ICAST 2018; O' Canada!

Two years ago I covered ICAST 2016, and asked for feedback and whether you want to see more of this sort of thing or not. I did not receive much input and thought you'd rather I used my time for something else, but then days before the 2017 show requests started coming asking me to do it. Unfortunately it was too late for me to do it, but I kept that on my mind and planned to go back this year despite the timing during a the final stages of the world cup. The following is a report of my wanderings in the show, and no need for feedback this time because I'm never doing it again. Why? You'll soon find out...

Naturally I would not pay $15 for parking at the Convention Centre, so I passed the venue and left the car in the parking lot of a business after asking for permission, and seeking permission is a must because if the car had been towed the rental company would've charged me all sorts of fictitious "lost revenue" charges. I then began the 10 minutes walk to the show which is not a bad deal for saving that money. Above is a map showing where one can find parking, and if you look closely you can see me walking down International Drive with a sandwich in my hands for energy. That's a steak and cheese, with added mushrooms because mushrooms make me feel sexy, but I digress.

10-12 minutes later I was there, but the heat combined with Florida's notorious humidity had taken their toll quickly on me. I was struggling to breathe.

The building did not have boats in front of it as it's supposed to, which felt worrying. Going inside, I was not hit by the usual heavy odour of dry sweat and old bait with hints of vinegary unwashed jeans stench that you fishos emit, and instead the attendees entering the building around me smelled like normal people! At that point I began to realise what happened, and panic set in.

ICAST was not in that building, and the event taking place here was a coin collection show. Asked someone where the fishing show was, and he said it's in a different building at the other end of this huge venue. My fault for not checking beforehand. I started walking, then walked some more, heat and humidity eroding my worth as a human, too tired and too thirsty, I started wishing that I'd collapse with a fatal aneurysm and be put out of my misery. I lived an interesting life and did fun stuff, so I was perfectly happy trading whatever time I had remaining on earth for the sweet relief of sudden death. Florida's weather can really mess up one's brain I now understand why the weirdest news stories begin with "A Florida man" or "A Florida woman" followed by details that involve insane things ranging from naked bank robberies to cannibalism. I digress again. Sorry, last time.

Yep, that's more like it.

Crowded, but not as crowded as I've seen in the past.

Free Wi-Fi. No thanks. I won't log into a public network that I don't administer just to have my photos of sharpened pencils stolen from the phone. Why do I sharpen pencils and photograph them to begin with? I genuinely don't know. 95% of what I do is bewilderingly pointless. But anyhow...

The main floor, where the action is. An important clarification before I begin. As you probably know I only form an opinion after extended testing and close examination of retail purchased reels. This can't possibly be the case with new releases that I'm handling on a show floor, so please consider all the following to be mere factual descriptions, initial thoughts, and first impressions. None of it should be considered a final opinion or an accurate evaluation, and as usual in due time reels will be properly fished then final conclusions reached and shared. Also forgive the quality of photos because I don't use flash to avoid distracting people conducting business, and there are usually other attendees around waiting to look at what I'm looking at so I can't take my time focusing and steadying to take better photos.

One of the best displays I've seen. The lures are on plates that move on a conveyor belt sushi restaurants style.

Casting pond. One of several in the show.

Let's see what Daiwa has

Turning 2 years old next January the Saltiga BJ is not a new release. One of the most powerful medium sized spinners on the market, and in many aspects a blue-print of what the next generation Saltiga will be. As fantastic as it is, I have only recommended it less than a dozen of times to people who insisted that service is not an issue. Like all mag-sealed reels it chains you to Daiwa's official service centres because they won't sell the magnetic fluid, and even worse these new models with the screw-in side cover require an expensive and hard to get tool to open. I've been opening them with sticky pieces of rubber and a lot of wrist strength.  

Not sure what's the deal with the messed up naming. It's not "Saltiga Bay", and "JDM" has no place here. It's "Saltiga Bay Jigging" (BJ), and it's sold officially in the US and other countries therefore not at all a "JDM" (Japan domestic market) model. It's quite strange to see the reel described as "JDM" in Daiwa USA's printed catalogue when the simple fact that it's in the American catalogue makes it not a JDM. It's like saying that you're taking a domestic flight to a foreign country, just makes no sense. Here you also see the rubbish about the monocoque being supposedly a breakthrough "one piece frame". It's two pieces, a housing and a side cover, just like almost every reel on earth has a housing and a side cover. The side cover in these so-called "monocoque" reels is screw-in instead of being attached by screws, which still does not make it a "one piece" frame no matter how much Daiwa's marketing tries. Actually the concept of a screw-in cover is not even new at all, and it has existed in spinning reels for decades. You gotta love that business model; take something that already exists, call it a catchy name, describe that catchy name erroneously and be absurd enough to insist it's "one piece" even when I'm standing there holding its two halves one in each hand, and now you have a pioneering reel "technology". Okay!   

Another oldie but goodie. The 2016 Certate HD, one of the earlier Daiwas built with that screw-in side cover.

