As the producer and host of Blue Fish Radio since 2013 and a member of Outdoor Writers of Canada, I have an open invitation to attend ICAST – the world’s largest sportfishing tackle show. This year it’s virtual, and I’m blown away by just how well their virtual tradeshow technology works with my blind access voice synthesizer software.
The ICAST annual show is where fishing companies come together to show off their latest innovations. I was proud to be a voting member of the “best in show” competitions this year. I’m hoping that by sharing some of my insights I’ll: inform anglers about new ways to assess new products; challenge manufacturers to do more to make fishing accessible; and, inspire other anglers, who like me, are fishing without the benefit of sight.
I voted based on what I, as a blind angler, liked most. Below are some of my choices and why they appeal to me.
Johnson Outdoors makes Minn Kota, Old Town Sportsman kayaks, and numerous other leading fishing brands. I’ve been a fan of the GPS features built into Minn Kota from the beginning, and for this technology to be integrated into a kayak is amazing. I’ve been tooling around with all manner of technologies on my Blind Fishing Boat since 2007, so as a blind angler and boater, I can well appreciate the benefits of integrating auto-pilot features into a fishing kayak.
Shimano’s new Vanford spinning reel just made my Stradic CI4 reels one generation older. It’s great how Shimano moves innovations down through their different brands, making sure all their reels current regardless of price-point – the more you pay the more innovations you get. The Vanford incorporates a variety of innovations that only a few years back could only be found on Shimano’s flagship brands. It’s Shimano’s relentless drive to make their reels virtually disappear in your hands, so what you feel is what’s at the end of your line, whether it’s structure or the bite of a fish, it’s like I’m touching it with my finger.
The latest changes to Shimano’s Zodius line of freshwater rods is another example of how Shimano takes their proven top-shelf innovations and incorporates them into their other fishing rod lines. What could only be enjoyed last year in one of their most expensive fishing rods, a fishing rod grip that conveys way more tactile information, is now available on Zodius rods. For me, a fishing rod is like my white cane, it tells me what’s in front of me by transmitting what it touches to my hand. Casting, Setting hooks and fighting fish is important, but 99% of any angler’s time is spent using their fishing rod to feel what’s down there. These new Zodius rods have just improved my ability to visualize the underwater world.
Eagle Claw manufactures my favorite fishing hook, the Trokar TK150, the world’s best dropshot hook ever. This year they upped the anti by introducing the TK25, the same TK150 hook but now with a bait keeper innovation called AXS Keeper. The idea that the bait can move more naturally and keep bass from shredding the soft plastic lures is a game-changer and I can’t wait to give it a try.
As a blind angler, I prefer vertical fishing techniques over horizontal ones that often depend on pin-point accurate casting. So, when Shimano introduces innovations that give me a greater ability to feel my lure even when it’s 300 feet below the boat, I’m one happy angler. The new Trevala PX saltwater rods are made using their proprietary X-technology to increase overall strength and control and eliminate rod twist, but mainly they are just a lot lighter. I can’t say enough about the importance of a well-balanced rod-reel combo to maximise the ability to feel what’s taking place at the end of your line. The more the tip outweighs the rest of the outfit, the more you need to tighten your grip on the rod handle to keep the tip up. Flexing the muscles in the forearm and hand detracts from the ability to feel suttle bits of information being transmitted up the rod to your hand. I spent a lot of summers hand-lining for North Atlantic Cod off Canada’s east Coast earning money to put myself through university, and while the technique of jigging for Cod by holding the line with your hand may seem archaic, it works amazingly well. Introducing a fishing rod between my hand and the fishing line transforms fishing into angling, but Shimano is always finding better ways to keep me feeling my lures and the fish as if the line was still in my hand.
Keeping my hands warm is an imperative. Cold hands diminishes my ability to feel, and since I’m depending on my hands to pretty much see, having good gloves is a must. Fish Monkey Fishing Gloves gets this and are continuously finding ways to keep my hands warm no matter what the temperature, while still allowing me to use my hands to feel what’s going on. Waring a big set of mits in winter isn’t so much a problem if you can see the tip of your rod. But, Fish Monkey understands that all anglers want to benefit from what they feel. I’m always amazed just how many leading fishing companies are finding ways for all anglers to become better at fishing blind. The Fish Monkey new FM38 Stealth glove for keeping hands dry, and their new FM50 Blocker to keep hands warm during winter, offers some of the best hand protection, comfort and access to tactile information on the market.
I was pleased to learn that Shimano continues with it’s policy of transitioning their innovative technologies into their less expensive rods and reels. Ten years ago Shimano provided CNIB Lake Joeseph Centre summer Camp for low vision, blind and deaf-blind youth with eight rod-reel combos that are still being enjoyed to this day. Every year I look forward to my visiting the CNIB Camp during deaf-blind week to take their campers fishing. You know when a deaf-blind angler can catch fish like a pro, the rod, reel and line are working their magic. The new Shimano Symetre Combo continues Shimano’s mission of getting the best possible rod and reel into the hands of anglers at the most affordable price.
I’m not comfortable fizzing fish that show signs of baratroma, and generally avoid fishing for fish at depths when baratroma can become an issue. However, sometimes you simply want to harvest 1-2 fish for dinner, so going deeper isn’t an issue, unless your fishing in an area that is managed using slot sizes that restrict the size of fish you can legally harvest. It means releasing fish that are outside the limit, and that’s where tools like the SeaYaLater Descending Device come into play. You can lower fish back down to the depth where they were caught quickly and safely. There are some fisheries in Noerth America that now mandate this type of technology, and I think it won’t be long before all anglers have one aboard their boats.
I DON’T DRIVE, I WALK JUST ABOUT EVERYWHERE WITH MY GUIDE DOG. HAVING GOOD FOOTWARE IS IMPARATIVE, AND MY WIFE MIGHT EVEN SAY HAS BECOME MY OBSESSION. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN EXPERIMENTING TO FIND THE BEST POSSIBLE SHORE OR SURF FISHING FOOTWARE, SINCE SOAKING GOOD RUNNERS CAN GET EXPENSIVE. BART’S BAY ARMOR MAKES boots using a new, Patented, protective and comfortable material to give fishermen and beach goers the best protection and great light weight comfort all day. Bart’s Bay Armor is their protective wading boot for wading, and Bart’s Beach Armor is a protective bootie for waring on the beach to protect from rays and other hazards.
There were lot’s more very cool fishing innovations that caught my attention at this year’s 2020 ICAST show, so check it out: https://icastfishing.org/