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It’s almost 112 degrees is Las Vegas this week. So why on Earth am I here? Because I will face hurricanes and lightning, blizzards and hellish heat to attend the annual ICAST trade show. This is where all the tackle manufacturers unveil their latest wares for the up-coming year. When I’m on the show floor I drool a lot. I find myself awestruck by the innovation and smart designs coming out these days. I also scratch my head at certain booths, completely boggled by the ridiculousness of what I’m seeing. But it’s all here, from lures to accessories, rod and reels, apparel to terminal gear. These are some of the most innovative, unique, and downright bizarre things coming to tackle shops near you. Let me know what you think._ – Joe Cermele_
Fetha Styx NASCAR Series: Want to show your love for Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, Jeff Gordon or Mark Martin when you’re tearing up the lake? Now you can with Fetha Styx’s new line of NASCAR rods. That’s right, the wraps match your favorite driver’s colors and feature his or her signature. Is this a gimmick? Actually, no. These are some serious graphite bassin’ sticks that come in a wide range of sizes and powers. Though I’m not a NASCAR fan, the wrap colors are oddly cool looking. But what’s really cool is that $10 from the sale of each rod goes to a charity chosen by the driver who’s rod you purchased. These “hot rods” (sorry) range from $160 to $175.
VersaLures V-X4 Serpent: Here’s a classic “why didn’t I think of that?” VersaLures V-X4 Serpent can be whatever you want it to be thanks to sections that snap together. Each lure comes with a tail, two heads, and middle piece. With just one lure, you can opt for a 5-inch diver or popper, or lose the mid section and make it a 3-inch bait. Buy two lures and you can mix and match colors, or make even longer models. It’s a cool idea and they seem pretty well made. The middle pieces even have slots for two little glow sticks. The Serpent sells for $12.
Fishouflage Quarter-Zip Performance Top: Look again. That’s not Realtree. It’s 3-D Fishouflage of crappie in the brush on this company’s new quarter-zip Performance Top ($90). “Walleyeflage,” “Bassouflage” and “Muskyflage” are also available. So will this stuff hide you from the fish? According to the company’s catalog, it will not, but “it will create a new and distinct look for fishermen everywhere that they will be proud to display both on and off the water.” What say you?
Shakespeare E-Z Cast: This was by far one of the most innovative reels I saw on the show floor, and that innovation won’t put a dent in your wallet. The E-Z Cast low-profile baitcaster sells for $40, and I promise whether you’re 10- or 90-years-old, it will make you a master caster. A unique anti-backlash system above the spool (the blue panel) automatically pops up and brakes the spool when the line goes slack. At the booth, I launched a rubber sinker as hard as I could into a wall 5 feet away and ABS popped and locked the spool instantly. Zero backlashes. With the ABS on, there is no reason to even thumb the spool. But as the angler gets more comfortable and is ready to graduate to thumb braking, simply flip the ABS off and you’ve got a regular baitcaster. Aside from the braking features, the E-Z cast was actually a very smooth reel.
River2Sea Dahlberg Diver Frog: Created by Mr. “Hunt For Big Fish” himself, Larry Dahlberg, this is one wicked frog. Pull it and it dives, creating a slight bubble trail with its legs. When you pause the retrieve, the legs retract like a real frog. Work it harder and it’ll dive 24 to 30 inches. When it rises back up, it sits with just its eyes breaking the surface. The unique “overhead” diving lip doubles as a weed guard and the “hook up” design lets it skip over weeds with ease. Larry’s TV show is hard to turn away from, as was the video of this bait in action. The explosions were epic and the largemouth weren’t tiny. The Dahlberg Diver Frog sells for $12.
Old Harbor Outfitters Bucket Master: There’s no shame in being part of the bucket brigade, especially if you rig your 5-gallon “tackle box” with the Bucket Master ($50). Mesh-lined pockets inside and out hold everything you need for a day on the water. There are also separate knife and tool holders. The interior pockets are plenty big enough to fit a bunch of small- to medium-size tackle trays. A shoulder strap lets you sling it and go.