The price is not bad, and it's not hard to find it discounted. The same fantastic power of the BJ, same quality construction, made in the Japan as well, only with a second tier gearing instead of the BJ's first tier one. For $300 less than the BJ it's a great deal though, and that second tier gearing is still made of precisely machined quality metals that you won't break or wear out during its life. Top tier gearing does make a difference in heavy duty bluewater reels that will be subjected to extreme stresses, but in this class of reels it's virtually all the same. That's not an invitation to buy it though. Just the thought process one would follow had Daiwa made the fluid avialable and provided the tool to open the reel in the box. Nothing unusual about this since other brands did sell tools needed to open screw-in covers, and Daiwa itself included proprietary tools needed to remove the handle's grip with some reels. As it stands though it's not worth the headache, and competition offers reels that do the same thing without busting your marbles over fluids and tools.

Moving on to the new stuff

This is the 2018 Exist LT, which debuted during the Japan fishing show in the first weeks of 2018.  This one is the 2000 with the straight handle grip.

$800. The most expensive freshwater reel made by Daiwa for normal production (commemorative special editions excluded).

That's the 4000 size with its T shaped grip.

This size is $850, and Daiwa now lists capacity in "J Braid" which is Daiwa's main braid. Shimano started that trend and for years have been stating capacity in "PowerPro" braid, which Shimano owns. In case you did not now where it falls, Exist is Daiwa's current flagship freshwater reel. I'm saying "current" because Daiwa changed the name of its flagship freshwater reel over the years before settling on Exist; almost everyone thinks that Shimano started the whole genre of luxurious spinning reels with the Stella, but actually Daiwa is the originator of the principle with the 1989's Tournament EX750, the world's first purposefully made luxurious spinner. Daiwa gave subsequent flagship freshwater reels different names, ending with the "Team-Daiwa Z" of 1999, before finally settling on the name Exist beginning 2005. On the saltwater side things progressed similarly with different names given until they settled on "Saltiga" in 2001. Let's though leave history to another occasion and get back to the show.

They had one disassembled and its main parts placed in a nice display box.

As usual with Daiwa's high end reels, parts are beautifully machined with a lot of attention to details. You can see the O-ring seals on the drive gear's axle to form a seal between the axle and the inner race of the mag-sealed ball bearings.

The diameter is bigger, and the teeth are larger and wider for better load distribution and increased strength/longevity.

Let's jump ahead into the enclosed "New Product Showcase" area because the photo I took of the Exist there better demonstrates the beauty of this reel. 

This is a new frontier in visual design. The semi-triangular cutout at the base of the stem, the slotted handle stem, the levelled spool skirt, and most elegantly the gearbox which gives an illusion of roundness interrupted by a pointy drop at the bottom. For the past 4 years I considered blue Expedition to be the most beautiful reel made, now the new Exist replaces it in this position in my book. Beauty is subjective of course, but I would be surprised if anyone disagrees.

It comes with a high quality bag that is accented with silver lines, but Daiwa still stops short of marking the bag specifically for "Exist" or "Saltiga". They don't do it in order to make the bags usable for other lesser models as well. Shimano goes that extra step and marks the bags with the name "Stella" in what I consider the ultimate touch of refinement when it comes to accessories.

The description card for the Exist. "One piece frame" bollocks aside, it explains how the light weight was achieved by the use of magnesium for the body in addition to the featherweight carbon-fortified plastic rotor (Zaion). Light indeed it is, and while I'm yet to get a piece I can test liberally the quality is obvious and my very critical eyes and hands found no blemishes. The reel though has one drawback that is shared with other small Daiwa models that have mag-sealed bearings on both sides of the drive gear; the magnets placed in these bearings to suspend the fluid do create a tiny bit of resistance. It's important to put things in perspective and understand that I'm talking about a minute amount of resistance that's not easily perceptible by most people and which remains nothing compared to rubber seals' resistance. The magnets pull the metal components of the bearing which creates a small resistance to movement, and while this is not felt in big saltwater reels because of the increased momentum and longer levers, I can feel it in these ultra light reels with their tiny parts. Not a big deal, nor even a deal at all. Only slightly relevant when discussing extremely fine details.

This is another new release, and since it was not released in Japan I believe it's the very first public appearance anywhere. The new Eliminator, which is way more significant than its quiet release implies. This one is the 8000 size.

Information card.

The 2500 size.

(Edit December 2018- design changes were made when the Eliminator reels entered serial production. The following no longer stands, only read it as historical information on pre-production reels). The Eliminator is basically the same as the 2016 BG, with one real change and a few minor/cosmetic ones. The real change is that instead of the screw-in handle attachment of the 2016 BG, the Eliminator's handle is attached by the hexagonal shaft and nut on the opposite side system. It's also missing 1 ball bearing along with a few inconsequential changes. I believe I have a good idea what these are, but I will hold off for now until I can write a full verified list after first hand examination when it's released. Regardless of these little details, it remains essentially the BG with the same metal anodised body, same rotor, same clutch, same handle stem build, same gears, same quality bearings, etc. The features are identical to those of the BG series, so if you want to know which sizes have manual or auto bail closure or which ones have the anti-reverse on/off switch just look at the BG line or check the review here.

