Wear “good shoes.”
“Figure out what your goal is for going.”
“The Costa party is fun.”
What did we do before Facebook? Other than socialize IRL? (That’s “in real life.”) When I asked for tips first-time ICAST attendees should know, these were some of the nuggets of advice friends well-versed in the world’s largest sport fishing trade show gave me. If you don’t know what ICAST is, then you probably won’t care about the rest of this post and can mosey along. But, if you’re wondering what ICAST stands for, it’s the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, produced by the American Sportfishing Association.
Basically, it’s an annual big ole tradeshow at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando where fishing-related brands launch new products and connect with buyers (such as bait and tackle shops, outdoor gear boutiques, and big box stores) to sell their existing and new products and services. It includes an outdoor showcase where attendees can get their hands (and feet) on products as standup paddle boards, sunglasses, lures, rods and reels; attend a series of educational seminars geared toward retailers, wholesalers and media; and like any decent tradeshow, offers plenty of networking opportunities.
Attending ICAST for the First Time – Not So Much a Fish Out of Water
Why was I attending ICAST for the first time? I have an interest in the outdoors and have been easing into fly fishing and sharing these experiences on this blog and social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and I need to remember to use my YouTube channel!). Okay, maybe I haven’t been keeping up with my fly fishing experiences as much as I should, but I’ll get there!
During my previous life as the marina store manager at Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park, I was responsible for purchasing fishing gear. Honestly, I really didn’t know what I was doing but soon learned which of Capt. Hank Brown’s Hookup Lures’ bucktails and D.O.A.’s lures were popular with local anglers and guides. With the assistance of others, I kept a decent supply of tackle, charts and other essentials for fishermen.
Walking the convention show floor, that part of my life in which I’ve almost forgotten, came back, especially when I saw a banner promoting the Herman Lucerne Memorial Fishing Tournament. The tournament started when I worked at the Flamingo Lodge and it’s nice to see, 18 years later, it’s running strong.
Through ICAST-Virgin Eyes
For years, I’ve heard friends, peers and colleagues talk about ICAST and finally, I got to see if it’s all that and a bag of chips. These are my observations…
I Wore the Wrong Clothing! Or Did I?
Soon after stepping onto the show floor, I realized my attire was wrong. Shoes made for walking adorned my feet and I opted for a dress top and jeans but when I saw gaggles of young women walking the floor and standing in front of booths donning Spandex leggings and halter tops showing off their lean tummies, I felt a little out of place. Of course, one of my thighs was the circumstance of average girl’s waist. And, I’m in my mid-40s and the only time I should be wearing Spandex is when it’s in Spanx under my dresses.
Okay, this was slight exaggeration. These gals were working for brands. Look, I get it. Open just about any fishing publication (and their accompanying fishing calendar) and you’re going to see pretty young women wearing bikinis and big grins while gripping fish. Guys are visual beings, sex sells and fishing is a male-dominated industry, so if this is what brands need to do to grab the attention of potential buyers and media, so be it.
Encouraging female anglers is an opportunity for brands to reach another market and therefore, make more money for themselves, and maybe next year, I’ll see more geared to fisher women, other than pink products (although I LOVE pink and carry a pink Under Armour backpack, anti-shock camera case and Otterbox for my iPhone).
Attending ICAST for the first time? Wear what many others did. If you already work with a brand or are a fishing pro, wear that brand gear proudly! If not, consider sportswear as fishing shirts (duh!), preferably generic, in case you’re looking to work with a specific company. Why? You don’t want to show up waving the flag for another brand. And of course, don’t forget those comfortable shoes. Remember, this is a business event and think of this as a job interview. I logged more than 5 miles each day walking the show floor, plus, I was toting my backpack which had my laptop and purse so it was an excellent workout week!
ICAST is HUGE!
A fellow outdoor writer advised to have a strategy because ICAST is very big and warned I may not be able to see the whole floor without a plan. This is not my first rodeo with trade shows but I concede by saying he was right. My priority was to attend educational seminars and introducing myself to a handful of brands then walk the floor but things quite didn’t go as planned. I attended most of the seminars I wanted, met with most of the brands on my list, but think I saw a fraction of the show floor.
When attending ICAST for the first time, definitely make a plan. Check out the ICAST Events page on the website, reach out to those you want to connect with and install the ICAST smartphone app on your phone. I found it helpful and it kept me on track. I strongly recommend it!
How Can You Improve on a Fishing Lure?
The New Product Showcase features just what you think it would, new products, in categories including hard saltwater lure, fly rod, giftware and apparel. It’s open to buyers and media during the first portion of the show when they rate and vote for their favorite products in more than two dozen categories. It’s then opened to the rest of the show attendees after Best of Show winners are announced.
I’m pleased to say some of the products I voted for (Catch and Release Gift Shop Fish Prints was one of my faves. Think of it as the next generation of taxidermy, it’s a print the size of the fish you caught.) ended up winning, including the overall Best of Show which went to BOTE Rover paddle board.