Backstabber Lures: So why move the belly hook on a crankbait to the back? According to the fellas at Backstabber Lures, it keeps fish glued a little tighter because they get hooked in the top of the mouth. Both hooks also swivel 360 degrees to stop the lure from shaking loose if you accidently give the fish slack, if it jumps, or quickly changes direction. Finally, Backstabber claims this hook placement causes the bait to collect less salad when you’re ripping it through the weeds. Sounds intriguing to me. I’ll be getting one of these on the water soon for a serious test. Backstabbers are available in 7 colors, 3 sizes, and start at $13.
Duckett Fishing Micro Magic: Nope, it’s not a panfish rod. The Micro Magics were developed by bass pro Boyd Duckett to increase accuracy by using super tiny guides from end to end. The guide in the photo is from the 7-foot model. That’s the first guide closest to the reel and it’s smaller than my pinky nail. Supposedly, this guide system will increase casting distance by up to 15%. There are many models to choose from, and they also feature a removable weight system in the butt for custom tweaking.
DelalanDe Fury Shad: I know what you’re thinking: two paddle-tails, double the kick. Not exactly. The tails on these French imports don’t work like regular paddles. Instead, the design causes them to roll back and forth. That means you can work these shads like a buzzbait, gurgling them across the top. Or rig them on a jighead and work slowly for a more subtle, twisting wobble unlike your standard paddle. U.S. prices not yet set.
Pflueger Patriarch: Oh how far things have come since the old Pflueger Medalist fly reel. The lightest model in the new Patriarch Series weighs just 5.6 ounces. The heaviest weighs 8.1 ounces. That’s because the rotors and sideplates are made of magnesium, the shafts are titanium, and the spools and handles are anodized aluminum and carbon fiber. Put it all together, and it doesn’t weigh much. At the booth, they had a helium balloon suspending the small model over my head. But the Patriarchs are also going to be workhorses, because although the components are light, they’re very tough materials. So how much for this technology? All models will sell for $200.
Gulp! Crickets: Not long ago I wrote a blog post asking readers what natural baits they’d like to see “Gulpified.” Many of you said crickets. Ask and ye shall receive. Gulp! Crickets, also available in the Gulp! Alive formula, will be on shelves near you soon. They come 8 to a pack and sell for $4. Panfish, beware.
Gear Grabbar: There are lots of suction-cup and sticky-foam-mounted lure holders out there, but I know from experience that hooks can be a pain to get out of the slots, and if you happen to bump up against one, it’s not pleasant. But the Gear Grabbar ($21.95) uses magnets to hold 9 lures, tools, and loose hooks and swivels on the top shelf. Your lures won’t come loose from the boat rocking, but if you brush up against the strip, the lures pull free…so no points buried in you past the barb. A stick-on rear magnet system lets you place the Grabbar anywhere on the boat and take it down when the trip is over.
KIR Insect Shield Shirts: No doubt, KIR (Keepin’ It Reel) makes some fishing apparel with fresh designs, but this shirt is all about function, too. Featuring the same Insect Shield technology used in military fatigues, these shirts will keep you stylish and ‘skeeter-free for around $30.
Shimano Waxwing: From the creators of the Butterfly Jig and Lucanus Jig comes the Waxwing. Though it looks like a jig, it’s actually meant to swim horizontally, naturally darting erratically from side to side as you reel. And I do mean erratically. It will weave a tight pattern for a few beats, then suddenly cut way wide and come back to center thanks to its unique fin design. You can also throw them a country mile, which is why Shimano has high hopes for these lures sweeping the legions of anglers that chase pods of busting tuna with lighter gear. Just as the Butterfly Jig is designed to be fished on Shimano Trevalla rods, their new Terez rod series is designed to fish the Waxwings.
G. Loomis NRX Bass Rods: When Loomis unveiled their GLX graphite blanks many moons ago, it was some pretty revolutionary stuff. But the new NRX blanks are 15% lighter and 20% stronger, according to the company, thanks to breakthroughs in graphite technology and unique resins that also reduce weight. I had the chance to cast one at the show and will admit it was like holding a feather. Each rod features a mix of Fuji titanium guides and small ion-coated nickel-titanium recoil guides that you can bend to the brink with no ill effect. All this design is also supposed to make the NRX rods the most sensitive bass sticks on the market. They’re available in 13 spinning and casting models tailored to every niche bass fishing style. They start at $475.
