Product development drives today's fishing industry. To promote these innovations, the American Sportfishing Association stages a New Products Showcase at the annual ICAST Show, most recently held last summer in Orlando, Florida. No fewer than 700 items were displayed at the showcase, from 253 companies. In-Fisherman editors were on hand to view items and vote for their favorites, which resulted in the Best of Show awards. Here's a peek from the aisles of ICAST and beyond, at some up-and-coming companies gunning for prime time.
This category has seen great expansion among major players, as well as in the variety of products available. Designers seek to build lighter, yet stronger and more durable rods, utilizing newly discovered materials and processing methods.
One trend is building rods for specific purposes. They're designed with lengths, actions, and powers considered ideal for that application by company pro staff or designers. Moreover, angler preferences differ, in terms of casting style, hook-setting, line choice, and more. The good news is that there's never been a broader array of fishing tools than 2015.
Abu Garcia: Abu is making a statement with high-performance Fantasista Regista rods. They're built using unique Tetra axial carbon, which cuts weight to between 3.7 and 5 ounces, depending on model. They also feature Fuji skeletal reel seats and Fuji Titanium Alconite K micro guides. Three spinning models and six baitcasters are in the initial series, $499.95—abugarcia.com.
CastAway Graphite Rods: This company has turned heads with new series, including the U.S.-made Invicta line, which couples 40-ton graphite with new resins to boost strength and power while reducing weight. New Winn handles, derived from the golf club industry, have non-slip grips and a double-finger blank exposed reel seat for a secure grip in any conditions, $249.99 to $259.99—castawayrods.com.
Fenwick: A redesign of the Elite Tech series brings seven new spinning and 11 baitcaster models to the line. They have deep pressed titanium guides that eliminate the problem of inserts popping out, $149.95—fenwickfishing.com.
G. Loomis: Back in 1985, G. Loomis turned the rod market on its ear with the release of IMX high-modulus rods. For 2015, these classics are modernized with 34 technique-specific actions for bass fishing that are 15 percent lighter than the originals. New versions sport split-grip handles and Fuji K-Frame guides, $295 to $315—gloomis.com.
Hammer: Based in Mississippi, Hammer Fishing Rods is a newcomer on the scene, but one determined to make a name with top-quality American-made rods. They offer eight models of baitcasting and spinning actions from 7 feet to 7 feet 11 inches. Each is available in 3 or 4 power ratings, matching a vast number of applications. Blanks are built in Arkansas, and rods are hand-wrapped. They feature Fuji micro guides and blank-exposed reel seats, with Winn split-grip handles, $142 to $190—hammerrods.com.
Quantum: The Smoke PT series is constructed of high-strain, million-modulus blanks with Fuji ACS reel seats and new steel guide frames that eliminate the ceramic insert. But the coolest feature is a dial in the handle that indicates the line test you have spooled on that outfit, $139—zebcobrands.com.
St. Croix: The Legend Trek series expands the envelope of high-end travel rods. It includes eight models of 3-piece spinning and baitcasting rods that pack down to 32 inches or less to fit in carry-on bags. They feature Kigan Master Hand Zero Tangle guides with zirconia rings and titanium frames for durability, $460 to $530—stcroixrods.com.
Shimano: Together with Jackall Lures, Shimano adds the Poison Adrena series of bass rods. With Spiral X blank construction, the 12-rod series includes 10 baitcasters and two spinning models. Use of Infinity Carbon tape on the blank adds strength and lifting power, while keeping weight down, $399.99 to $429.99—shimano.com.
The focus of reel engineers has been toward reducing weight, while increasing power, a combination long believed to be incompatible. But with novel combinations of carbon and new alloys, plus nanotechnology, this dream comes true. Moreover, the drive toward technique-specific tackle has brought more choices in gear ratio, particularly in baitcasters.
Abu Garcia: The Beast, the latest in the popular Revo series, garnered the Best in Show Award at ICAST, the third Revo model to take the prize. This one is compact but heavy-duty, sized for bass at 9.35 ounces, but packs 22 pounds of max drag. Its oversized foam handles also increase torque, $349.99—abugarcia.com.
