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The Rapala Shad Rap Story

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In conjunction with the Shad Rap’s 30th anniversary, Fish On! Magazine takes a trip down memory lane of one of the most timeless lures in Rapala’s history…

Story by Mr John Edwin Mitchell.

The history of the Rapala Shad Rap, the most successful Rapala lure ever produced, can be traced back to 1978. It was then that Ron Weber and Ray Ostrom, the owners of Normark Corporation in the USA, suggested to the Rapala brothers that they might consider working on a “Shad Project”. The Shad is a widespread migratory white fish that is an important prey species for North America’s predatory fish.

Throughout the 1970s the American fishing tackle industry had raced from one fad lure to the next. Some were lucky enough to last a season, but others lasted a matter of weeks. As a consequence, in the early 1980s the American lure market was rather flat. It needed something new and dynamic to kick-start it again.

“We weren’t sure how successful the shad imitation would be, perhaps as successful as other Rapala lures such as the CountDown or the Jointed, but we thought that it had the potential to turn a few heads.” commented Ron Weber.

Rapala produced three prototypes for Ron and Ray to choose from. They produced a shad, a baby bass and a crawfish lure. The shad pattern was selected for further testing. The project was completed in 1981 when the final samples of the prototype Deep Runner 7 cm model from Finland were successfully and secretly tested in the USA.

Ray Ostrom undertook a lot of the testing, and used the prototypes in a number of walleye tournaments. Ray was an avid walleye tournament angler. He recalls one incident a few days prior to a tournament when both he and his fishing partner Jack Maciosek were using the 7 cm prototype.

“We were catching walleye in the five to eight pound (2.5 to 4 kg) range. They were good fish. Another boat run by a local fishing guide and his customer came to fish close to us, and they were catching fish of between one and two pounds. The guide called to us, “What the hell are you using. I’ve seen it and it’s not a Rapala.” I didn’t say a word. The guy shouted across again, “Can I see it?” My answer was just one word, “No.”

Ray was so impressed with the new lure that he phoned Roger Cannon, the M.D. of Normark Canada. “Can I have your prototype samples?” Sure enough Roger sent them in the mail. Ray also did the same to Mats Olofsson the M.D. of Normark Sweden, and more lures arrived in the mail. Ray now had 17 prototype lures, virtually the total world availability. Ray won quite a few walleye tournaments before the lure was introduced to the market.

The new lure was called “Shad Rap”. However, there was bad news from Finland. With production at the factory nearing its maximum capacity, the Rapala brothers told Ron and Ray that they would only be able to produce 350,000 Shad Raps in 1982.

The mathematics speaks for itself. Fifty million anglers and only 350,000 lures equals potential disaster. In actual fact, the factory managed to produce about 600,000 Shad Raps, but the fact they that managed to almost double their estimated production did little to dent the demand for this fantastic new lure.

It was obvious that if the new Shad Rap were a success, Normark USA would have problems with their retail customers. Ron and Ray decided immediately that their advertising had to emphasize the importance of getting a Shad Rap right away, before they were all gone. They briefed Carmichael Lynch who designed one of the most memorable double page spread advertisements in American fishing tackle history: “Beg One, Borrow One or Steal One.” Bill Carrera, Normark’s sales agent in the New England states remembers, “That ad was unlike anything the industry had seen. It bowled people over.”

It did not take long for the word to spread about the Shad Rap’s fish catching ability, and the industry was already aware of the lure’s limited availability. The Normark offices were besieged with phone calls from dealers trying to obtain Shad Raps or attempting to increase their orders for Shad Raps.

Normark staff spent their days on the phone trying to allocate the limited stocks fairly whilst their dealers were trying to get just as many Shad Raps as they could. Angry dealers demanding deliveries of Shad Raps confronted members of the Normark sales force even though they had ignored the warnings about ordering early. In turn angry fishermen demanding the new Rapala Shad Rap confronted dealers who had either sold their stock or had not ordered in time, and had no stock to sell.

In no time at all Normark Corporation found itself with back orders of over one million lures, and there was no way that the Rapala family could increase their production. The thoughts of Ron and Ray went back to 1962 when the Rapala Original lure first made its impact upon the USA.