Tri-Shear Line Cutter: Whether you’re into muskie fishing or chasing marlin, the Tri-Shear ($60 – $70) snips braid and wire more quickly and efficiently than some expensive pliers I own. Just run the line or wire through the slot and retract the head. I like these because you don’t have to fumble with a knife or work to line up a piece of leader in between small cutters on a rocking boat. It also cuts clean with no fraying.
Amazon Flip Flops: Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to chase golden dorado or peacock bass in the Amazon. Maybe a trip to the jungle is still on your bucket list. Either way, you can help preserve the Amazon by picking up a pair of these flip-flops. Made in the Brazil from recycled tires, they mold to your feet, are non-slip, and cost $30. But $10 of every sale goes to “Protect an Acre,” an organization devoted to preserving and protecting the Amazon jungle.
Fish Search: Welcome to the most bizarre lure at ICAST…the Fish Search. According to the literature I picked up from the gentleman at the booth, “finding food in nature for fishes is mainly through sense of taste and echo location function…By way of signal of bionic baits which can be perceived by target fish through the echo location function to consider the existence of true baits in order to reach the result of mixing up truth with falsehood.” I swear I didn’t change a word. It’s a little vibrator in the rubber lure that you turn on with a keyless car remote. I like the one that looks like a Loony Toons A-bomb. Order now!
Wright & McGill Victory Series: Though Wright & McGill have been primarily a flyfishing company, things are changing. This year, they’re jumping into the bass market with Skeet Reese’s Victory series baitcasting and spinning reels. They’re sharp looking and they start at $99, which isn’t too bad considering the price of many reels today. Granted, it may take some time for the company to go head to head with the other reel giants, but I played with both the spinning and conventional models and they seem pretty solid. They’re light thanks to an aluminum frame, feature a Teflon drag system and over-size power handles for heavy cranking.
ZeeBaas Surf Knife: Connecticut-based ZeeBaas makes some of the meanest saltwater reels on the market. Now they’re putting the same military-spec finish and aerospace-grade components into their new surf knife. It’s 100% corrosion-resistant and features a mini gut hook for quickly slicing line. Even if you don’t fish the salt, this is a killer blade to keep on the boat or have handy on long wades into trouty canyons. They’ll sell for about $150.
Rapala Clackin’ Minnow: Rapala introduced the Clackin’ Rap last year–a lipless hardbait with a single internal steel ball that transmits a super-loud “clack” the fish hear and feel. This year, Rapala has put that “clack” in the Clackin’ Minnow, which they say combines the action of their Flat Rap and X-Rap. I’ve caught a lot of fish on those two lures and the original Clackin’ Rap, so I have to imagine this is a powerful combo. The Minnow runs 3 to 4 feet deep and will be available in two sizes. Rapala’s suggesting a $14 price tag.
Castaway Microwave: This odd guide design on Castaway’s new rods grabbed my attention immediately. I had to know more. So we took one outside for a test drive and here’s what I learned. It’s all about cast accuracy. The faster the line can be channeled into the smaller, narrower guides on the rod, the straighter the cast. Only the first eye on the Microwaves features this unique design. Line leaves the reel and is immediately moved from the wide guide to the small guide, which keeps the cast straighter. When retrieving, line moves through the small guide into the wide guide to maintain the proper rotation for packing the spool evenly. We casted this rod side by side with a regular spinning rod and the speed and accuracy of the Microwave was noticeable in comparison. The rod comes in six lengths and powers and retails for $200.
Wake Jigwobbler: The Jigwobbler ($7 – $14) is a Finnish import with a design I’ve never seen. In a nutshell, this is a plastic, lipped crankbait with a jighead up front. This means you can bomb it a mile and fish it effectively several different ways. A straight retrieve produces a wild side-to-side action where the head is always flicking back and forth faster than the body. Let it fall like a jig and the rear end wobbles like a plug while the head stays straight. The long wire sort of plays off a spinnerbait in that it helps keep the head up and tracking at your desired depth. Jigwobblers are available in 4 sizes and a load of colors.
