The buzz at this year’s ICAST 2023 is the return of new gear and fresh faces to the sport. The big news at the world’s largest sport fishing trade show was the addition of 180 new exhibitors and hundreds of new products. For the second day, Kayak Angler was on the show floor searching out the best stuff for fishing and paddling.
Best New Boats, Tackle and Gear from ICAST 2023, Part II
If you’ve been fishing for years, chances are you have a Shimano Stradic spinning reel in your arsenal. The tough, smooth and inexpensive spinning reels are an icon of salt and freshwater fishing. For 2023, Shimano redesigned the Stradic to be even more reliable without adding to the price. ICAST attendees were so impressed with the redesigned Stradic they awarded it Best New Freshwater Reel at the industry awards.
According to Shimano pro-staffer Captain Richard Black, the new Stradic is equivalent to Shimano’s flagship Stella of six years ago. That’s because Shimano engineers were able to trickle down technology from the high-dollar Stella to the affordable Stradic. For example, the new Stradic features the Anti Twist Fin on the spool to improve casting distance and reduce wind knots. Infinity Drive decreases pressure on the handle while Duracross drag increases smooth power on the line.
One of the common failure points on a spinning reel is the roller bearing in the bail, but Shimano’s X-ship protects the moving parts from water and corrosion. That’s just a preview on a few of 15 Shimano technologies available in the new legendary Stradic. Even though I have several classic Stradics in my quiver, I expect the new Stradic to be my next addition for years of reliable fishing.
Shimano also won a best-in-show award for their new Mastiff fluorocarbon as best inshore fishing line. Captain Richard Black spools up with the thin and subtle fluorocarbon for snapper and other sharp-sighted fish. “I can tie my hook directly to the mainline to reduce visibility in clear water,” he says. For years, freshwater bass anglers have relied on fluorocarbon fishing line to finesse largemouth and smallmouth. I look forward to fooling speckled trout, flounder and redfish with small baits and Mastiff fluorocarbon.
We look to Onyx Outdoor for great life vests at a reasonable price and they answered with the Air Span Angler. Harboring features usually only available on more expensive life vests, the floatation device is focused on comfort in warm weather.
The Air Span provides increase air circulation. As you cinch down the six adjustment straps for a snug fit, air channels in the back open to increase ventilation and cool the wearer. To further improve fit and increase comfort, the mesh shoulder straps stay cool and won’t dig into your skin.
The Air Span Angler is loaded with pockets without increasing bulk. Our favorite feature is the tool holders and speed patch that keeps most important gear in easy reach. All this technology and ergonomics contribute to safety for only $109. If a PFD is expensive, you may not buy it. If it is uncomfortable, you probably won’t wear it. The Air Span Angler solves both these problems leaving anglers no excuse to wear a life vest.
Mustang Survival showed off three new and redesigned inflatable life vests in the Membrane Inflatable Technology line. The MIT 70, 100 and 150 offer increasing levels of floatation and new features.
Starting with the MIT 70, the popular inshore inflatable PFD offers 15.7 pounds of buoyancy and now has an inflator inspection window so you can monitor the status of the trigger mechanism. Stepping up to the MIT 100 goes to 28 pounds of buoyancy. The latest version can be converted from automatic inflation to manual inflation. For offshore anglers, the new MIT 150 boasts 38 pounds of buoyancy and versatility to convert from automatic to manual inflation.
If you’re concerned with ending up in the water unconscious, go with the automatic inflation. To paddle in wet conditions or go from paddling to wading, use the manual mode to control when the MIT inflates. All of the MIT life vests feature our favorite Membrane Inflatable Technology air bladder that is super thin and stretchy and easy to repack.
While uncertain economic conditions make other companies hesitant to invest in innovation, NRS is going full force with one of their most productive years for new stuff since before the pandemic.
The new Zander PFD has rounded foam panels that fit like a glove straight off the shelf. Usually it takes months and years to wear in your PFD to fit your unique body shape. With the Orbit Fit System, NRS goes with graded sizing so a size small life jacket uses less foam than an extra-large model. Not only is the foam form-fitting, but the life jacket is comfortable like a pair of stone-washed jeans.
I like the two low-profile front pockets with fold down rigging shelves and smaller internal pouches. When expanded, the pockets are large enough for a small tackle tray or smartphone. When empty, the pockets lie flat against the PFD to stay out of the way. NRS’s emphasis on new life jackets is the result of in-house testing and redesign. The process allows them to quickly incorporate user input to improve the life jacket’s fit and function.
