ICAST 2016; Reels and Legs!

I occasionally attend fishing and hunting shows in several countries, and this year I made it back to ICAST. It's never been a favourite of mine, but this time several factors made me do it; I was invited by a friend in the trade whom I haven't seen in years, had some frequent flyer miles to spare and even a reward hotel night, and this year an extraordinary number of interesting reels are coming out so it was a good chance for me to browse them all in one place then decide on my plan of action for tests and reviews. So I made my way to the hot, humid, and extremely beautiful Florida, and decided to write this article and see how you'll receive it. If you like this sort of thing I will be taking you with me as I visit shows and factories and go fish new places etc, but if not then I'll stick to the usual material.

Before you read though you must understand the following; what I will write now is merely factual descriptions and impressions. None of it should be considered a final opinion or an accurate evaluation. It is true that I became quite familiar with some of these reels during various stages of development, but only actual fishing and testing of the retail product can be the basis of an informed opinion. I will try my best to show the pictures without saying anything, but when I do say something keep in mind that it's nothing but basic descriptions and initial impressions.

One final thing, the photography is atrocious because the lighting in the show was annoyingly dim, and I didn't use the flash because the glare would have made the photos even worse. Bad lighting means slower shutter leading to blur and all sorts of crap. You guys have insulted my cooking and I let it go because you're simpletons who wouldn't know good food if it hits you in the face, but insult my photography and I'll bloody draw reels from now on! 

On my way to the show I passed by this thing. I was curious about what's inside, but at $30 plus tax for an adult ticket I decided to pass. I really wish I could go back in time and skip college and years of hard work and instead build a tourist attraction that's $30 a pop. I would be really wealthy now. Anyway, I had to walk to the show because the night before I had read that parking at the Orange County Convention Centre costs $15, so I found a parking lot nearby and parked there for free then walked for 10 minutes each way. A good exercise and the 15 bucks remain in my wallet until I get to spend them on something that's actually worthy.

Lovely scenes. This city would be heaven on earth had it just had proper weather.

Escaping the punishing heat and humidity to the serenity of the humongous centre.

Yahoo! Myself in a fishing show needs a more powerful analogy than "a kid in a candy store". "David Cameron alone in a pig slaughterhouse" is more like it.

First stop was Ardent's booth. This is the Blue Marlin BMC which they distribute in the American market. It is an interesting case study of the power of the brand. It is designed from the ground up by the guy credited for designing Van Staal and ZeeBass reels, it has more innovative features than almost any reel out there currently, yet just because it does not come from a mainstream brand it has gone nowhere and most of the fishing public never heard of it. This reel is not to be confused with the surf reels he made under different names before it was taken over by Van Staal as the VR. The Blue Marlin BMC is a completely different reel built specifically for offshore fishing with some new design concepts. There used to be 2 versions of it; low ratio BMJ (jigging) and high ratio BMC (casting), but now I can only see the BMC version on Ardent's site. Not sure if the BMJ version is being discontinued or if it's just Ardent that no more carries them. The "Blue Marlin" company is a dealer in branded OEM reels, and to the best of my knowledge this is the only proprietary reel they sell. Of course I don't know if the novel features will work or not or how the reel will perform in real life, but I hope it gains some momentum because it would be a shame to see it disappear without ever knowing how it compares on the water to existing offshore reels.

The other side of this 60 size. They come in 60, 70, and 80 sizes.

Other than distributing Blue Marlin reels, Ardent also retails some reels branded with their own brand. This is one such example.  

The show has a couple of casting pools. I occasionally do fly fishing and it was interesting seeing some accomplished casters in there displaying some outstanding line control.

Quantum Smoke "SpeedFreak". Not particularly new and I have no idea why I photographed it. Probably because the name never stops being silly no matter how many times I hear it.

And its information card.

Fin-Nor have updated the Offshore reels.

Another look at the new Offshore

And its information card. Testing would tell if there are actual improvement, or just them jumping on the wagon of planned obsolescence as mastered by the two Japanese giants and sadly now infecting the entire industry.

The new Fin-Nor Mega Lite. Quite smooth and is indeed light.

Information card.

Hardy used to be built in England, then they went to Korea, then they reintroduced some English made models, then I lost track and interest.

Some new lines that I will certainly try. YoZuri's lines never disappointed me.

Its card.

New from Seaguar. Mono never goes out of favour for me whether it's just a leader or a full spool for serious trolling.