As news of the Shad Rap spread, fishing and hunting journalists such as the Minneapolis Tribune’s Ron Schara, reported the overwhelming demand for the lure. He reported that the already bad situation was being compounded by resort owners and small bait shops renting out their stocks of Shad Raps on an hourly basis. Some dealers even required a substantial deposit because they knew that a lost Shad Rap could not be replaced until the following season.

Ron Schara also reported incidents of Shad Raps being sold on the black market for as much as $45. It was accepted practice for tackle dealers to limit their customers to no more than two Shad Raps at a time.

Normark ended their advertising campaign with a double-page spread on a blue background colour. However, the picture of the Shad Rap that had originally been featured on the advertisement had disappeared. The advertisement copy was very simple; “They are all gone.”

Ron and Ray were aware that the shortage of Shad Raps coupled with the lure’s undoubted success was likely to lead to copies of the lure invading the market. In order to avoid this, new packaging was introduced that included a “Seal of Excellence”.

A small drawing of Lauri Rapala carving a lure with the words “Hand Tuned, Tank Tested.” was introduced in 1982 on all Rapala boxes to assure customers that indeed, they were buying the real thing. Copies of the Shad Rap were soon to be found in the USA, but not only did the manufacturers try to copy the lure, they also tried to copy Normark’s advertising campaign!

In 1983, to follow on from the success of the Shad Rap Deep Runner 7 cm lure the company introduced a 5 cm version. The established policy of following a successful launch with an alternative size had always worked well, and there was no reason to change policy now.

However, in the case of the Shad Rap another alternative was to be launched. The 7 cm Deep Runner could dive to about six feet (1.8 meters), which made it an ideal lure for searching deeper water.

What the fishermen wanted now was a lure of the same shape and action that they could use effectively in shallower water. Therefore in 1983 the Shad Rap Shallow Runner was introduced in both 5 cm and 7 cm versions. Whilst the Deep Runner featured a long, straight diving lip, its shallow running brethren were fitted with a short, stepped lip.

The 7 cm Shad Rap Shallow Runner had exactly the same action as the Deep Runner, but would dive to less than four feet (1.2 meters). Now Shad Rap fishermen could effectively search the water from top to bottom.

Apart from the Fat Rap, the Shad Rap was the first Rapala lure to move away from the typical cylindrical minnow shape. It featured a deeper yet more slender body shape, more of an oval pattern with contours to match gill covers. The Shad Rap shape demonstrated just how far the Rapala brothers had developed their wood turning techniques on the new machines installed in the Vääksy factory.

1985 saw the introduction of the largest Shad Rap to date when the 9 cm model in both Deep Runner and Shallow Runner versions was launched. This introduction brought the Shad Rap range in to the “big fish” league where pike fishermen were taking a healthy interest in Rapala’s new offerings.

The Rapala Shad Rap has been in continuous production since its launch in 1982 for the US and a year later for the rest of the world. The shape of the lure has never changed, but it has sported hundreds of patterns and colours. It has caught fish on every continent of the world excluding Antarctica, and holds a number of IGFA records. The Shad Rap is equally at home in still and running water, and although not fitted with saltwater hooks, it has performed well in the sea.

Since its introduction the Shad Rap shape has lead to the development of other Rapala lures. The Glass Shad Rap, Jointed Shad Rap, Shad Rap RS, Super Shad Rap and Ultra Light Shad are all based on Shad Rap research and design. It is indeed a timeless lure.

From barramundi in Australia to Atlantic salmon in Scotland: from huge musky in the USA to Taimen in Mongolia, the Rapala Shad Rap knows no boundaries. Since production began in 1982 Rapala has produced a total of over 50 million Shad Rap lures in both deep and shallow diving configurations. That averages out at over 1.6 million Shad Raps a year. There are only few lures in the world that can match the Shad Rap for both longevity and production volume – and the rest are made by Rapala as well.

Rapala is proud to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Shad Rap this year with some very special Shad Raps developed to mark this important occasion.

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