The biggest news from NRS is the new Approach fishing raft in 12- and 10-foot sizes. Continuing the features of the popular Slipstream model, the Approach is designed to fit in a truck bed or rooftop and light enough for one or two anglers to manage. Carrying over cool features like rod tubes incorporated in the raft frame and an integrated anchor system, the Approach is a pocket version of the big water Slipstream. To improve stability, NRS engineers dropped the floor a few inches and added an angler brace in the bow. To increase storage and minimize weight, the Approach features waterproof aluminum gearboxes under the seats.
Even though the Approach is designed for Class II rapids, our group of paddlers couldn’t help discussing bigger water we would take the sporty boat. We are big fans of NRS and my closet and garage are full of their gear and clothes. Looks like for 2024, I’ll be making more space for their latest creations.
The mad scientists at YakAttack have been busy creating even more must-have accessories for kayak fishing. Adding to their recently released TowNStow kayak carts, they’ve added a Scupper Cart with posts that insert through the kayak’s rear scuppers. As usual, YakAttack added features to make it the best scupper cart available. They added torsional bars and rubber bumpers to support the kayak. The cart features push button tabs and sturdy kickstand to make it easy to load and unload the boat. Like the TowNStow carts, the scupper model is modular so you can take it apart and store it in the kayak hatch.
For anglers using live and forward scanning sonar, YakAttack added the Switchblade Live with a 32 or 64 inch bar to dangle the sonar transducer in the water. A raised and bright orange arrow on the top allows the angler to point the transducer at a mark. The bar can be angled up or down to improve the transducer’s perspective. Deploy and retract the bar by leaning it forward. The Switchblade is compatible with Garmin and Lowrance transducers. Push a couple of latches and the Switchblade quickly installs and removes from a gear track.
Another cool product is the TracPak storage system that extends storage to the gear tracks. Connecting to a gear track, two small boxes stack on each other to hold bags of soft plastics, tools and other stuff that would normally float around the kayak cockpit.
Tournament anglers are excited about the new LeaderBoard. The 28-inch polycarbonate bump board features built-in identifier holder. Sliding culling tabs allow you to set the tab at the length of your shortest fish so you can keep track of your tournament bag. The LeaderBoard is complemented with gear-track and BlackPak storage options to securely keep the board out of the way and in reach. Best of all, the bright orange LeaderBoard floats.
One of the smallest new gadgets is a big idea. The Through Hull Panel Connector and Wiring Kit allows you to turn your BlackPak crate into a battery box by securely running wires through the crate walls. Added to YakAttack’s long list of accessories, these new models are built with high quality components and smart design.
For the past few years, everyone has been switching to Plano’s Edge tackle trays. Available in all the standard sizes, these boxes include a crystal clear lid, one-hand latch, water-resistant seal and Rustrictor anticorrosion and water-absorbing desiccant material. For kayak anglers, the Edge tackle trays are the best option to protect expensive lures from exposure to salt, moisture and grime.
To keep up with trends, Plano has released a new models including jerkbaits and large swimbaits. The jerkbait box uses soft cradles to keep jerkbaits in place. The swimbait box uses small hooks to hang large swimbaits up to 12 inches so they aren’t damaged.
To carry multiple Edge tackle trays, Plano offers Atlas tackle bags. The bags have EVA sides and lid for a hybrid hard and soft tackle bag. The sturdy, waterproof and skid resistant hard bottom protects the contents. A magnetic Dropzone on the lid secures pliers and hooks. Add in bungee strap rod holders and smartphone pocket. With these features, the Atlas tackle bags are the perfect compliment for the Edge tackle trays.
Our friends at Scotty have been busy over the cold Canadian winter releasing several new accessories for this summer. Our favorites are a phone holder and two camera mounts. The 139 Phone Holder accommodates smartphones from 2 ¾ and 3 ¾ inches wide on a dual ball joint for infinite adjustment. The 134 Action Camera Mount also uses a dual ball joint to hold a GoPro or similar camera. The click-in camera base allows you to quickly insert and remove the camera.
Both the phone and camera mounts come with post mounts, gear track mount and bar mounts. The 131 Action Camera Boom uses light and buoyant carbon fiber tubes for a maximum height of 56 inches. Dual ball mounts at the camera base and slip disks at center joint and the 241 Side Deck Mount allow infinite adjustment. For fans of Scotty’s mounting bases (like us) the new camera and phone mounts are a welcome rigging addition.
