Not even a pandemic virus can stop fishing tackle innovation. Last week, the biggest brands in the fishing industry had their latest and greatest products on display during the ICAST 2020 New Product Showcase. Due to COVID-19 precautions, this year’s show was held virtually.

After three days reviewing products and voting online, members of the press and the fishing community nominated their favorite new products in 30 categories. Once again, kayak fishing took the top prize when Old Town’s Sportsman AutoPilot motorized kayak won Best of Show. The user-friendly kayak with a GPS-connected electric motor impressed the judges and the rest of the industry to win the greatest honor in the industry.

Now that the votes are in and the word is out, Kayak Angler put together our top picks from the New Product Showcase winners. Check out seven new products we think will be on your wish list for 2021.


Best boats and watercraft

Old Town AutoPilot

Cut out of Old Town AutoPilot fishing kayak

Old Town’s new Sportsman kayak powered by an electric AutoPilot motor has been winning over anglers since it was released early this year. With motorized kayaks all the rage among a new generation of anglers, the new boat represents the future of the sport.For five years, kayak fishing boats won the coveted Best of Show award at the ICAST fishing tackle trade show. Then, for the past few years, other segments of the industry took the top honor in the fishing industry’s greatest popularity contest. This year, we are happy to report, our sport once again impressed media, retailers and industry voters to win Best of Show at the 2020 ICAST convention.

The flagship to Old Town’s new Sportsman line of seven kayaks—ranging from paddle kayaks to pedal boats to three motorized models—the AutoPilot takes propulsion to the next level.

The Sportsman AutoPilot is built on Old Town’s tried-and-true tunnel hull, which is super stable, comfortable and easy to customize. The boats feature gear tracks, smart storage, strategically-placed rod holders and foam-covered deck.

Old Town’s Sportsman is a perfect platform for the star of the show, Minn Kota’s AutoPilot motor. The electric trolling motor is already popular with boaters and many kayakers have bastardized non-motorized kayaks to support one of the most advanced electric motors in the world.

The Sportsman AutoPilot places the motor in the center of the kayak for improved balance. Pull a cord, and the motor pops up for shallow water clearance. The AutoPilot can be powered by a 12-volt marine battery or an equally powerful lithium ion battery.

POV shot from fishing kayak. Hand holding remote control.
The Minn Kota motor offers plenty of features kayak anglers will love. | Photo courtesy of Old Town Canoes

Unlike other trolling motors, the AutoPilot is GPS- and Bluetooth-connected. The operator controls the motor with a hand-held remote control. Best of all, the motor can be programmed to repeat a track or run a course. But the most popular feature is Spotlock. Push a button on the remote, and the internal GPS holds the boat in position leaving the angler free to fish.

The GPS-enabled features pushed the AuotPilot to the front of the motorized kayak race and won the hearts of New Product Showcase voters, putting kayak fishing back at the top of the podium for cutting-edge innovation.

Best tackle management system

Plano Synergy Edge Flex

Case with dividers for tackle

Tackle management should be an extension of an angler’s brain. To stay organized and fish efficiently, lures, hooks, tackle and rigs must be easy to access and safe from the elements. Leave it to the leaders in tackle management to develop the most unique and customizable tackle trays ever.

The new Edge Flex 3600 and 3700 Stowaways combine the most advanced features in tackle boxes with an advanced divider system to fit the angler’s needs.

The Flex divider system can be customized to create long or wide cubbies that will accommodate a variety of lures and tackle of any size.

Case with dividers with lures in each compartment

Not only does the new Edge Flex tray organize tackle and tools, but it will keep them in perfect shape for years of fishing.The new boxes include our favorite Plano features such as a hard, clear lid allowing anglers to see the lures inside, easy labeling, and a Dry Lock seal and Water Wick desiccant to prevent moisture. To further protect metal parts, the trays use Rustrictor which coats the contents with a corrosion blocker.


Best freshwater reel

Shimano Vanford 2500

Fishing reel

For years, tackle designers have been chasing the highest sensitivity to feel the slightest bite. Braided line, graphite rods and fluorocarbon leaders transmit every vibration from the hook directly to the angler’s brain. These innovations allow you to feel a fish’s breath on the line!

In pursuit of ultimate sensitivity, Shimano has turned its attention to creating the smoothest spinning reel with the new Vanford 2500. Using their super stiff CI4+ frame to transmit the slightest vibration from the line, and super smooth MagnumLite rotor and MicroModule II advanced gears to reduce any vibration in the reel, anglers can be sure the slightest bump is a nibble not a wobble.

