Historically, this is the time of year when I write about my adventures at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades and some of the new or innovative products I saw while walking up and down seemingly endless aisles of gear designed to both enhance your fishing experience and separate you from your money.
This year, however, the show moved from its home at the Las Vegas Convention Center to Orlando, Fla., which put it just a little beyond my reach. So, I’ll have to take a different approach.
ICAST is the annual gathering spot where manufacturers such as Berkley, Eagle Claw, Rapala, G. Loomis, Raymarine and other industry heavyweights meet with vendors who are looking for products to sell in their establishments or through their websites. It is also the place where newcomers to the industry hope to have their innovations recognized and picked up by industry buyers.
One of the fun places to visit is the New Product Showcase, where buyers and media members have the opportunity to get a close look at what product designers hope will become the latest and greatest thing to hit the market in certain categories. Buyers and media then vote for the products they feel are the best in those categories.
The big winner at ICAST 2014 was Johnson Outdoors Watercraft, a company that is probably best known for its canoes. They carry the Old Town label. In 2013, Johnson entered the rapidly growing market of kayak fishing with the introduction of the Predator, a product that turned heads and quickly garnered them a share of the fishing kayak market. Just one year later, the company went home not only with the Best of Show in the boat category, but also with the Overall Best of Show for its Predator XL.
Anglers who have been thinking about purchasing a fishing kayak but have been holding back due to concerns about craft stability, seat comfort or the need to use a paddle, can set those concerns aside. Like many of the top-end fishing kayaks that have hit the market the past couple of years, the Predator XL comes with an adjustable seat that allows the angler to sit up where he can see and feel comfortable casting. And with its tri-hull design, the kayak is designed for stability and to permit an agile angler to stand up while casting, but the real innovation is the craft’s three interchangeable consoles.
One console is a simple flush-mount unit that provides the angler with a wide-open fishing platform. The Utility Console is designed to hold sonar equipment along with the battery required for its use. The third and most innovative is the Minn-Kota Console, which includes a trolling motor that provides hands-free navigation and 45 pounds of variable thrust complete with forward and reverse. Included on this console are an LED charge indicator, USB charging ports for cellphones and other electronics and a sonar mounting plate with battery storage.
If there is a drawback to the Predator XL and other similar kayaks it is their weight, which can be a bit much for some folks. At 13 feet long and 36 inches wide, the Predator XL weighs in at 92 pounds without any of the consoles in place. It has a maximum capacity of 600 pounds. Depending on how the craft is outfitted, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,999 to $2,699.
Another kayak that turned heads was the Hobie Pro Angler 17T. This kayak is designed for two anglers and has adjustable seat configurations that permit what Hobie describes as in-line tandem, social tandem and solo seating.
Social seating permits the anglers to face each other. As with its other fishing kayaks, Hobie outfitted this one with its Miragedrive system, which uses pedals to drive underwater fins to propel the craft so an angler can focus on fishing rather than paddling. This kayak is stable enough that two anglers can stand and cast at the same time. It also comes with a hefty price tag of $5,299.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.