Sea Eagle had prime space at the front of the show floor to display the redesigned FishSkiff 16 rigged with a small gas engine in the stern and trolling motor on the bow. The popular inflatable skiff with comfortable swivel seats and drop stitch floor and gunnels has been updated with a six-inch inflatable keel in the bow to improve tracking and increase wind resistance.
To make the FSK16 tougher, the inflatable chambers are fusion welded and the keel has a reinforced keel guard. Even with the keel, the 16-foot inflatable hull only weighs 95 pounds. For the engineers at Sea Eagle good enough is never good enough and they keep improving on their already excellent designs.
To fool the fish, Panther Martin is hitting the water with several new lures. Two of our favorites are the Sonic Whammy, HybridHolographic and FishSeeUV SpikeADelic blade baits. The Sonic Whammy features blades with a split and slight bend in the end. This creates a deep thumping sound and erratic action that fish can feel as well as see.
Panther Martin has been on the forefront of using UV colors to attract fish and the HybridHolographic and SpikeADelic literally glow under a UV light. That’s because fish see ultraviolet light, so these lures quickly get their attention. The HybridHolographic uses a synthetic fur that doesn’t absorb water to stay fluffy and present a larger profile. The SpikeADelic goes deep in the grass with an integrated weed guard and large spinning blade.
Making a big entry in the kayak fishing accessory game, YakGadget brings an out-of-the-box approach to personalizing your fishing machine. John Thomas, inventor and angler, started by designing kayak motor mounts and has expanded into over 100 accessories. Going back to the roots, YakGadget offers a half dozen options for mounting motors, stakeout poles and anchor trolley to the kayak’s stern.
The Quick Stop line management allows you to wrap the anchor rope around a small spool to quickly retrieve or deploy the anchor without leaving line in the cockpit. Or, add the Quickstop Pole Anchor System with new Tower Upgrade which is an ingeniously simple way to deploy a stakeout pole. A cord attached to a collar around the bottom of the pole makes it easy to drop and pull the anchor pole. Release the cord and the anchor pole goes down then pull the line to raise the pole. Compared to more expensive options for anchor pole management, the $200 Quickstop Pole Anchor is a great bargain.
YakGadget has an answer for anglers looking to add a live-view sonar transducer with the Quickscope mount. The mount attaches to a gear track and holds the transducer over the side of the boat. The bar can be rotated to point the transducer at a target. If the transducer strikes an underwater rock or the bottom the pole kicks up and out of the way. And these highlights are just the tip of the iceberg. With 133 accessories for fishing, visiting the YakGadget booth was like being a kid in a candy shop.
The team at HUK Gear were dancing on the ceiling after the Women’s Pursuit Coverup won the Best in Show award for Women’s Lifestyle Clothing. The UP50 coverup is designed with moisture wicking material, cinched hem and lightweight and loose hood to protect exposed skin after a long day in the sun. While the Pursuit is listed as lifestyle apparel, the technical aspects make it ready for fishing.
For a serious performance shirt, I was impressed with the feel of the ICON X sun shirt. The moisture-wicking UPF50 material is perforated for a soft feel that won’t get clammy like other sun shirts. Instead of a thumb hole in the sleeve hem, the ICON X uses a small tab to pull the sleeves over your hands. If you don’t use the feature, simply cut away the tab.
HUK is already a big player in performance fishing gear these and other new products continue the legacy.
Sixty years ago, Korkers were the best option for anglers fishing slippery surfaces. The concept started with rubber tire tread spiked with nails and strapped to the bottom of the angler’s boot. Over half a century later, Korkers released the most advanced and versatile wading boots and water shoes with OmniTrax interchangeable soles.
To firmly attach one of the nine sole options to the shoe, slip a tap in the toe, click a couple locking pins to the sides and stretch a rubber tab over the heel. From soft felt soles to a variety of spikes and plates or soft and hard rubber soles, the OmniTrax system allows anglers to match their shoes to the setting without changing their shoes. For summer fishing, we like the Korkers AllAxis shoe and Swift sandals.
In addition to the interchangeable soles, these water shoes feature quick draining soles and either quick-drying hydrophobic mesh or open sides. Whether you are wading the river or hiking a trail to the launch there is a Korker shoe and OmniTrax sole for the job.