Here is the main difference; the nut on the opposite side which secures the handle in place. The Eliminator is not to be confused with the JDM BG, which is exactly the same as the standard (export) BG, cosmetics and bearings included, only with a hexagonal shaft handle attachment instead of the screw in handle of the standard (export) BG. The excellent news about the Eliminator is that for the different handle attachment style a few unimportant changes, the reel is $20 cheaper than the BG across all sizes. That usually isn't much when talking about more expensive reels, but in this case the $20 dollars is roughly a 20% discount on the price of a BG which is already a peerless value for money. The screw-in handle remains a superior design to the hexagonal shaft, but in this class of reels you will not and should be cranking larger fish straight with the reel, so if you can only live with periodical removal of the handle and lubing of the hexagonal shaft to prevent binding the Eliminator would be an unimaginable value for money. When I reviewed the BG a couple of years ago I certainly couldn't see how the value could be improved any further, but Daiwa just managed to do it with their top engineering and the benefit of having their own manufacturing facilities without a contractor in the middle.

Speaking of the BG, the original 1981 Black Gold could be going away, at least in the US. I noticed its absence, picked up a copy of the 2018-2019 catalogue, and while the classic Tournament SS and DF-100A are still there, the 1981 Black Gold is gone. As time goes by I'll find out if it's still going to be made and sold in other countries or if manufacturing is being discontinued. It will be missed if the latter.

Speaking of extremely low priced reels, here is the Sweepfire.

It's a bottom-end reel, a category below low-end reels, but it's a functioning one that casts and retrieves line and plays fish against the drag, and is sold for $20. Just think about this. Its built, assembled, sent across the ocean, importation duties paid on it, then sold for $20 and they still make a profit of it.

How about the Strikeforce?  

Same thing, works and brings in fish, sold for $15, and Daiwa is making a profit of it. Calling it dumbfounding is an understatement. I do not review these reels because they fall below my threshold of $60 where there are more than a thousand reels worldwide and no one could possibly stay on top of even a quarter of that. Just showing the extraordinary things a smart industrial enterprise can make happen. On a side note, look at how Daiwa is now openly abusing the "Digigear" marking, putting it even on the very bottom of the products' ladder. It used to be found exclusively on the Saltiga, and back then it meant exotic wrought alloys made expensively to the highest standards. Now you can just go to Daiwa's booth and do a cute dance and they will stick a "Digigear" sticker on your behind and give you a certificate of authenticity for it.

Lastly, the new Saltist Back Bay LT. This reel comes in two sizes at the moment, 3000 and 4000 , and sells around the $200 mark. I made a list of the Daiwa BG spin-off reels in the 2017 "What Reel" guide, but this reel is certainly different to these spin-offs. The most important difference is that that the Saltist Back Bay has a machine cut aluminium alloy drive gear of higher grade than the drive gear found in the BG and its spin-offs. It has a mag-seal though, so you need to run away as fast as you can if you know what's good for you. The competition offers fantastic reels with similar or better internals but without the unobtainable magic fluid nonsense. 

There was a good presence for the Chinese OEMs. Other than the obvious, some of their other customers are retailers from countries where the population has low purchasing power and mainstream reels are generally out of reach. Believe it or not, in many places around the world a $50 Shimano Nexave is considered a dream reel whose pictures people print and hang on their walls in hopes that one day they can afford one. That's because in many of these places the average hourly pay for a college graduate is 30 cents, meaning that one needs to work 166 hours or 20 days without spending anything on food or water to save for this reel. I don't want to do the same calculations for a $1300 Stella 20k because it's going to be a depressing number. Another type of customer of these OEMs are popular brands that specialise in other things such as line, lures, knives, hooks, lubes, etc. who buy these reels from the OEM and resell them with their own brand printed on them as a side line. Not a bad idea and could be a good option for occasional fishermen who fish for a week or a few days each year during a vacation or similar, and don't want to spend much for a reel. A third type of customer is big box outdoors chains and the like, who have the reels made bearing their store brands and offer them as a cheap alternative for those on a tight budget.    


And some more.

A "monocoque" reel that costs $550 per 40 pieces, which comes down to $13.75 per reel. No fuss, and no one is claiming it's the best thing since free porn.  .

Always wanted to show you an OEM catalogue.

More. These are just samples of the many options available for each line of reels. These lines are designed modularly for maximum flexibility in accepting different optional parts. Large OEMs have immensely large catalogues, some even on DVDs, with literally hundreds of options in various materials or alloys available for retailers to choose every little detail and build a reel to a certain budget big or small.

Ardent reels are an example. They find reels that serve a particular purpose and retail them under their name, and they become your contact point instead of the manufacturer.

This company used to be named "Release Reels", then changed the name to "Truth Reels", then a few years later they changed it again to "Seigler". At the very beginning of the company they advertised an upcoming "Release SG spinning reel" and even had a blank link for it on their website, but they dropped it. Naturally I was dismayed because spinning reels for me are a fetish and not merely a tool. The more there is the happier my life becomes. If Seigler reads this, please revisit the idea of making a spinner. I mean pretty pleaaaaase!

Accurate they had a small booth as usual. I know, the quality of this picture is atrocious. I'll seriously consider investing in a good phone that takes nicer pictures indoors.

Into Okuma's den. Yep, I dared to make this cheesy pun, their logo being a bear and all. What are you doing to do about it?