But, looking at ALL the products, I had to wonder, how much revolution, evolution, or innovation can there be in a fishing hook? Or even fishing line? Some companies seem to being making lighter and sturdier tackle while others are, well, simply changing a name. Big advancements seem to be in technology such as with depth finders. I mean, I haven’t seen much change since I was really into fishing back in the ’90s.
See the lures in action in the Lure Tank and there’s a casting pond in the fly fishing area. I barely saw these in action since I was on the run most of the time.
One of the most curious lures I saw was the Savage Gear 3D Topwater Bat. Yes. A lure that’s the size of a bat. Not sure if it really attracts fish but it’s an interesting novelty. Check out my colleague Ken Perrotte’s article summarizing ICAST 2017 and his take on the bat.
Speaking of improving fishing lures and tackle, one of the most creative booths I saw was from Bluing Hearts Sea Falcon lures and jigs handmade in Hamamatsu, Japan. The booth was set up like a sushi conveyor belt with tackle set in various dishes moving along the belt. There was also a collection of anime lures along with, um, adult lures which I imagine are novelty vs. something productive to fish with. What made this ICAST exhibitor extra special for me is I spent week in Hamamatsu in 2004 during Rotary’s Group Study Exchange program.
Having Friends is Good
Although I spent several years living and working at Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park during the 1990s, a destination considered to have the country’s best fishing, if not the world’s, and I had to quickly learn about the fishing industry to survive, I’m still waiting to be validated as an angler.
Yeah, I know, it’s an insecurity thing I have. I’ve thought of fishing as a guy’s sport and the time in my life when I felt confident as an angler was living in Flamingo and I was married. Now that I’m getting back into it, I’m still not confident in saying I’m a fisherman (woman), even though I have my Florida fishing license and am building my gear and tackle.
I was afraid of not fitting in with the ICAST crowd but to my surprise, I saw many people that not only did I know but who took me under their wing for a bit. Whether they know it or not, they made me feel more comfortable and confident being there. Specifically, I’d like to thank Debbie Hanson of SheFishes2 and outdoor writer Ken Perrotte. Thank you!
Educational Sessions and Networking
I could have spent my entire time at ICAST sitting in an educational session. Most are geared toward retailers, but many were appropriate for anyone attending the show, such as the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, the 2016 Fly-Fishing Retail Survey Results, Maintaining Access to Our Public Lands and Waters, and Government Affairs 101. These gave me great content for my blog so I can educate my readers.
As for networking, there’s plenty of that. Social hour – complete with fermented grape juice, barley water and other spirits – starts later in the day on the show floor when brands encourage buyers and media (along with other exhibitors) to stop by their booth with complimentary beverages. Some bring along entertainment and personalities, many from the country music, NASCAR and pro-fishing world. After hours, many brands host parties and apparently the one invite to score is the one to the Costa party. I left the night of the party so I missed it but I did attend CastAway Rod’s reception and learned more about the company’s philosophy, history and rods and caught up many of my peers. Country singer Mark Chestnutt and took time to meet with everyone and sign CDs.
Freebies and Working with Brands
“Did you bring back lots of gear?” a day-job colleague asked me.
I didn’t and I’ll get to that in a bit.
It’s pretty clear why buyers attend ICAST, to purchase goods (and maybe services) for their businesses, learn about trends in the fishing industry, and nourish existing relationships and harvest new ones. As for media and fishing-related people (I suppose fishing guides), everyone has different objectives on attending ICAST.
As I previously mentioned, my reason for attending ICAST for the first time was to check it out, learn more about the industry and connect with a few brands. I didn’t expect to walk away with freebies of rods, reels, tackle and other products, although I could have. But, right now, I’m tying up ends from other products and trips that I didn’t want to accept them. Plus, when it comes to rods and reels, I’m learning fly fishing and want to focus on that.
Regarding brands I want to have relationships, they were polite, took time to meet with me although I didn’t have an appointment and took my card. I know it’s up for me to follow up accordingly.
As for brands I had no interest in working with, I spoke with them because, ya know, networking. You never know where someone will be 5 years down the road and you don’t know where you will be 5 years down the road. I had one dismiss me after he asked for my numbers (honestly, I don’t keep track of my numbers, I’m not concerned with numbers, I’m concerned with quality) and his reply was, “come back and talk to me when you get your numbers up.”
No problem. Just like dating, there’s a whole lot of fish in the sea. (Although in dating, I haven’t found that secret spot yet and think I may need to move to find it!)
Tip: Bring plenty of business cards (although some exhibitors scan the code on your badge to capture your contact details) and keep them handy. As mentioned before, you never know where you’ll be 5 years down the road and you don’t know where that brand rep, colleague or fellow writer will be 5 years from now.
Will I ICAST Again?
I certainly hope so. By next year, I hope to have a few more fishing trips and experiences under my belt.
Have you attended ICAST? What’s your advice for newbies?
Learn more about ICAST on their website.