Shimano Terez: Offered in lengths and actions to whip just about any saltwater species that swims, Shimano’s Terez series rods not only offer lots of choices with 24 models, both casting and spinning, but give you some customization options. Shimano researched the five most popular boat hull colors and set to work matching them with these blanks. The Terez series was designed to be fished with braid, as each model features Alconite guides that stand up to superlines better than other materials. Form-fitting grips and butt lengths designed to reduce arm fatigue during the fight are other perks of the Terez. Shimano also released a separate Terez series made specifically for fishing their new Waxwing lures. These rods range in price from $250 to $280.
Old Harbor Outfitters Take Cover Jacket: This style of jacket certainly isn’t new. Old Harbor resurrected this classic worn by the lobstermen of yesteryear. But at $40, it’s the perfect slicker to just leave on the boat whether you’re running a center console in the Keys or a Lund on the Great Lakes. When things get unexpectedly snotty, or you’re taking spray on a choppy day, it’s a quick fix that lets you skip suiting up in full bibs and a jacket.
St. Croix Bank Robber: Love chucking big bunnies and leeches for giant brown trout? Here’s your rod. St. Croix’s Bank Robber fly rod was developed specifically for the streamer fisherman pounding the bank. The blanks are constructed of high-strain graphite with high-modulus graphite in the butt section for added power. Fuji K stripper guides are specifically designed to reduce tangling, while the machined aluminum reel seats have a built in hook keeper to hold the big bugs. The Bank Robbers are nine footers and available in 6- and 7-weight. They’re four pieces so they travel nicely, too. You can get yourself a Robber for $400.
Solar Action Lures: I don’t know how these lures swim, but they sure do make a lot of noise. That’s because the baits have solar panels on their backs that cause them to vibrate on sunny days. Like I said, there were lots of lure vibrating is dishes at the booth, but the video of them getting crushed by bass…nowhere to be found. What do you think? Worth $18 for a sun-powered frog from Japan?
EGO S2 Slider: With landing nets in various sizes and bag styles, a boat hook and gaff, the EGO S2 Slider cuts down on the amount of long-handled tools you need to carry on the water. And it floats, so you won’t lose any of them anymore, either. Push the button in the center of the shaft and slide the head and grip in opposite directions to quickly expand the handle length. Screw on whichever head you need at the moment and you’re all set. It’s space-saving and convenient and starts at $70.
Think Tank Triggerfish: Ever watch a little injured shad or alewife flopping on the surface? Then the toilet flushes and down it goes. The Triggerfish ($12) is a topwater that mimics that flipping, rolling action of dying bait. It will dive just a pinch, then roll over and come to the top in the next twitch, buzzing and jumping for a few beats before going under again. The retrieve speed determines which side the jointed head lays on, so when you change the speed or pause the bait, the head flops and the lure changes direction. This essentially lets you steer the Triggerfish. I watched a video of the Triggerfish for a good ten minutes and the action is pretty wild. The strikes were pretty fierce, too.
Fish Fenders: Tired of looking at those dirty, beat up boat fenders hanging over your vessel’s rails? Just cover them up with zip-on Fish Fenders ($30 – $70). There are plenty of species to choose from. Your neighbors at the marina will love it. They won’t talk about you.
VersaLures Energy Glide Swivels: Here’s an interesting concept: instead of using ball bearings in this swivel, the rod that holds the snap is tipped with a magnet, as is the underside of the joint that holds the split ring. But the polarity of the magnets is set to push apart, so the swivel turns on cushion of air inside the chamber. Everything spins because of the reverse magnetism, which, according to VersaLures, means smoother lure action and less line twist. Neat, but I think they’re a hair bulky. A 3-pack will run you $6.
Costa 580P Sunglasses: Costa’s 580 lenses have long been proven for spotting fish, but they’ve upped the ante with their new 580 Polycarbonate shades ($180). They are by far the lightest glasses I’ve had on, and what I really dig is that the lenses are “oiliophobic.” That’s just fancy talk for oil-resistant. Now, I haven’t worn them on the water yet, but if they really help to keep liquid attractant, sun block, and chum grease from sticking to the lenses, this is a very good thing.