The new Makaira 10000 spinner with its rubberised T shaped handle knob. Not sure what's taking them too long to release it. I've seen what appeared to be final pre-production reels more than a year ago. Hopefully they will be out soon.

This display shows the stages of forging the stainless steel drive gear of the Makaira. Impressive.

Jumping again into the "New Product Showcase" enclosure to keep things tidy. Okuma now offers the Azores in a blue finish and is discontinuing the silver one. Costs $10 more,  and for that you get a nicer machined drag knob, improved gearing, and of course the bragging rights that come with this stunning colour.

Its information card. There has been a blue Azores out there in Asian markets for at last a couple of years, but it had a plastic drag knob in smaller sizes. My feeling is that this new US release is nicer, but of course it remains just a feeling until actual testing is done. The model naming has changed for this US release, so now it comes in 4000, 6000, 8000, and 14000 sizes.  

The new Surf 8-K. The model name is clever, using "K" instead of three zeros just the way we abbreviate model numbers in online chat. I mean it's almost as clever as my fantastic pun on the bear and den, but not quite. This reel has caught my eyes since I first saw one in April. The quality seems there, it has a rapidly progressive drag, very slow oscillation, a rotor brake, all in a $100 package. If it performs acceptably it would be a very nice deal, but if it performs well or better it could be the Daiwa BG of the long cast world. We shall see.

The Tundra TU80. Not a new reel, just showing what Okuma's bottom end reels look like. It's usually found spooled in a combo, but can be bought on its own for about $18. Same as similar reels discussed earlier, it's moulded/cast, assembled, lubed, shipped, taxed, then sold for $18 and there is a profit in there. Keep that on mind next time some service centre bills you $10 for a screw or $20 for a bearing and try to convince you it's what it costs. Just tell them they are free to rob you blind but there is no need to insult your intelligence as well.

Speaking of robbery, one is advised to bring their own food because the prices here are so outrageous when I first looked I though someone printed the GDP of Ireland by mistake. If you are an exhibitor whose company gives food allowance it might not be a big deal, but if you're eating out of your pocket you better add 5 extra minutes to your lunch break so you can spend it crying in the bathroom.

Lure tank always makes for a fascinating viewing. I wonder what actually happens when I'm out there casting lures thinking I'm recreating the realistic action these professional demonstrators create. Am I actually doing that or is fish down there looking at it and going "yep, that's a fisherman". Seriously, these demonstrators deserve applause for the way they make lures come alive.

Another superbly interesting viewing is the bass tank. I don't think they had that in 2016, but I could have missed it.

Majestic fish. Never caught a respectable sized black bass before. Hope I will get to do it in this life, because with my luck I'm sure next life I'll come back as a drag washer or something.

PureFishing's booth. Penn had a thing similar to the heat station where they keep fried chicken in grocery stores.

This is the new generation of Spinfisher, the VI (or 6). That's a welcome sight because the previous Spinfisher V (or 5) was not a good reel by any measure with its notorious gear problems that might have set some sort of a record for modern reels. You might remember that during my tests I had a catastrophic gear failure, and that was just the beginning of a plague of similar mishaps, so much so that they had to release a gear upgrade kit for it. Notably that kit included a brass pinion as well because the original brass pinion in the reel was awful

That kit was well made and a considerable improvement, but at ~$65 the total price of reel + kit became higher than the price of the vastly superior and fully sealed Spheros SW, and you still had to install the kit which was a big job involving full disassembly and fine tuning of the gear shimming which is not the simplest of jobs.

The new Spinfisher VI seems intent on turning things around. It has higher grade gearing with a machined aluminium alloy drive gear in sizes up to 5500 and a brass one in bigger sizes. With their sight apparently laser focused on the Spheros SW, they say that the water resistance of the Spinfisher VI is better than that of the old V. Another major change is the drag, where they dropped the large bottom drag of the previous Spinfisher V and went with a simpler top stack drag in this new Spinfisher VI, again following Shimano's example where the Spheros SW has a top stack drag only. Penn obviously aims to position the Spinfisher VI as direct competition to the Spheros SW, and the 2016 Slammer III with its large bottom drag as direct competition to the Saragosa SW with its similar drag style. The Slammer III missed the mark so far and recently Penn started upgrading their line rollers to reverse a poor design choice, but looking at the new Spinfisher VI nothing immediately jumps at me as a potential issue. Of course nothing is final or real until actual production reels are tested and fished, but I have a positive feeling about this new Spinfisher and think they did a nice job.

The largest size Spinfisher VI, the 10500. That's a "Mammoth" size class reel with what is supposed to be good gearing for $250 only. Spheros SW line does not offer a Mammoth sized reel, so if the Spinfisher VI turns out to be operationally sound it will have a unique uncontested offering in this price range. A $250 Mammoth reel is something I see myself opting for as a backup reel to be placed in checked-in luggage while I take a Stella SW or other expensive reels in hand luggage flying to warm waters. I keep inserting the condition "if it works" or "if it's proven" etc. in this article because it's all up in the air until real life testing takes place. A reel is not only good gears or a big pile of drag washers. One needs to see how these gears will survive continuous stresses, how the drag responds and functions cold and hot, how strong and durable the clutch is and if it can repeatedly take the maximum drag pressures without failures, if something will bend too far, if something will corrode with basic care, if a moving part will be jammed or clogged by rust or debris, and the overall manner different components work together to produce what I call "fishability" and a good user experience. That's the reason I'm cautious with any statements and why it takes me longer to give a final opinion.

