48 Years at ICAST

"The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has been holding an annual trade show since 1953. I've managed to attend 48 of them over my life in the fishing industry," says writer and television host Mark Sosin. "There have been a lot of changes over those years, too.

"The most obvious one is size. The show's much bigger now than it was in the early days. That reflects the growth of our industry. But size is only one of the changes. There have been others that are just as important."

The others to which he refers begin with geography. In the early years, the show was held in Chicago and was mostly a regional event.

"The first few shows featured almost all Midwest products. Nearly everything on display was from a company that was headquartered within driving distance of Chicago.

"Once they started moving it around the country that changed, however. We started getting exhibitors from all over the country, and even had a few international companies participate. The international growth was slow at first, though."

It may have started slow but in recent years international attendance has exploded — since 2001 it's doubled according to the ASA — with the popularity of outsourcing in our country and the free trade philosophy that has swept around the globe. (In 2008 over 800 attendees from 55 countries visited the event.)

Sosin believes that trend is important, but points to another change that may be having an even more significant impact on the fishing industry — consolidation. In the modern era it's common for one holding company to own several brands, some of which make similar products.

"That situation cuts two ways. On the one hand it concentrates money and expertise into one business entity. Everything is available under one roof. That helps keep marketing, shipping and ordering costs low. It also tends to reduce consumer prices. That's a good thing.

"At the same time, however, these companies are run from the top down. Many times managers and executives make one decision that applies to all their brands. That doesn't always work. This is not a one-size-fits-all business.

"We've traditionally been an industry that's characterized by small, independently owned businesses. That allows for rapid adjustment to changing conditions and angler needs. We're losing a lot of that with all these big companies getting into the game. That may not be such a good thing."

So, considering the changes he's seen over the last 48 years how does Sosin see the next 48 years?

"I think things will continue to progress and grow as long as our natural resources remain viable. That's the big thing. We have to have places to fish and fish to catch. Without opportunity, new, fancy tackle doesn't mean much. That's really what it's all about."