With over a month under our belts to reflect on the ICAST industry trade show, the "BBZ take" on things may not be what you expect.
Yes, for the angling public, ICAST seems like the ultimate tackle show – a place that makes Christmas morning pale in comparison. Duly noted. Being first with the latest dope on new tackle always translates into maximum street cred.
There's only one problem: For the most part, ICAST rarely delivers any one lure or technique that changes the industry or changes how we fish. It's not a knock on ICAST, but rather the cold reality of creativity. Quite simply, truly great, innovative things are rare.
Think about it. What has significantly changed your fishing in the past 10 years? The Senko? Yes. Dropshotting? Sure. Chatterbaits? Uh huh. But note how the list of truly innovative lures or techniques is always very brief. It includes things that most often change how you think about fishing – how you approach the day's puzzle. They don't happen very often, but when they do, our brain cortexes start snapping with fresh ideas.
Unfortunately for most bass fishermen, this honeymoon period of discovery is frequently short-lived. Anglers have a nasty habit of building boxes for themselves. Instead of viewing a well-constructed lure or new technique as a baseline for further exploration, they stop. They let the design or the manufacturer's recommendations or the pros' advice narrow their horizons.
For example, the goal of every lure manufacturer is to make something that works as advertised right out of the box. No problem there. But even when the lure performs as promised, the consumer must ask one very pivotal question: "Does this new thing limit where or how I can throw it, or does it expand my universe?"
While most lures and methods are designed for situational fishing, the epic ones open the floodgates. Bobby Garland's GitZit, Gary Yamamoto's Senko, Dee Thomas' flippin' technique, and most recently dropshotting, are the gold-standards in this discussion.
Since lightning doesn't strike that often in fishing, it would be unfair to place legendary expectations on most lures and techniques. Still, you have to expect something. You have to make a conscious effort to go one step beyond out-of-the-box performance. You also need some perspective on history.
If you've never taken the time to peruse an antique lure catalogue, you're in for a rude awakening. It won't take long for you to understand that most design concepts have already been done – 70 to 80 years ago! With the exception of designs that rely on soft-plastic methods, it's all there from truly exceptional lures to ones that could only be described as "goofy."
Sure, the action and hardware may seem primitive by today's standards, but the basic concepts are obvious. Remember, there was a day when small lure companies thought out-of-the-box because the box wasn't built yet.
Although it can be argued why the current innovative curve is so shallow – the reliance on tournament-generated knowledge and conglomerate mentality of huge tackle companies, to name a few talking points – it remains our responsibility as fishermen to recognize what's happening.
First, we give up on baits when the advertising hype is over. Yes, some lures and techniques lose effectiveness when everyone is thrashing the water with them, but come on – you mean to tell us that a Slug-Go won't catch fish anymore?
Second, the flipside to giving up on lures is using a current favorite to excess. Or, at the very least, only fishing it one way. If it's working, it's hard to argue with success, but that kind of domination usually doesn't last long.
You mean to tell us that a Slug-Go won't catch fish anymore?
Third, many haven't realized that tournaments (in particular, big-dollar events) are no longer the real test bench for new concepts. With field cut-downs and the pressure to survive for the final day, there's far less incentive to be cutting edge. Now it's a matter of staying in the hunt. A single bad day is disaster for a pro.
Fourth, anglers often focus on the wrong things. In the BBZ we stress (among other things) lure placement in the water column, i.e. top-middle-bottom. As a result, lure performance that enhances presentation is paramount. That's not to say that appearance doesn't carry value (illusion of realism), because ideally that's the perfect combination - just not at the price of performance.
Fifth, in an era of subtle lure and technique improvements, there's nothing wrong with a slightly better mousetrap. The trick, of course, is to first make sure that the new wrinkle makes a difference in your fishing.
Most of the time, it won't make a difference unless you make it make a difference.