Community and connections create annual ICAST migration

Two vehicles on two different coasts are bound for the same family reunion at ICAST 2024, the largest sportfishing trade event in the world.

Across America, a tale of two travelers is playing out. On the Atlantic coast, Bajío Sunglasses angler Jay Johnson is loading up a modified yellow school bus and a skiff, bound for shallow flats brimming with snook and bonefish of Florida.

On the Pacific coast, PacBak founder Brian McKinnon is tethered to the wheel of a Toyota Tundra pickup truck, cruising north between Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay with a camper top over his bed.
Johnson, an in-house content creator and YouTube star, is on the hunt for tight lines and elegant product shots.

McKinnon, an Alaskan angler with a burgeoning cooler company, is hunting for handshakes. Through the final days of winter and into spring, both bearded, lion-hearted outdoorsmen will spend much of their time thousands of miles apart on the road. But in July, they will both convene at ICAST, the largest sportfishing trade show on the planet.

Hosted annually by the American Sportfishing Association, ICAST brings together the entire business community of the sportfishing industry. Last year, 13,346 attendees from all 50 states, 80 countries and six continents joined in on the fun.

For people like Johnson and McKinnon, the pilgrimage to ICAST is becoming as much a part of life as the salmon runs of Alaska or the tarpon runs of Florida.


Reasons to be cheerful

“I think with trade shows, what we have forgotten about and what has been undervalued is the reason they exist,” says Al Perkinson, the silver-haired founder of Bajío Sunglasses, who proudly welcomed Johnson’s school bus into his show booth at last year’s show.

“It’s not only to do business. In fact, that is probably one of the less important aspects of it. I think these shows exist so the community can come together, so people can tell stories, reconnect and build both friendships and business relationships.”

A little more than a year ago, Brian McKinnon’s ICAST story became the stuff of legend when PacBak – an upstart cooler brand–  booked a last-minute booth to showcase its first product prototypes to the industry.

Then, in a field of more than 900 entries to the prestigious ICAST Best of Show Awards, McKinnon’s product was voted number one (pictured below). The win transformed his business and his life overnight. Within months, investment, marketing dollars and warehouses full of production products arrived.

“We were a full-blown startup,” McKinnon said. “At the time, we didn’t have a warehouse. We didn’t have anything. We had three prototype coolers and six prototype sealers. That’s it.”

Today, it is selling PacBak products to more than 50 dealers from the Bering Sea to Biscayne Bay. “It all started with ICAST,” McKinnon said. “We had a little 10x10 booth, the cheapest thing we could get; but from that point, it just went crazy. After winning ICAST, companies were coming at us from every angle.”

”ICAST is doing great,” added Parkinson. “It still feels like people are having fun there, like the fishing community is there and represented.”

Since 2021, Bajío has been expanding its own footprint at ICAST (pictured above). Less than five years after Perkinson founded his own young company, he, too, feels its reputation has been cemented in part thanks to an award at fishing’s largest trade show.

“It gets attention,” Perkinson says. “We were David taking on Goliath, and people noticed us. For our little ragtag band to beat the big boys was pretty fun. It really meant a lot.”

This year, Al, Jay and Brian will again find themselves on the show floor. Although they will arrive from different corners of the country, they will rendezvous at an entire sea of friends, connections and community.

* ICAST 2024 is scheduled for July 16th to 19th at Orlando, Florida’s Orange County Convention Center. Registration for exhibitors and attendees is already open at