Then there is also a long cast version of the new Spinfisher VI. It comes with the improved gearing as well, but that's not a breakthrough since the Shimano Ultegra CI4+ reels have the legendary gearing that's light and tough and of bigger diameter than most similar reels. The real potential advantage of the new Spinfisher VI LC (long cast) lays elsewhere; water resistance. If you check the 2015 and 2017 "What Reel" guides you'll see me always giving a nod to the old Spinfisher V LC for the fact that it's better protected against water intrusion than any other long cast reel made by a mainstream brand. You might not have a need for a long cast reel that can take heavy splashing or drenching, but anglers contact me from different corners of the world where fishing conditions can be that demanding. I hear from people who climb down almost vertical rocky cliff faces, stand there getting pounded by waves, and needing to send light lures far away without having much back space to swing. If the new Spinfisher VI LC proves to be trouble free and its water resistance is the same or better than the old one, it will continue to be uniquely positioned to handle these situations until another mainstream brand catches up and makes a long cast reel with better water resistance. I almost lost hope in Penn seeing the direction they have been heading for the past 6 years or so where "online reputation" seemed to take priority to making good reels, but now I see promising signs that things are heading into the right direction. I'd love nothing more than seeing Purefishing making good reels that I recommend to anglers, because -like Zebco Brands- they seem to provide constantly good customer support to people everywhere. With Shimano and Daiwa the quality of service can vary based on where you are, but I rarely hear from someone who's unhappy with the service from Purefishing or Zebco Brands.     

This is the new Spinfisher VI LL (live liner). Well, not exactly. All the photos I took of this reel turned out to be horribly out of focus, so I used my well known artistic talents to draw it from memory and this brilliant almost-photographic rendering is the result. It's the last piece of this massive release of the Spinfisher VI family. It also receives the improved gearing, and Penn seem to be saying that it's sealed. With the rear knob and top lever this type of reel is close to impossible to fully seal, so that's one thing I'll be very interested to examine and report on. If they actually sealed it, and if the reel works well, that could potentially be another completely unique offering.

The new Conflict II LC (long cast). Houses the same upgraded gearing as that of the Spinfisher VI LC, but in a plastic body and rotor for weight reduction. It's not sealed. Looking at everything that's out there now, the long cast reels market has never been richer or had as many options as it has now. I'll actually need to change my M.O. because with the large number of these releases I can't continue to pile long cast reels up then do occasional beach marathons. I hope I can work something out.

The Torque 2 in bailless configuration for surf fishing. Why am I photographing it? Because I can. Ha!

From PureFishing to the other conglomerate, Zebco Brands.

Picking up the surf fishing thread, nothing new this year from Van Staal. The latest addition was a year ago, the VR50. Neat, fully sealed, and very reliable. Just make sure to see it in person before you buy because I recommended it to some readers who later told me they found it to be bigger than they expected it to be. To help you visualise it, the overall size is similar to a Stradic FK 4000 but with a deeper spool.

This Quantum Cabo was missing the bail arm bolt. I hope Quantum people removed it to show customers the magnetic bail system, because I hate to think that a visitor who needed a spare part simply nicked it and walked away. Of course that's more of a joke than an actual possibility, but I seriously wonder if there is a record of incidents of theft during the show. There is an abundance of unattended tackle throughout which anyone can take and walk off. Daiwa has some reels tied down with anti-theft cables, but even these can lose their spools or handles in a heartbeat. And yes, even trade shows attended by professionals do suffer from theft. I've seen it in both fishing and non-fishing related events.

Another member of the Zebco Brands family. The new Fin-Nor Trophy.

Its information card, although not much information in there. It's another bottom-end reel that's not of a particular significance, but I took the photo to question the description "heavy duty". If this is a heavy duty reel, what would that make the Fin-Nor Offshore? Too much freedom with words?

The "New Product Showcase" enclosure, which is protected like a military facility, and if you tried to get into it without having one of the two allowed badges you'll be jumped on, beaten with sticks, then taken to the back and forced to write a suicide note then shot in the forehead. Well, not really. You'll just be stopped by a nice gentleman who will tell you very politely that you are not allowed in, which is as crushing as being beaten and shot because all the hottest and newest goodies are in there. In the past they used to place ridiculous "no photography" signs everywhere in this enclosure, which I and everyone else ignored, this year though the signs are finally gone. Yaay!

I'm quite set in my ways and rarely try new lures now, but here are some for your eyes

The fish has a resigned expression on its face, as if it knows the torture it will be put through and feels helpless about it.

These look genuinely delicious. I wish they made them in jelly -like gummy bears- for humans.

I no longer troll for the sake of trolling because it's expensive and boring, but when I drag a lure to catch bait fish while moving between spots I have good success with lures similar to the one on the top. The redheaded deep divers I mean. Mine are mostly Williamson because I know a dealer and can get them cheap, but any redheads work fine for me. 

