughout the blanks. The backbones on these rods are solid enough to land big tarpon with tips sensitive enough to cast tiny Berkley Gulp Saltwater baits to skimming redfish. The pricing is competitive for a rod of this quality, ranging from $79.99 to $119.99, and they should make a big splash with Florida inshore anglers, the target demographic of the line. (berkley-fishing.com) St. Croix Mojo Bass Rods - St. Croix introduced several new lines, as well as additions and enhancements to several of their existing lines. There is something for every angler at St. Croix, regardless of what species you fish. But we were most impressed with the new Mojo Bass rods. These are technique-specific bass rods with a flare for the younger generation. Intricate detailing on a quality blank is enough to sell most anglers, but the price point is the real draw. Priced from $99 to $120, a young angler on a college budget can afford to set himself up with a few of these rods for a quality setup at an affordable price. (stcroixrods.com) Jackall Poison Competist XF spinning rod - All I could say was, "Wow," when I picked up this small rod. It seemed heavier than it should be for such a small rod. That's because the particular model I was holding was a solid-graphite rod, not a hollow blank like every other rod on the market. But it was solid from butt to tip and exceptionally thin as a result. The sensitivity of the rod was nothing short of amazing. The rod is only rated for 5-pound line, but because of the solid construction, it felt like it had the backbone to land a big bass. This is a finesse angler's dream rod. But at $450, a lowly editor like myself may have to keep dreaming. Do you think they sell posters of this rod that I can hang on my wall to drool over on a daily basis? (jackall-lures.com) Accessories Minn Kota Fortrex - Minn Kota prides itself on constant improvement. They went to their vast network of anglers and consumers and asked what needed improvement on an already great line of trolling motors. The result is the most impressive trolling motor I've ever seen. The new Fortrex trolling motor features an aluminum frame and redesigned Mono Arm with a main hinge point 20 times larger than other trolling motors. Along with composite bushings, this trolling motor was built to last and remain silent for the life of the trolling motor. No more creaking and cracking as the trolling motor wears. The motor can be removed in seconds from the mount with a single nut. The trolling motor features Lift-Assist ,which is improved because the Mono Arm is lighter. They set out to make the toughest and quietest trolling motor on the market, and in my opinion, they succeeded. (minnkotamotors.com) Bullet Weights MagWeight - These last two fall under the category of "Why didn't I think of that?" Bullet Weights incorporated a small magnet in the base of their bullet sinkers to lock their sinker down on the hook when flipping and pitching. It's a simple idea that works, and now anglers won't have to fuss with beads, stops and pegs to get a compact Texas rig that stays pegged surprisingly well. (bulletweights.com) Ardent SmartCull - Another simple idea that will be a big hit with tournament anglers is the new culling system from Ardent. The SmartCull features a series of clips with plastic balls to keep your fish separated. But the beauty of the system is that anglers can turn a dial on each ball and notate the pounds and ounces of each fish up to 15 pounds, 15 ounces. In a matter of seconds, you can weigh your fish and then dial in his weight before placing him in the livewell. Ardent took a simple idea and made a product to take the headache out of culling in tournaments, a welcome solution for most. (ardentreels.com) ---------------------------------------------- Like we said, there is no way to cover all the great new products in one article. Look for more articles and field tests of other products from ICAST here on our Web site, as well as more detailed write-ups and photography of these and other products from ICAST in our Buyer's Guide edition of FLW Outdoors Magazine on newsstands and subscribers' mailboxes in November.