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It was supposed to be the tackle industry's World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one. But this year's annual American Sportfishing Association's International Sportfishing Expo turned out to be somewhat of a yawner.

Dealers, distributors, media and assorted tackle junkies were invited to the big party at the cavernous Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, but the no-shows were conspicuous by their absence. Several heavy hitters _ Diawa, Shimano, Berkley, Minkota, Johnson Lures, Cotee, Spiderwire, Silstar _ decided to sit this one out. The reason? All of these AWOL corporations write a major chunk of their business with the now dominant discount chains in the spring and had nailed down a year's worth of orders. With an eye on the bottom line, they elected not to participate in what they perceived as an expensive selling event.

Expensive or not, many other tackle industry giants, including Zebco/Quantum, Penn and Shakespeare, plus most major lure and fishing accessory manufacturers, participated. They too had wrapped up big-bucks orders with the likes of Wal-Mart and Kmart, but still thought it appropriate to support their industry's association. Despite the light turnout, there was plenty to see and do.

The Big Easy proved to be an engaging and rich setting, with its many attractions and fantastic Creole-style restaurants. The nice thing for the Sportfishing Expo attendees _ and the bad news for the beleaguered tackle industry _ was that there were never any crowds or long waits.

New looks for lures

From a Gulf Coast angler's perspective, I discovered a whole range of fishing goodies that should soon become hot items in area stores. MirrOlure took the occasion to introduce its first new color since the Purple Demon. Chartreuse/Blue is a combination of blue back, silver sides and a chartreuse belly. Initially available only in MirrOlure's more popular models, I hope to be able to field test and evaluate the effectiveness of the new color for Times

readers.

Other Florida luremakers included Tampa's Big Fish Tackle, with new versions of its widely used Bait Cradle and Grub-Tail Spoon.

D.O.A. showcased an expanded universe of new colors for its popular D.O.A. Shrimp, TerrorEyz and Bait Buster.

Bill Lewis Lures of Rat-L-Trap fame has thrown down the gauntlet, taking on the popular Zara Spook with its new topwalker-type plug, "Shaggy Dawg." Slightly smaller than the Spook, the Shaggy Dawg is buoyant, filled with lots of noisy rattles and fitted with an enticing bucktail-wrapped tail hook. According to the manufacturer, "It has more shake, rattle and roll than a roller coaster." Should be a killer redfish and snook bait.

Luhr-Jensen, maker of popular local favorites such as the Woodwalker, Jerk 'N Sam, and Tony Acetta spoons, showcased several new plugs that could be extremely effective in Gulf Coast waters. The Amazon Ripper, fitted with a rear spinner blade on a long, sleek wood body, looks like it should easily provoke lots of attention in area grass flats. A larger version of the widely used P.J. Pop chugger _ the Big Game P.J. Pop _ has snook, redfish and plugs that slurp, pop and spit should immediately pounce on this.

"Excalibur" is a name you'll be hearing more frequently to describe Rebel, Bomber, Silver Thread and other products made by tackle-industry colossus PRADCO. Introduced at the show was a range of golden, shiny Excalibur series plugs, all sporting the highly effective offset Excalibur hooks. The same moniker also has been applied to a new, high-end fishing line. According to PRADCO, Silver Thread Excalibur co-polymer line "can withstand 10 times more abrasion than other monofilaments." As with other Silver Thread fishing line, the high-end Excalibur versions proved to be thin for their rated pound test and quite limp.

Raptor, a locally imported thermo-fused braided fishing line also had an attractive display at the show. Distributed by a division of Hooters _ of all unlikely associations _ the new line is said to be less apt to unravel, is round, not flat like most fused lines, and has improved knot strength.

Keep your fish fresh

Among Clearwater's Marine Metal Products' additions to its popular aerator lineup was the Adjustable Flow Fish Saver. The unit is fitted with a moveable ring that controls the aeration intensity so it can be adjusted optimally for most 10-25 gallon livewells. Also introduced was a relatively inexpensive, but ruggedly built, new bait-bucket aerator, "Air Pockets." It is designed to pump out lots of bubbles for about 33 hours on a pair of alkaline D cells.

Lowrance Electronics, no longer in the loran business, presented a new line of GPS units that can be "networked" to different locations on a boat. Thus with just one main device on the bridge, a boat owner doesn't need to purchase additional separate, more expansive full-function units. Instead, the main GPS is the brain-feeding less-costly units strategically placed in other areas, such as the cockpit or inside the cabin.

Helpful handle

Shakespeare, Quantum and several other manufacturers, in an effort to respond to angler gripes about the hate-'em-or-love-'em two-paddle spinning-reel handles, have come up with an intelligent alternative _ the counterbalanced handle. Just noodling around with various C/B spinner handles at the show, I think these new cranks should be a winner.

The counterbalanced spinning-reel handle also was evident in the Marado line, a brand of fishing tackle making its debut at the New Orleans event. Marado offers everything from spinner, to baitcaster, to fly-fishing rods and reels. All Marado designs appeared to be beautifully finished and worked smoothly _ but they still need "the saltwater angler test." It will be interesting to see how well they operate after several rough and tumble Gulf Coast fishing trips.

Storage made simple

They're not referred to as "tackle boxes" anymore. Now the industry euphemistically calls them "Storage Systems." Plano Molding introduced its new "Tackle Logic" line, a series of small boxes fitted with canvas covers that can be stowed in Plano's Soft Side cases. An angler can outfit each small box with the lures needed for a specific fishing trip. Then he or she can grab the appropriate more convenient Tackle Logic box, leaving the rest stowed.

Woodstream Tackle Boxes introduced one of those why-didn't-they-think-of-it-sooner-type products _ MFS, a waterproof modular fishing system. All the MFS boxes are fitted with tight sealing O-rings that keep everything in the box dry. They too can be stacked inside a cloth tackle bag for quick and easy sorting.

Toys for the tackle box

If there's a tackle show in town, could fishing gadgets be far behind? A few of the do-dads that caught my eye included a sturdy, all-plastic non-corroding hook remover tool called "Compliers." The Streamlight, a high-intensity night-fishing light that can be worn on the head or around one's neck, looked like a night-fishing winner.

The LunKer Bumper is a series of surprisingly accurate, soft, cushiony-plastic reproductions of bass, snook, walleye and other popular sportfish for use as boat bumpers. These products should not only be beneficial in protecting your boat's finish, but sure-fire conversation starters. And have you ever hopelessly tangled a bunch of plugs together? To the rescue is a new product called "Guardhooks," with stainless-steel spring locks that pop out of the way when fishing.

Responding to the angst created by the aforementioned no-show corporations, the American Sportfishing Association announced that next year's International Sportfishing Expo will be a two-tiered event. One segment is slated for late spring at Las Vegas, then a fall pairing with the National Marine Manufacturer's Association at its giant annual show in Chicago. Many observers think the latter could be a marriage made in heaven, and thus lure (no pun intended) most of the wayward tackle manufacturers back into the fold.

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