Lew's: Lynn Reeves' revitalization of Lew's continues to impress, offering several fine new models in mid-price ranges, all packed with top features. The Tournament Lite Speed Spool is all-metal yet weighs but 5.6 ounces. It packs 11 ball bearings and has a 6-pin, 27-position adjustable braking system for lures of all sizes and fishing conditions, $179.99. The BB2 Pro Speed Spool has extra line capacity (190 yards of 12-pound mono) for super-long casts. Oversized, titanium-coated line guide positioned farther from the spool also reduces line friction, $209.99—lews.com.
Penn: The Battle II, a revision of the popular model from 2010, has new keyed carbon fiber washers in the HT-100 drag system that boost max drag 10 to 15 percent. Corrosion-resistance also is improved with five sealed bearings and an anti-reverse bearing. Eight models from the 1000 to 8000 size, $99.95 to $129.95—pennreels.com.
Pflueger: The Patriarch XT is honed to 6.28 ounces with a judicious use of C45 carbon in the body and handle. A neat Cam-Lock sideplate allows quick adjustment of the spool brake without fully removing the side plate. Its Ultimate Brake System combines a centrifugal brake to control the first part of a cast, whereupon the magnetic brake takes over to guide the lure down, $249.95—pfluegerfishing.com.
Quantum: The Smoke Speed Freak is the fastest reel in company history, 8.1:1 It also has a Slimline ACS external centrifugal cast control feature that's easy to access but not in the way. And it boasts an amazing 25 pounds max drag in its low-profile frame, $199—zebcobrands.com.
Shimano: Curado, one of the all-time favorite brands of baitcaster, has been retooled for 2015. Curado I offers a choice of three gear ratios in five models, with SVS Infinity braking system, X-Ship frame, and Stabile Spool Design that reduces spool vibration. They also have generous line capacity, up to 190 yards of 30-pound test, $179.99. The company's flagship spinning reel, Stella, also has been updated with Micro Module gearing, reducing the size of gear teeth while increasing the number of teeth by 35 percent, which enhances smoothness and sensitivity without sacrificing strength. S-Direct gear alignment eliminates the slightest bit of reel handle play, which maximizes energy transfer. CoreProtect uses 12 different seals to block water entry into the reel, so no need to add oil, $789.99 to $819.99—shimano.com.
13 Fishing: This relatively new arrival on the reel scene continues to offer innovative ideas, the latest being the Concept KP reel. Four models with gear ratios from 5.1:1 to 8.1:1 are made of FeatherWeight Magnesium and Airfoil carbon construction to scale at 5.14 ounces. A Bulldog Carbon Drag and Japanese Dead-Stop anti-reverse give it plenty of power, $490—13fishing.com.
While mainstream companies continue to come up with neat new hardbaits, newcomers also are joining the scene. Several have expanded from the softbait market. Altogether, this category presents by far the most expansive and novel selection of new lures, so I focus on them here, leaving other categories for another time.
Lunkerhunt, the company that has twice taken the prize for Best of Show in the softbait category, offers new hardbaits including the Filet, a finely scaled 3-inch rattlebait with slim profile. And the 2¼-inch Mosquito is a finesse jerkbait with fine scales and big, protruding eyes, $7.99—lunkerhunt.com.
Softbait king Gary Yamamoto is offering a selection of cranks, jerkbaits, and topwaters. His Tenkuu jerkbait (2 sizes), Chikara crankbait (medium-runner and square bill styles) have a special eye that depicts a leaping bass, Shibuki is a popper, while Tate' (Japanese for "dance") is a surface walker, $7.99—baits.com.
Evolve Fishing, famed for the Vibra Grub, reveals the Soul5 brand, with novel shapes and translucent colors. Muscle Squared is a shallow square bill, with a flat body balanced to run straight at any speed. Victory Deep is a 3/4-ounce deep diver built to hit at least 17 feet on a cast. SoulJerk 115 is a jerkbait weighted to descend ever so slightly on the pause to work into deeper spots. Flat Slider 75 is unique, said to be a combination of a lipless bait, square bill, shallow diver, and flat-sided bait. With an oyster-style bill, it rolls widely, and flares out upon contact, $5.99 to $6.99—soul5tackle.com.
And Lake Fork Trophy Lures, widely acclaimed in the softbait arena, adds a line of hardbaits, including the Magic Popper and the 1.5 Finesse Square Bill, a little diver with detailed, natural colors, $10.99—lftlures.com.