This new fluorocarbon is on my radar too.

They caught my attention with the claim of thinner diameter. We will see about that.

Not new, but Sunline remains my favourite brand so I will be ordering this fluorocarbon leader as well. I mostly use mono leaders, but in certain cases I find myself having to use fluoro such as when jigging on top of wrecks where the superior abrasion resistance pays dividend.

Off to Shimano

The Stradic CI4+ is being replaced with the new model CI4+ FB.

Not much information here. The old CI4+ was one of my top recommendations for freshwater use along with the Stradic FK, and very keen to take the new one out after some Zander, hopefully before Christmas.

The new Shimano Nasci. This little reel comes with the trademark cold forged drive gear. The gear is assembled in a less costly way than the ones in more expensive reels, yet it's still a cold forged one and in a reel that retails for around $100. This has the potential to be a top pick for this size class.

Another shot

And another

And the card.

The Socorro SW. Plastic construction, quite smooth, and also has a cold forged gear assembled in a less costly manner. Could be an excellent value at $130 retail ($105-$110 street price), but needs to be extensively tested first. In the past Shimano had gear issues when the gears of the early Saragosa F would come apart.

The new Speedcast.

And despite not being new, a visit to Shimano must include the two flagship reels. This is the freshwater Stella.

And the saltwater Stella in the mammoth 30000 size.

This is a lure tank where the guy on the top left demonstrates the underwater action of freshwater bass lures. Again some incredibly realistic lures there and I actually salivated a little inside my mouth watching!  They were demonstrating lures for freshwater bass though (largemouth, smallmouth, etc.) which I never fish for so I moved on.

A selection of lures

To Penn

The new Slammer III. Has nothing to do with the old Slammer, rather just recycling an old known name.

A cut-out Slammer III. It is intended as a competition to the Saragosa SW and priced with an eye on Saragosa's prices. Comes in a wide range of sizes from the small 3500 to the mammoth class 10500.


Five years after the first Torque, comes the Torque II.

And in gold. The original Torque was on my top lists for the past 4 years, and now it's gone since it's discontinued. I'm looking forward to fishing the new one in due time because I remain a believer in its simple and sturdy design.

This is the "New Product Showcase" enclosure. Products are laid around in sections, and buyers and members of the media browse through them then fill out a ballot card choosing their favourite products, and this is how the prizes of "Best in Show" are awarded. It sounds like fun, but it's unrealistic to decide what's "best" based on votes by random people who looked at each product for a few seconds. This is why I've always dismissed show prizes.

One of the contenders for best new freshwater reels is this 2-speed spinner. I have probably used every 2-speed spinning reel ever made (except some obscure OEM reels) from the 1968 DAM Quick Super (two speed version) to the now defunct Fox Stratos TS. Regardless of how good or practical they are, they remain a lot of fun to play with.

The reel changes between high and low gear ratios with a pleasant and quite easy turn of a dial.

Its information. Needless to say, this is a re-branded OEM reel that would be available bearing different brand names.

Among the new products was this stunning poster of common US fishes which is used to identify and measure caught fish. There is a child inside me who is a sucker for shiny colour posters, and even today I still have many on the walls of my hobby room where I store and work on my fishing gear. Too bad I couldn't buy it right there.

The new Okuma Metaloid. Full metal construction and has stainless steel gears. For a price around $200 this could be something special if it works as it should.

The Okuma Makaira 30000.

And the 20000. It doesn't take much guessing to tell that they are going after Stella SW with these. The Okumas are noticeably heavier than their Shimano counterparts, but weight is not their most distinctive feature; the Makairas are tight to spin, and I'm not talking Penn Torque tight or even old Saltiga Z tight, rather talking end-of-spectrum Van Staal surf models tight. They are not as smooth as the Stella either with more gear noise than the Japanese reel. They have dual drag knobs that resemble those of the Metaroyal and TwinSpin, but the function is different and is actually similar to Shimano's Baitrunner Spool II. I'm not sure how popular this feature will be since it requires some getting used to.

The information card of the Makaira.

I now rig my jigs and poppers with hooks and trebles by Owner and Gamakatsu, still I had to stop by Mustad out of Nostalgia. Growing up Mustad hooks -which used to be made exclusively in Norway- were the best money can get. Now most of the line is "made by Norwegian technology in a state of the art facility in China", in what might be the longest statement of origin in human history! 

Moving on to Daiwa's very large booth.