Can you spot the electronic chip? The theory is while it's being trolled the chip creates electric pulses that mimic the nerve discharges of a wounded fish to attract bites. I never used such a thing so I have no clue if it works or not, but it's one interesting technological innovation.

Staying on this subject, where does one draw the line? How much technology one should embrace before it crosses the line and kills the "sporting" aspect of fishing? Some people I talk to have no limits, and they would use any technology available including drones with sonars to locate fish and guarantee a catch. Alright, but if we embrace the no-limit mentality for the sake of comfort, speed, and guaranteeing fish, wouldn't it be better to go all the way for the ultimate technology for getting fish in this manner? I'm talking about climbing into in your bed, logging into your local supermarket, ordering the exact fish specie, size, and weight you want, then have it delivered to your doorstep in minutes. My opposition to these things is not new, I've always considered even the primitive fish finders of the late 1980s to be crossing the line. It's supposed to be about trial and error, many failures then gradual success as one learns to find fish and catch it fairly, and ultimately the joy of catching a nice fish is rooted in the fact that it's not a common or easily repeated occurrence. If you get a personal best with each drop or cast you'd be bored to death, don't you think? Nothing against this product, but I'd rather rig a dead mackerel the good old way and use everything I learned to make it look alive and swim correctly, then weigh the line to take it to the depth my past trial and error taught me would be good to catch fish based on time of day and temperature. If I skunk it will only make next time more exciting, but it will certainly not make me consider using electric pulsation to stimulate strikes.

Don't tell me. I see what just happened here. I think I'm the world's first sufferer of ODS (obsessive digression syndrome). I just can't stop myself rambling about random stuff. Don't give up on me. I will seek therapy.  

If you've never seen a dredge in action, search for videos of them. Mighty interesting.

Do you really want to eat a fish that eats frogs?

I take that back. I'd take the fish that eats frogs any day over the fish that eats that thingy which looks like the offspring of a demon who had a one night stand with a lizard. The horror! 

Been using Daiwa's J-Braid for a while and find it a good performer. Talking about regular 8 braid strand in the white spool, not this new "grand" version which I'm seeing for the first time. If it's not expensive in 80# I might give it a try. 

Its card.

Just like rebranding reels, some retailers get bulk spools of line from manufacturers then spool it on smaller spools bearing their own brand, or they just get the line manufacturer to do the spooling as well. These could be a great service to fishermen if the quality is right. Not everyone can afford Seaguar or Sunline fluorocarbon. Of course I'm commenting on the subject in general. I have no idea if this particular line is quality or not.

Information card.

Look closely. They make a claim about the diameter followed by an asterisk and a disclaimer in fine line at the bottom. That's hilarious.

You know what it is.

South Bend/Matzuo line.

PowerPro is one of the most popular fishing goods with counterfeiters. Counterfeit line is not very common in major markets, but I've seen it in many other places during my travels. The problem is not only the lost profit for the brand, but the damage to reputation as well; the uninformed victims use the counterfeit line then suffer breakages and knot failures, and they naturally think that PowerPro line is crap and tell everyone about it. Line manufacturers need to include some type of hologram on the spools, and make sure it tears apart if someone tries to remove it to put it on a fake spool. These holograms need to change periodically and a dedicated page on the brand's website should show the latest one and contain a video of how the real hologram behaves at different angles. Well, I don't know the extent of that issue and if it was worth investing in holograms, but I'll just leave that information and suggestion here if anyone finds them of interest.

"Is it braid or is it mono?"... An interesting read here.

I was joking earlier about the stolen bail bolt, but this is no joke. Some pathetic tool stole the display spool or spools leaving only a box. I can't think of any other reason why it wasn't there. People were actively checking the products and casting their votes for the worthless "best of the show" awards, and it's unthinkable that anyone who's authorised to do so would remove the spool for any reason during the voting process. What sort of a sad spit on the face of humanity walks into a show and steals things just because he/she won't be facing consequences? You know, when I was young and simple I thought most people were good and a small percentage were rotten, but as I grew up and dealt with people I realised it's wishful naive thinking and that most people are disgusting in a way or another. I hope the amoeba who took the spool pays dearly for it, preferably by having the line tangle around his tiny junk right when a big fish pulls on it and makes a run.

Its card, and I will have to use my imagination because there is no line to touch and check. I hope the oozing anus cyst is proud of himself.

4 strand braids in general offer a good value for lesser challenging applications. 

The Tsunami Saltx. I'm usually able to tell quickly if a reel is a rebranded one purchase from an OEM, and the external shell of this reel certainly does not look like it's one of these. At this point I am about 85% sure the external shell (frame, rotor, spool, drag knob) is proprietary, and if I find out otherwise I'll add an edit here. For now though I'll treat it as an original design by the company executed for them by a contractor in China. I'm yet to look at the internals so I can't tell if it's all shelf parts worked into the proprietary shell or of it's a mixture of shelf and proprietary parts. I should reach definitive conclusions when the reel goes on sale. Regardless, it's quite refreshing to see them venturing into own designs, and I hope it works out and becomes a beginning for bigger things to come. The more competition there is the more options we as anglers have.