The MagnumLite rotor is ultralight to reduce start-up inertia by 48% for quick response to work a lure or set the hook. The MicroModule II advanced gears have fine-tuned teeth to mesh smoothly for solid, smooth retrieve. These features are combined with Shimano’s top components and materials for the smoothest, lightest and toughest light-tackle reels on the market.

The new Vanford line will cover everything from ice fishing to bass, walleye to trout and inshore saltwater. At a price point of around $200, Shimano puts the Best Freshwater Reel in any angler’s hands.


Best saltwater reel


Fishing reel

What do you do when you are famous for making the toughest saltwater fishing tackle? You make your saltwater fishing tackle even tougher! That was the motivation behind PENN’s new-and-improved Battle III spinning reels. Building on the reputation as a favorite among guides and charter captains, the new Battle III adds advanced features at a great value.

To beef up the reel, PENN used their CNC Gear Technology that mates the pinion and drive gears perfectly for reliable cranking power. Then, they housed the advanced gears inside a full metal body and sideplate to protect the reel’s guts from years of salt and grime.

All that cranking power is worthless without sturdy drag to back it up. Borrowing from their high-dollar models, PENN included the HT-100 Carbon Fiber drags. Carbon fiber drag doesn’t absorb grease to reduce friction; instead the space-age material reduces heat to keep the drag smooth and strong no matter how long the fish fights.

Somehow they added strength without packing on the pounds, keeping the reel light for all-day casting. And they didn’t add dollars to the price tag, either. The Battle III comes in nine sizes from 1,000 to 10,000 that will cost between $99 and $149.


Best hard or soft cooler

Yeti Roadie 24

White, square YETI cooler

Yeti’s Roadie 20 has been a favorite for kayak anglers looking to keep their catch cold. The small, hard-sided cooler fits perfectly in most kayak tankwells and Yeti’s thermal performance is unmatched for keeping ice cold for days.

We were stoked to see Yeti improve their bestseller to work even better. First, they added four quarts to the size and a few inches to the height to accommodate a two-liter bottle upright. I like to freeze water in old soda bottles and use them in the cooler to keep my fish cold without melting into a slushy mess. For super cold storage in the hottest weather, I add high-performance Yeti ice packs that are colder than frozen water.

As for our favorite improvement: Yeti replaced the awkward metal carry handle with a heavy-duty strap and rubber grip that takes up less space. Even better, to keep the Roadie 24 in the kayak, Yeti included integrated tie-downs. The new latches are easy to open with one hand and the same indestructible hinges make the Roadie 24 tough enough to go kayak fishing.

Best kids tackle

Abu Garcia Gen Ike EZ Cast

Reel on a fishing rod

Keeping kids fishing means keeping them interested. Engaging young minds requires cool tackle and hip gear. Abu Garcia took youth angler retention seriously when designing the new Gen Ike EZ Cast baitcasting combo.

Young anglers want to use the same gear as their mentors. And, high-quality, high-performance tackle will produce a more enjoyable fishing experience, as well as put more fish on the hook.

Abu Garcia’s Gen Ike EZ Cast combo is approved by pro bass angler Mike Iaconelli. Combining cool color combos and a modern design, young anglers will be hooked with the combo’s good looks.

Then, to make baitcasting easier and less frustrating, Abu Garcia included an innovative brake system that virtually eliminates tangles caused by overcasts and line twist. Three ball bearings keep the reel running smooth and the 6-foot rod is a better fit for smaller anglers. At $49, the EZ Cast combo will keep kids on the water and money in their parent’s pocket.

Best lifestyle apparel for women

Simms Fishing Products Challenger Jacket and Bib

Left: rain jacket. Right: Bib

Weather is the biggest obstacle to fishing—anglers who can beat the elements will spend more time on the water. Now women can have the same great weather protection as their male competitors. Simms redesigned their popular Challenger Jacket and Bib with a more feminine cut and the same advanced wind and rain fighting features.

Anglers exposed to the elements will appreciate the three-way adjustable storm hood that keeps out rain and spray without limiting movement and field of vision. Simms wrapped the system in its top-of-the-line Toray Delfy fabric. The tough and light material is breathable and wind- and water-resistant through the worst downpour or gale.

A large pocket on the chest is an easy fit for smartphones and an internal swatch of chamois is perfect for cleaning spray and raindrops off sunglasses. Kayak anglers will appreciate the sealed wrists and extra-long collar that further prevent water from entering the jacket. The bibs include the same Toray Delfy fabric and comfortable cut with felt-lined hand warmer pockets for cold, wet days on the water. Combine the Challenger jacket with the matching bib and there is no place for wind or wet to get in the way of fishing plans.

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“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.


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