The new Revros

The Emblem Pro EX. Not new, but no harm in looking at the handsome lines of these reels.

The new Crossfire. Basic entry level construction and pricing but the styling comes from more expensive Daiwa reels. 

The new Black Gold reels. At the time of writing the original 1981 Black Gold is still in production, but that could change.

They come in a range of sizes beginning with the 1500 (not pictured).

And ending with the 8000.

They have metal frames and side covers

And a composite "air rotor". Don't be confused by the misinformation floating out there; "air rotor" refers to the shape of the rotor, not to its material. On the expensive reels this air rotor is made of Daiwa's dense carbon-fibre reinforced composite called "Zaion", while in lower priced reels the "air rotor" is made of the standard plastic composite usually referred to as "graphite". Even in standard plastic as found in the new Black Gold, the genius design of this rotor with the compression arches makes it flex slightly less than the much heavier plastic rotors of mid-range Shimanos. Being factual in my approach I usually don't use expressions such as "genius" to describe anything, but this rotor design has become the most blatantly copied feature in spinning reels today from unknown blank reels to some flagship reels of mainstream brands, therefore deserved the rare exception of being called genius.

The drive gear is very very large, and they had it tied to a common gear for size comparison. Also Daiwa is now playing fast and loose with the definition of the "Digigear", but I will reserve the details for when I review a properly used and tested retail reel.

The size of the gear can be better appreciated when seen mounted inside the reel. All new Black Gold reels sizes 4500 and up have a back up anti-reverse.

And the information card.

The new Saltist, replacing the blue Saltist. The Saltist Nero (black) is a completely different reel and it's continuing to be produced normally. This new Saltist has two mag-seals, one in the pinion assembly and one in the line roller. Now I do not need to wait until I use the new Saltist to say that I do not recommend any mag-sealed saltwater reel short of the high end ones. The high end reels are fully sealed therefore one can justify the headache of the mag-seals, while in low-mid range reels there is just one mag-seal in the pinion assembly and maybe another in the line roller while the rest of the reel is not sealed. This gets you stuck with the special precautions for maintenance and cleaning in addition to the need for Daiwa's own service centres when a major repair or a full service are needed, all for no good reason. Not saying that there is something wrong with the reel itself, rather talking about practicalities. This would change if Daiwa make their proprietary fluid available so we can service the reels ourselves with a fluid that has the correct viscosity and magnetisation, but until this happens I will have to insist that mag-sealed saltwater reels short of high end ones are pointless, especially that the competition have great offerings. Now sit and watch Daiwa's people trash me over this.

The 2016 Certate. Has to be one of the smoothest and most free-spinning reels ever made. You just touch the handle and next you'll get strange feelings in your pants.

And no visit to Daiwa is complete without ogling their flagship family. This is the Saltiga 6500H

And the Dogfight 8000. The 2016 Catalina will sadly not be coming to the USA.

Florida Fishing and Wildlife Conservation Commission had a booth there as well. I'm always left at awe with how strong the traditions of fishing and hunting are in the USA. Truly the place to be for the outdoors men and women.

Overall it was a fun time, all the representatives I spoke with were helpful and courteous, and I got to see a handful of friends and been introduced to new people who hopefully will become friends too. My host who is dealer (buyer) kept dragging me around to make observations on gear he was eyeing, and I could only break free whenever he sat down to talk numbers, therefore this is not by any means a coverage of the entire show. Rather consider it a small window on what caught my eyes in the limited time I had there. And speaking of things that catch eyes, I have to express my admiration for the agents/models standing around some booths to chat up potential buyers. Nothing like the insane boobies galore found at boat and car shows, but instead some lovely ladies with gorgeous smiles showing some leg. This is the "legs" part in the title of this article in case you were wondering. Being always in a flirty mood it took a lot of discipline not to hit on some of them as they recited stuff about products that I don't care about nor even remember!!! If I didn't have a reputation to keep I would probably have gone after them with everything I got until I get brushed off by every single one of them!! 

That's all. As usual feel free to send feedback and comments via the contact form, and keep your eyes on the news page for any updates. I expect to be done reviewing, rating, or blogging about these new reels sometime around spring 2017 depending on my travel plans. I've received a couple of invitations from Australian friends and maybe I'll finally go fish down under, so if you don't hear from me again I'll probably be rotting in the basement of some hillbilly who plays quizzes for fingers!

Stay safe on the water and do random acts of kindness to people in need.


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Alan Hawk
July, 14th, 2016

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