They call it a "big game" spinning reel, and I heard some truly huge claims at the show in terms of maximum drag and capabilities, and equally big claims about its degree of sealing. I'll hold any thoughts for now until I get to pit it against some fish and see what's what. It's not wise to draw any preliminary conclusions about something that is new without existing references or a previous generation that sprang it.

A quick look at what's beneath the spool. One thing that I can comment on now is the drag clicker sound, which has a loud and very pleasant ring to it.

It's a standard rebrand, but the interesting part is that the retailer is a Spanish company. I did not expect them to be trying to penetrate the US market since normally these companies remain in Europe. For example Hart, another Spanish retailer, has not tried to establish a foothold in America to the best of my knowledge. Anyway kudos for trying and wish them luck.

Before leaving the enclosure I saw further proof of the silliness of the "best in show" awards; a man and two women filling up three ballot cards using a list on the man's phone. He'd read out the choices, and the women would write down what he said. I talked about it before and told you these awards are not given by a panel of experts who spend months testing and comparing, but rather by votes cast by buyers and media members who enter the place and look at the items or give a handle a few turns then decide what's the "best". Absolute degeneration and a mockery of basic common sense. It's no wonder then that some brands would resort to shameless mobilisation of voters just like with those three who were writing down choices without having a clue what they were voting for. Of course I did not participate in this "voting" joke. Have no idea who won what this year, but when you see winners flaunting the "award" please feel insulted instead of being impressed.

Some stunning art here, and the action is captured beautifully. Never knew about these feeding habits of GT and  Snook. Live and learn! 

Back in the day, before the rise of Japan, if you wanted good mono you looked at Germany. Maxima and Ande were top choices both made in that country. Not sure if that's still the case or if some of it is made elsewhere. Maxima Ultragreen is the mono I bought more of in my life than any other, and it always stood to the test. Haven't used it in years though since I fell in love with Sunline and some other Japanese mono.

13 Fishing has one of the largest booths at the show, which indicates to me that they are quite serious about making a mark. The company sells rebranded OEM reels, but they also have two proprietary models which are own deign inside and out. Here they are

Prototype X

Flat bail wire. Don't know what the company says about it, but it would reduce weigh while maintaining a good bit of resistance if hit from the front. A standard round section wire would have better resistance to side hits though.

And the top of the range Prototype TX.

I hope they make them in lager sizes soon. Wouldn't mind going out on a few dates with one.

Fun place to be, well organised, and if I wasn't on a very tight schedule I'd have spent more time there talking with like-minded people. You come across visitors from every continent on the floor and there is always something new to learn. I wish they opened it one extra day and sold tickets to the public during that day so they can enjoy this experience. Yes, I know why it wouldn't work. Just making an unrealistic wish.

Final stop, Shimano.

The new Catana FD

Nothing of particular interest here. Just thought I'd keep it harmonious by showing one of Shimano's bottom-end reels since I've shown some of Daiwa's and Okuma's.

We then take a swing from bottom end to highe end; the 2018 freshwater Stella, or Stella FJ outside of Japan. This is the 3000 size.

And this is the 4000. I received a loaner exhibit reel from Japan in March right after the end of fishing shows there, and while I wouldn't pass a final verdict based on pre-production reels, my initial impressions are this reel is a leap forward. The 2014 freshwater Stella was a bit quieter than the 2010 Stella, and that 2010 reel was pretty equal to the 2007 model in my book, while the 2007 reel was slightly more powerful than the 2004 Stella. So going back 14 years the reels have either been marginally better or the same, and I was never excited about these small incremental improvements and you wouldn't recall me fussing about any. The 2018 Stella though might do the trick. As explained in the Sahara FI's review. I dislike the way the body curves upwards, but regardless of this aesthetic objection I have a few superlatives to attach to this Stella...

First one, it's the smoothest reel ever created, and you know I am very precise in using these superlatives. If you find me saying this about another reel, check the date because it would be years ago and of course things improve and the old bests can be bested. The gearing noise in this new Stella has been dampened to the point one wonders if the drive train is still metal. When metal contacts metal there is bound to be feedback, but in this reel they managed to reduce it to the point of raising suspicion that it's a prank reel filled with nylon gears. Do yourself a favour and find one and spin the handle at least once before you die.     

Second superlative, relative to the degree of water protection it has this is the freest spinning reel I have seen to date (people commonly refer to this as smoothness which is a mistake). The handle turns with less resistance than anything anyone has ever produced at this degree of water protection. This Stella has moved past the "turning butter" analogy to "turning water", and if you remove the handle seal you're into the territory of "turning air". Do not remove the seal, I'm just telling you what happened when I did it during my initial experimentation with the pre-production reel. I opened it to see how they reduced resistance this much, and found two strokes of genius; the first is that there is no longer any rubber friction around the pinion, and instead there is a multi-stepped unit creating a labyrinth that water can't get through despite there being no contact between parts. For the good measure this labyrinth has hydrophobic coating that makes water bead and struggle to go anywhere. Shimano tested this in lesser reels and now it was ready for the flagship. The second stroke of genius was that they looked for resistance in the most unexpected of places- the anti reverse clutch. Shimano put a new proprietary clutch in the Stella which doesn't even have the faint bit of resistance created around the sleeve by the brake cylinders. To design a new clutch for the sake of eliminating this infinitesimal bit of resistance is something that speaks of a certain state of mind where absolute refinement takes precedence over cost effectiveness. I's not cost effective to design and manufacture a new clutch for sake of a small improvement in free spinning, but Shimano did it in their standard-bearer.