Castaic Kicker: The Castaic Kicker is like a big old slab of raw bacon for stripers, mondo bass, and muskies. I watched a tank test and it slithers like a ribbon. It’s got a pretty seductive shimmy unlike anything I’ve seen before in a seven-inch soft bait. I’m betting it will entice fish, but I’m not sure about the hook placement. I can foresee some missed strikes with no stickers in the tail. Otherwise, “A” for innovation. It’s like a giant leech meets a huge swimbait.
Reaction Strike Home Wrecker: I like these lures.
Tuscaroran Thunder Stick: Hand-poured at the home base in Margate, Florida, the Thunder Stick ($4) is a 16-inch whopper of a worm with extra tail weight that gives it a lovely wiggle on the fall. Must be a joke right? Not according to Tuscaroran owner Jack Huggins who developed it just for the trophy largemouth he was chasing around Florida. He’s got the photos to back up the big bass he’s landed, but he’s caught plenty of average-size bass on it, too. He even had a video of some not-so-big bass slurping the whole worm into their mouths. He recommends rigging it on a 5/0 wide gap no differently than you would a 7-inch worm. Am I sold on this giant worm being the hottest ticket in bass fishing? Not yet, but I’m going to give it a try. New Jersey record largemouth, here I come.
SuperFly Fly Tying Pattern Kits: Sometimes it’s simple ideas that can have the most impact. SuperFly is now producing tying kits with all the materials and instructions you need to create a dozen of some of the most popular patterns around, including Joe’s Hopper, the wooly bugger, and the egg-sucking leech. I think this is a fantastic idea because it’s a great way to introduce new people to fly tying and flyfishing. Standing in a store with wall after wall of tying material can be intimidating to a beginner. This simplifies the whole process. Well done, SuperFly. The kits sell for about $17.
Optimum Double Diamond Swimmer: If you’re a fan of paddle-tail swimbaits, here’s a new spin on the design. Optimum created a paddle-tail with a diamond-shape body and slotted belly that has three distinct actions, according to the company. The keel created by the body shape makes it track in a tight zigzag pattern. The wide back gives it a slight roll, and the kicking tail adds the vibration. Rig it weedless, on a regular jighead, or with an open hook bullet-style jighead. Double Diamonds are available in many sizes, but the 2 ½- and 3 ¾-inch Micro Tails are the newest members of the family. Packs start at $3.
Vagabond Hustler: At $75 a piece, these giant custom woods are gobbled up by collectors a lot more than the average largemouth angler, but I must say they are pretty impressive. Designed for monster bass, muskies, and stripers, Hustlers are serious works of art. Their new bloody patterns caught my eye simply because they’re taking realistic paint jobs to a new level. If you ever needed to match a 12-inch, bleeding trout that’s twitching seductively as it swims its last few strokes, it don’t get better than this.
Lazer TroKar 80-Piece Hook Set: Lazer TroKar hooks were released last year, and I can attest that they are sharper than sharp. Now the company is offering the full line in foam-lined travel box that stows easily. The downside is that at $80, you’re paying a buck a hook. But on the upside, misses are few and far between. Your rod bends if a fish just looks at a TroKar.
Frabill Ice Suit: With an Oxford Nylon shell and 180-gram body insulation, this is the suit for the serious hardwater enthusiast. The jacket comes complete with adjustable neoprene cuffs, Arctic fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets and reflective piping for nighttime safety. The bibs have full-length ankle to hip zippers, 120-gram insulation and internal padding in the knees and seat. I could list features until time stops, but what caught my eye was the price tag. $350 buys the whole suit, which isn’t free, but it’s not nearly as much as some other makers of ice fishing attire.
Fox Sport Fishing Standup Trek: I had to add this one in here simply for the unique factor. Travel rods are nothing new, but until this year’s ICAST, I had never seen a stand-up roller guide outfit capable of battling massive makos or huge marlin that could break down into a travel tube. It may seem silly to some, but if you do any offshore fishing, you know how cumbersome outfits like this can be. Traveling with them is a nightmare and 99% are one-piece rods. Pick up four of these bad boys, and you can take your tuna gear along as easily as your fly rod. These bluewater packables sell for $470.