While the use of their Spinbait in the "spy baiting" technique has received attention, Duo Realis offers other fine lures for the bass market, a total of 22 models, including shallow and deep jerkbaits, cranks, topwaters, and a rattlebait. Jerkbait 120SP is a 5-inch suspending jerkbait with a hard-cutting action. Popper 64 sits at nearly a 90-degree angle, giving bass plenty to bite. Pencil 110 is a husky topwater walker with a single-ball sound chamber to create a one-knocker sound as it sashays across the surface. On the other end of the depth spectrum, Crank G87 is a 1-ounce deep diver that measures 5¾ inches from tail to tip of bill, $13.99—duo-inc.co.jp.
Building on the acclaim of last year's Baitball series, LiveTarget brings the Yearling to market, a cluster of tiny fish on a clear body to present the illusion of a little school, Crankbait, jerkbait, and topwater versions are available, $17.99—livetarget.com.
Japanese pro and lure designer Toshinari Namiki enters the U.S. market with his O.S.P. (Osprey Spiritual Performer) brand. The Bent Minnow is a darting-style lure that's curved laterally, causing erratic action, like a dying baitfish. Rudra is a magnum suspending jerkbait (5 inches). Blitz Max is a shaped like a square bill, but with a coffin corner lip of circuit board to give it a delicate buoyance and good ricochet qualities, more than 20 other novels shapes and actions, $18.99 to $24.99—o-s-p.net.
SPRO adds three hardbaits. The long-awaited BBZ-1 Rat, designed by Bill Siemantel, is a big wakebait. This jointed 5-inch lure has a segmented tail, $29.99. John Crews brings Little John XL, a 3/4-ounce diver targeted for the 8-foot range. Like his other designs, it has flat sides to create a hard vibrating action, $11.99. Finally, the Rock Crawler is an Ozark-style craw bait in the tradition of the Wiggle Wart, but with a longer bill to reach 14 feet. Mike McClelland of Arkansas worked to give it a wide-wobbling, hunting action, $8.99—spro.com.
Yo-Zuri continues its tradition of offering innovative new finishes. Twenty years ago, it was the Crystal Minnow. Today, it's the new 3D Prism Finish, protected from imitation by international patent. The internal prism reflects light in many directions, simulating the appearance of a school of fish. It comes in 17 colors and 10 styles, including minnows, crankbaits, topwaters, and shad-style baits. The 3DB models also have a ribbed belly, adding a new vibration element to the package, $7.99 to $8.99—yo-zuri.com.
Lure designer Patrick Sebile has been busy with the Action First lineup, a large array of baits designed for bass. Models include the Bull Minnow (2 sizes), Bull Crank, a rounded square bill, Star Shiner (deep and shallow jerkbaits), and Squarebill Sunfish, a flat square bill. Two rattlebaits also join the team, the Lipless Seeker with pointy nose, long body, and loud rattle, and Vibe Machine, a fatter, belly-weighted bait with more subtle sound. Each is available in three sizes, $6.99—sebile.com.
Rapala continues to develop the BX (Balsa Extreme) series. The BX Waking Minnow has a wide sashay that resembles a bluegill or shad in distress. Buoyancy comes from balsa construction but it weighs 3/4 ounce, so it casts easily. An outer copolymer shell makes it durable. Ths BX Jointed Minnow and Jointed Shad also join the lineup. These baits have an internal X-Foil and 3D gills and scales for a realistic look, $12.99. The Scatter Rap series also grows with addition of the Jointed Scatter Rap, Scatter Rap Deep, and Scatter Rap Shallow. Their wide-ranging, hunting action stems from a uniquely curved bill that makes them move like no other lure on the market, $8.99—rapala.com.
Strike King has released a jumbo square bill, the 8.0 that weighs 1.5 ounces and measures 5 inches. Despite its short bill, it runs to 7 feet, with a hunting action that finds and contacts cover, $12.99. Lucky Shad is a new shad-style bait, weighted to cast easily and dive to 8 feet. The 1/2-ouncer comes in 11 colors, $6.29—strikeking.com.
Jackall offers a pair of new topwaters with plenty of splashing surface action. The 3/4-ounce Pompadour has flapping arms on each side like the old Heddon Crazy Crawler, but adds a tail propeller for churning action as well. Binsky is a wide-mouth popper that sports a spinner on the belly and also has a rear prop, along with a feathered treble, $14.99—jackall-lures.com.
