Ever have that dream? You know, the one in which you're a kid again, aimlessly wandering the never-ending candy aisles at some otherworldly Willy Wonkian confectionary? In my own particular version, every turn reveals increasingly alluring treasures, each more enticing and delicious than the last.
Funny thing. Fresh from the 2012 ICAST show, held within casting distance of Disney World, I can't kick the feeling that I've recently emerged from dreamland again — only this time, luscious candy in the aisles has been replaced by tantalizing fishing tackle. In my world, this isn't that big of a stretch.
Strolling up and down the rows of new angling gadgets and gear, I really did have the perpetual feeling that the next booth could reveal something special, or at least re-energize my passion for a particular category.
Beyond the cool new digs, what I also like about ICAST is that every company seems to be super jazzed to be there; folks like Humminbird's Jeff "Kolo" Kolodzinski visibly buzz with excitement while explaining why you need to be fishing their particular lure, rod, line, tool or unit. Love it when someone's pitch gets me fired up to fish.
Nowhere was this infectious enthusiasm more evident than among the rod masters from St. Croix. Following wins in two "Best of Show" categories, including Best Freshwater Rod and Best Saltwater Rod, Rich Belanger and Jeff Schluter could hardly contain their enthusiasm for the new Legend Xtreme. This rod, the boys told me, sports a totally original handle design that is covered in what they call Xtreme Skin — a semisoft material that sheds water and fish slime, and provides an incredibly comfortable grip. When you first throw baits on this rod, it almost feels too light. But that's the beauty of it. The thing connects you to lures so directly and intimately that it's almost like handlining, except with loads of power to spare. The Xtreme is one gem of a fish stick.
Right around the bend, I stepped into Rapala's vast display and found myself talking to fellow writer and Great Lakes sage Dave Mull. Each of us couldn't wait to spool up with Sufix's new 832 Leadcore. Thanks to a dual outer layer of Dyneema and Gore fibers, the stuff is said to dive 30% deeper and offer 70% more strength than traditional 'core. It's also reportedly a lot more sensitive. We'll see. It's certainly thinner than the stuff I'm currently spooled with; and lets you load leadcore on a smaller reel than the traditional 5000 and 6000 sizes we usually use.
Company reps say because of its strength, 832 Leadcore is only offered in 12 and 18-pound test — because you'll rarely require heavier. If it makes good on even half these claims, it'll be a major advance in trolling technology. I'm all about things that make fishing easier, simpler — especially trolling. Mull concurs, grudgingly calling 832 Leadcore a potential "game changer" — a term each of us like to utter about as much as "cold front."
Moving on . . . In the "we knew this was coming" department, Minn Kota unveiled the iPilot Link. To quote Keanu Reeves from the movie, The Matrix — "Whoa." Your trolling motor now talks to your sonar, which also links up with your LakeMaster GPS maps — and everything is controlled with a handheld iPilot remote that's got an LCD screen of its own. Johnson Outdoors' Kolo showed a group of us how you can actually sit in your boat, parked in your driveway, and pre-program your trolling motor to follow specific contours on a digital lakemap.
I know a certain hump that's holding mega smallmouth tonnage right now; think I'll dial in the contour and let my Terrova take care of boat control. (Remember what I said about making fishing simpler?) You can also program the motor to parallel a specific depth contour — say a 12-foot weededge — while keeping you perpetually a cast away from the key zone. Whoa.
Anyone here speak Latvian? Sooner or later, some of the most radical ice fishing lures you've ever seen will arrive on North American soil. In the meantime, you've got to check out the jigs and lures from Shark. If you're not fluent in Latvian, just click around on their website until you see some of their radical Mormyshka tungsten jigs and other tackle, including some of the coolest UV lures I've ever laid eyes on — super secret-agent stuff. I stumbled through communications with Shark's director, Andrey Shipilov, who eventually conveyed that he's working a deal with a particular U.S. company to bring his tackle stateside. Andrey was even kind enough to slip me a selection of his wares — at least enough to tide me over until the top-secret stuff arrives.
Stay tuned. If I ever leave the water again, I'll be back for ICAST, part 2 . . .