In addition to that, the Stella now feels as responsive and efficient as Daiwa's very best. Gear geometry has improved to further reduce unwanted power loss via sliding, and you get more output for your input than in any other reel except Daiwa's latest flagship. There is no definitive way to "measure" it, but it's something you feel if you' have enough experience with various generations of top reels. That's not exactly a superlative, but equalling the very best in this area, Daiwa, is still an achievement.

Notably the new Stella has the bail mechanism in the opposite rotor arm instead of beneath the bail arm as usual, which has also been tested in a lesser model before it appeared in the Stella. This helps with weight reduction because it distributes weight more logically instead of having everything on one side then adding useless weight to the other side to balance the rotor. I'll talk more about this in future artciles.

No one matches the aura of exclusivity Shimano gives to the Stella. It has its own catalogue, elegantly kept free of text on the cover except Stella's name in silver lettering, and inside it you find photographs reminiscent of the romantic photographs found in select British countryside sports magazines.

You'd think you're looking at a photo of a fly fisherman using an a vintage Hardy Perfect reel on a Palakona rod.

And a bit of technology talk too, with black and white photo and no flashy colouring in keeping with the overall style.

Interestingly both Daiwa and Shimano released their freshwater flagship reels in the same year, which gives us the chance to look at the contrasting styles without wondering if age difference could be a factor. It appears that each brand has settled into its own groove when it comes to the top product- Daiwa is the Ferrari, futuristic and aggressive with advanced composites and magnetic seals, while Shimano is the Rolls Royce that delivers quality in a more conservative and reserved manner as apparat from the classic minded use of metal in the rotor, body and side cover, and the absence of excessive cut-outs or carbon accents etc. Daiwa now makes what I believe is the most beautiful reel I've seen, while Shimano has the smoothest and freest one, both are quite ahead of everyone else in winding efficiency and responsiveness. I kept recent freshwater articles limited to value reels, but if I get enough interest I'd happily do a 18'Stella vs 18'Exist review next year.

Leaving the show, I almost cried in horror thinking about the walk back to the car. By then I was carrying about 6 extra kilos in catalogues and 3 sample reels I picked up from a contact, and the heat was even worse than when I arrived that morning. I began the journey, but after a hundred yards or so I decided it can't be done and turned around and went back to the convention centre, then sat on the ground in the shade thinking what to do. I had a flight out to catch in about 4 hours, had no idea how taxis worked in Florida and even if I did I was not willing to waste an hour waiting for one just to get a ride to the car, so I decided to count on the comradery between fishermen and hitch a ride. Went to the parking lot and scanned for potential helpers until I found an elderly gentleman getting ready to get into his car. Approached and asked if he'd give me a ride to where I parked because it was too hot and I was tired, and the extremely fine and generous gentleman said he'd do it for $20. The horribly muggy weather was making it hard to even draw a breath and the sun was slowly cooking my skin, so I said yes....

Once inside the car he looked at me and said "you're not Canadian are you?". I said "no I'm not, why?". He answered "all them damn Canadians are thieving conniving butter-chukers". Well, he did not actually say "butter-chukers" but rather something that rhymes with it which I'll not write for the sake of decency. I stared at him in utter confusion so he volunteered to explain that "them Canadian buns-of-mitches will screw you when you're not looking and I ain't giving no rides to no Canadians". Again he did not exactly say "buns-of-mitches" but I'm trying to keep it family friendly. He was becoming animated, with jets of spit hitting my face whenever he cussed the Canadians, so I just turned my head towards the window and went to a happy place in my mind where I ate ice cream watching the world cup with no one spitting on me. The 5 minutes ride -which felt three times as long- finally came to an end as he turned into the lot where I parked, and as I handed him the $20 he said "you've been awfully quiet, you're not on of them damn Canadians are you?". I opened the door and got out, then leaned in and said "I'm Canadian indeed, but I couldn't tell you because I needed the ride". I'm not Canadian of course, but I was hoping that he hates them enough to throw the cash at me and proclaim he doesn't want money from a filthy Canadian. Unfortunately though he kept the money and instead went on an obscene tirade which involved allegations that my poor mum was prolifically promiscuous! Before I closed the door and slipped away a final jet of spit hit my face, but to be honest I didn't mind it very much because it cooled down my searing skin which was being eaten away by Florida's sun.

That wasn't my finest day. I wanted to save $15, but ended up paying $20, walked in a weather that makes you welcome being covered in other people's saliva, and was verbally and emotionally abused by that man who probably hates Canada more than Eric Cartman hates hippies. Such a bright chap I am! Anyway, this was officially my final ICAST coverage, unless they move it to a place that has normal weather such as Maine or Vermont, or even better, to Canada so that I won't stumble upon that gentleman again!


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Alan Hawk
July, 16th, 2018

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