ICAST Show

The new Garmin trolling motor was unveiled among hundreds of other items at the New Products Showcase at the 2019 ICAST Show. The coronavirus pandemic has forced this year’s ICAST to go virtual and, for the first time, to be open to the fishing public.

If you hold the belief that the Fourth of July is our nation’s biggest celebration, and, if you count yourself among our state’s hundreds of thousands of fishers, then you’re in for another July fireworks display.

It’s about this time every year when fishing tackle manufacturers and wholesalers head to Orlando, Florida, for the annual ICAST Show. (Don’t ask what ICAST stands for; just know it’s the United States' biggest tackle and fishing trade show.)

For all those many years since the American Sportfishing Association has been running this four-day fishing feast — it began as the AFTMA Show two generations ago — ICAST has been open only to fishing industry folks, buyers and outdoors media (lucky me!).

Not this year: COVID-19 took care of that.

And that’s where you come in: For the first time ever, the fishing public will be able to check out, first-hand, the newest tackle and related fishing products for the coming year, and be able to tour the layouts for the lines the major tackle folks are, and will be, shipping to outdoor retailers — virtually, or course.

“All anyone has to do is find the website, icastfishing.org, and click on the banner to access the site,” ASA spokeswoman Mary Jane Williamson said Friday. “They will find a portal to the whole show, and will be able to access the New Products Showcase.”

The showcase is, to borrow a phrase from the younger crowd, insane! It’s loaded with new rods and reels, freshwater and saltwater, hard- and soft-plastic lures, new kayak models and other smaller watercraft, new tackle boxes, new or upgraded equipment and so much more that is takes you hours to see all the new stuff offered by familiar makes and their brands down to the start-up companies trying to find a niche in the billions-of-dollars business of fishing.

You can begin to access the website at 8 a.m. Monday, and virtual access will continue through the week. Best of all, you won’t be confined to the 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily hours of past years. You can work a day job — if you still have one — then enjoy the tour at night.

It’s a trip into the fishing world you’ll never forget.

Closer to home

Bill and Billy Humphries will have to find something to fill the void this week. Their Baton Rouge-based H&H Lures is an ICAST icon, and standing by their booth in past years, always has brought visits from some of the most recognized freshwater and saltwater anglers.

“We’re going to miss is, that’s for sure. In past years we already would have had the booth and products packed up and shipped and planning to catch a plane Sunday so we could be on the floor Monday to set up the booth,” Billy Humphries said through a sigh.

OK, so those tens of hours of prep time, isn’t what he said he’ll miss. It’s the personal contact, the seeing old friends and making new ones this pandemic-wrought abeyance has forced.

“It’ll be different for me and my dad. My first ICAST was in 1977, so it’s been 42 years for me, and dad has never missed one and he’s 84. That’s what this show means to us,” Billy Humphries said.

ICAST has settled in at the vast Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. New Orleans was twice a host, and the show has set up shop in Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis and, for thrills, Las Vegas.

The idea for folks like the Humphries, and so many others, is to write orders for the next year. So what about business?

“We made the right move and loaded up on product very early in the year,” Humphries said. “Then came the explosion in fishing. It took off and our business took off. You go into a place like Academy and shelves are wiped out. It looks like stores are having liquidation sales. So business has been good and we’re working long hours every day to fill orders."

By the way, H&H’s new product is the Sac-a-lait Slayer: “We had to put it on the backburner in 2016 when the flood came, but we’ve worked on it and we’re ready to put it on the market,” Humphries said.

There's more

The ICAST website will be loaded with more than products. The show holds unique seminars annually, and two from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership will be available to the public.

The first, Creating Coastal Habitat and post-COVID Jobs, comes up at 10 a.m. (CDT) Wednesday and will feature Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. The second, Building Better Models for Menhaden Management, is set for 10 a.m. Thursday and will tackle this highly controversial topic for both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic fisheries.

Again, the ICAST website will have a complete calendar of seminars and events.

Fishing’s hot

Hard to believe the action is as hot as what we’re seeing on the thermometer, but it is.

The Atchafalaya Spillway is wide open for bass, bluegill, chinquapin and sac-a-lait. Finding the right spots is always a problem, and months of high water have deposited new sand and silt, which makes it a challenge to avoid hitting the old reliable spots while finding the new hot spots for this year.

There’s always a cautionary note: Continuous high water levels means new snags will show up in bayous and canals. Be careful running these areas until you know water levels fall to a point where all the new snags will appear.

There’s no one lure working on bass in all parts of this vast overflow swamp. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and bladed jigs are good early in the morning with action on some topwater plugs and jerkbaits around cypress trees lasting into the late morning. After that heavy jigs and creature baits take over, and punching matted grass and hyacinths is a good bet.

Tube and hard-bodied jigs are working on sac-a-lait around treetops and laydowns, and bluegill and chinquapin are more active on the spillway’s south end. Start in Flat Lake and work northward until you find them in the lake and adjacent bayous.

Just know with the falling water levels where you caught fish yesterday might not be where the fish are today.

—Over on the Verret Basin side, word is water is falling fast. Piers at water level 10 days ago are more than a foot above water, and that means bass, sac-a-lait, bluegill and catfish are orienting to new spots to wait out the summer heat. Still, the best action is from first light until 10 a.m.

—Catfish continue to pound nightcrawlers at False River. Early morning and casting within 20 feet of the shoreline and bulkheads is the right combination. Catfish are in these areas feeding on shad.

Snapper update

Through June 28, Louisiana’s private recreational red snapper anglers have caught a six-weekend total of 424,717 pounds, an increase of nearly 53,443 pounds from the previous week from data compiled through LA Creel. The total is 54% of the state’s annual allocation of 784,332 pounds.

'Coach' turns 90

Remember John Zeno, the coach who retired to fish and made the cut-into-my-fishing-time mistake of opening tackle shop so many years ago? Can't forget him. He's turning 90 last week. All the best old friend and a wish for many more.