Storm's Arashi Wake Crank is the shallowest runner of this hot new series, built to bulge the surface with its short, circuit-board lip, $8.99—stormlures.com.
The Bluegill is a fine addition to Rebel's storied lineup, a 23â'„8-inch square bill that runs in the 3-foot range, shaped and colored like the real thing, $5.99—rebellures.com.
Lucky Craft has added a spinner blade to rattlebait and square-bill styles with the LV-200 Spin and LC 1.5 Spin. The tiny willowleaf blades add flash and vibration to the package, $13.99 to $16.99—luckycraft.com.
Yuki Ito, lure designer and CEO at Megabass, reveals Derby X, with flapping wings to stalk the surface and tempt strikes from lunkers below. A unique tail spinner adds flash, $60—megabass.com.
For those who handle fish, most importantly tournament fishermen, several new products are not to be missed. I've been using Glory Bags in bass tournaments for seven years and I feel they represent a major breakthrough in fish handling. Those who share my boat are quickly converted. These zippered cocoons house bass within the livewell, keeping them unstressed, since they don't get jostled by other fish or wave action. They remain in fine shape and are scarcely handled once caught. To weigh or balance-beam fish, merely attach the bag's loop to a scale or cull clip, no tearing holes in fish's jaw, $79.99. Owner Tommy Ball adds his Glory Weigh Bag, which has a zippered mesh top to allow water flow, while the lower part is tough vinyl to hold plenty of water while transporting fish from the boat to weigh-in facility, with three carrying handles. No more leaky bags and waterless bass, $19.95—glorybag.com.
Water quality in the livewell is obviously critical to bass health. Based on physics, as water temperature rises, its capacity to hold oxygen declines, increasing the risk of stress to fish. To reduce temperatures in the well, which can rise on sunny days and in hot weather, Judy Tipton invented the VT-2, part of her New Pro Products line. This system adds a flush-mounted louver to the top of each livewell, which allows escape of warm air, including extra CO2, and adds cooler air as the boat runs down the lake. Inserted through holes cut in the livewell lids, these devices permanently improve water quality with no power or moving parts, $45—newproproducts.com.
To check the weight of a big bass, anglers employ spring or digital scales, most of which come with hooks that must be punched through the fish's jaw. In contrast, the new Cuda Grip & Scale can grip and weigh fish up to 50 pounds with an integrated scale. The aluminum-alloy jaws fit snugly, but don't damage fish. A non-slip handle with a tether help keep it on board, $54—cudabrands.com.
Rapala has added a new fish-friendly scale, the Rapala 15 lb. Touch Screen Tournament Model. It weighs fish on a pinch-clip that holds the jaw securely but without damage, and also stores fish weights and indicates the lightest fish for culling. Comes with eight floating cull tags with pinching jaws to hold fish and a carrying bag, $49.99—rapala.com.
Many excellent sunglasses designed for anglers are available. But sadly, for myopic folks like myself, few companies offer lenses for special prescriptions, including astygmatisms and progressive bi-focals. In today's world of aging anglers, I am not alone. Recently, I've been pleased with prescription polarized sunglasses from three companies— Maui Jim, Sport Rx, and Wiley X—who have the lab facilities to grind these special lenses. Maui Jim, based on Hawaii, offers an array of styles for anglers. Four lens colors and three materials are available among their selection of nearly 100 styles, $189 to $339 (non-Rx)—mauijim.com.
Wiley X glasses are highly regarded for safety, as all are ANSI safety rated, able to withstand .25 caliber pellets fired at 150 FPS, so they won't shatter if your partner launches a jig into your face. They also feature patented Facial Cavity Seals that block all peripheral light and wind, as well as bugs, dust, and pollen. Their Filter 8 polarized lenses are specially crafted with eight layers of material to provide strength and excellent vision in various light levels. Thirty styles are available, with a choice of up to six lens colors, depending on the model, $58 to $150 (non-Rx)—wileyx.com.
Sport Rx, based in San Diego, boasts a sophisticated lab that can fulfill a wide range of prescriptions in frame styles from over a dozen companies, including Maui Jim and Wiley X, along with Adidas, Nike, Oakely, Hobie, Ray-Ban, Bolle, and more. The interactive Prescription Analyzer on the company website helps define suitable styles, based on your prescription, or speak with a representative, $70 to $295 (non-Rx)—sportrx.com.