LAS VEGAS — The guard standing outside the door of the New Product Showcase at the 2010 ICAST convention in Las Vegas wasn't wearing a gun, but, with the badge and uniform, cross-armed, "Make my day, punk" stance and lumberjack build, he didn't need one.
As fishing media from around the country waited for the unveiling of the sexy new products for the next year, Deputy Dawg's glare made itself perfectly clear: There will be no secrets revealed here.
Not yet, anyway.
Dawg was the final gate-keeper in the game of hide-and-seek that often goes on for months and years before rod, reel and tackle manufacturers pull the curtains off their new innovations with flash-bang product unveilings.
The Big Secret is king until gear finally hits the show floor and the profit-making machine starts to run.
"It starts with a product, an idea and a vision: You work out the cosmetics and design, you build it exactly the way you want it and then you build it completely opposite before you let anyone see it," said Justin Poe, product manager for G-Loomis and Shimano. "You paint it and make it look like a crankbait rod, even though it's a jig-and-worm rod. You mark everything as 'XYZ' and '123', so only you know what it means. And you hide things under desks and in garages."
Poe wasn't exaggerating.
Three of the most buzzworthy early unveilings at ICAST 2010 were Loomis' NRX rod technology, Shimano's redesigned Trinidad 10A, and the Terez series of saltwater rods, all of which designed and tested over a two- to three-year period without so much as a whisper of information leaking to the public.
The NRX line has been in development since the fall of 2008, when designer Steve Rajeff began working with new combinations of high-density carbon and Nano Silica resins to build some of the lightest, most sensitive rods ever. The Trinidad and Terez were both in deep-black development for over two years as well (and to go one step further, the Waxwing lure system designed to match the Trinidad and Terez was in development for five).
"It was tough," Poe said. "We went all the way to keep it under wraps."
Low-tech solutions to high-tech secret-snooping
Before the you-can't-hide presence of the World Wide Web, saltwater rod and reel designers would routinely crash-test products out in the open, but in different hemispheres.
"You could test anything you wanted in Tasmania and Australia in the winter, and nobody would know about it until next season," said Steve Carson, a longtime member of the Penn saltwater-design team. "These days, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, if you're out in public, the rest of the world knows about it in two days thanks to the Internet."
The solution to high-tech secret-breaking, though, is surprisingly low-tech. In other words, you hide.
Shimano staffers in the company's Irvine, Calif., headquarters and in the Woodland, Wash., factory tested the bass rods on private lakes and small, rural trout ponds where nobody would expect a $475 bass rod to be. Rajeff personally tested the NRX fly rods in remote locations where the only potential snoops were black bears and bald eagles. The prototypes for the impossible-to-miss sunset red, emerald-green, yellow, aqua and pearl blanks of the 24-rod Terez lineup were all finished in dull black, so they'd blend in with every other rod on the boat.
"You can't see the performance you're trying to build into a new rod," Poe says. "If you want to disguise something from someone, you just make it look like any other product."
And, if that fails, you wrap it in duct tape and take it so far offshore that nobody can possibly figure out what it is.
Poe was the first member of the Shimano team to test the new Trinidad in 2008, and he did so with very specific instructions: "Don't let ANYONE see this." Poe's solution: cover the entire prototype in duct tape, switch out the handle and run way, way, way offshore to fish it.
"That reel never went on a charter," Poe says. "We fished it exclusively on a private boat, and instead of going 25 miles offshore, we'd go 60. A lot of guys can go 25 miles out with you, but not many can go 60."
The Big Secret really never ends, though. Poe's response to further questioning about the rest of the NRX development team?
"I really can't tell you who was all involved," Poe says. "If I did, it'd give away some details that I can't really share. That'll have to remain a secret."