Lure of The Month – The Rapala Original Floating Minnow

The evolution of the Rapala Original Floating Minnow
The evolution of the Rapala Original Floating Minnow

As a young boy, my foremost passion was fishing for brook trout in the pristine mountain streams of New England. Challenging and fun to catch as they are, native brook trout don’t get very large within those chilly highland streams. As a result, I was always in awe of a large mounted brown trout, hanging on the wall of our family cabin, that a friend of my grandfather had landed. I’d never seen a trout so large. I remember his friend telling me where and how he caught the fish, and what lure he used to catch it. He saved that lure, and to my delight, passed it on to me as a gift. I treasured it and used it to catch many fish over the years. Predictably, it became a casualty, lost in action one day while fishing. But, ever since then I’ve been sure to have the same size and color lure in my tackle arsenal. It’s been one of the most effective lures I’ve ever owned: a gold F05 Rapala Floating Minnow.

The Rapala Original Floating Minnow was created in the 1930s by innovative Finnish fisherman Lauri Rapala. While fishing his favorite water, Lake Paijanne in Finland, he noticed how predator fish corralled and attacked small schools of baitfish, scattering healthy specimens and picking off struggling, weaker members of the school. The eventual prey often gave themselves away with slow, erratic swimming motions. It occurred to Lauri that predator fish keyed in on this erratic movement as a way of identifying slow, wounded, and easy-to-catch baitfish. This got him thinking about ways to mimic that action and take advantage of those predatory tendencies. If he could come up with a suitable imitation, he could catch and sell more fish while saving time and money.

Laura Rapala Carving Lure
Lauri Rapala carved his first plug by hand using a shoemaker’s knife and a piece of pine.

Back at his village, Lauri took a shoemaker’s knife to a piece of pine bark and started whittling. He shaved and sanded the piece until it began to resemble a tiny baitfish. He wrapped a piece of foil from a chocolate bar around the outer surface, then melted photographic negatives around the lure to produce a protective coating. To get the lure to dive, he devised a clever solution: a plastic lip attached to the nose of the lure.

The first workable minnow prototype was finished in 1936, and Lauri immediately put it to good use. Soon, glowing fishing reports started sprouting up and rumors began to spread about his new minnow-lure invention.

“His mission started off by providing for his family—he was trying to catch fish,” said Mark Fisher, director of field promotions for Rapala. “Recognition was given to him for being an accomplished angler because his lures worked. His understanding of forage at the time—and that he was able to trigger a reaction to strike from predator fish—is really kind of unique. By tradition, the fishermen in Finland at that time didn’t angle, they cast nets.”

Lauri entered the Finnish Army in World War II. During his stint, he provided fish for some of the troops in his company. After the war, Lauri returned to his small village in Finland and resumed living the simple life. By then, his reputation as an expert angler had grown.

“The interesting part about it is that every village in Finland probably had an angler who was more skilled than others,” said Fisher. “Much as it is today, where each lake has a standout guide or a standout competitive angler who is a little more notable, it was the same among the commercial fishermen back in the thirties. They knew who was who, and who was a little more skilled. And certainly, Lauri Rapala moved to the forefront.”

First Rapala Prototype
The first Rapala Minnow prototype hand-carved by Lauri Rapala
currently resides in a fishing museum in Vaasky, Finland.

Designing a unique fish-catching lure added to Lauri’s notoriety. He then gained prominence among a group of Finnish businessmen who were members of a fishing club and travelled to his village to fish. After trying his handmade lures, they decided to bring some back to Helsinki with them, giving him considerably more exposure and increasing demand. With the lure’s rising popularity, Lauri and family went to work making baits to sell.

“Certain family members would do certain things,” said Fisher. “Some carved, some sanded, some fine-tuned. Even without modern tooling and manufacturing, they were able to get started using common household items.” For efficiency’s sake they soon transitioned from pine bark and film negatives to using balsa wood and lacquer finishes. “When they went into production they found that balsa wood was a very sturdy yet easy to work with substance,” Fisher explained. “But the interesting part about balsa, of all the woods out there, it’s the ‘liveliest’ because it’s the lightest, and yet there is strength.” To increase output, they began developing tooling machines and lathes from household devices such as spinning wheels.

In the late 1950s, a regional sales manager from Minnesota who was in the fishing tackle business travelled to Canada for a fishing trip and discovered the Rapala lure. Ever the opportunist, Ronald W. Weber contacted the Finnish Consulate and submitted a request to become the sole international representative of Rapala lures. In 1959, he formed a partnership with customer Ray Ostrom, and with the help of Lauri Rapala they founded the Normark Corporation and began distributing Rapala lures in the United States. Weber had so much faith in the Rapala Minnow that he used his life’s savings to construct a factory in Finland to meet growing demand.

“I think the fascinating part about it is that three people came from different parts of the world, and without even a handshake, made an agreement that really changed the way of life for a lot of other people,” said Fisher. “Not only those three people, but all the other folks who would come to work for the company over the years, in Finland, the U.S. and another 140 countries. It’s absolutely staggering.”

Rapala’s most fortunate marketing break came from an article that appeared in Life Magazine, published in August 1962, featuring a retrospective on the life of the late Marylyn Monroe.
Rapala’s most fortunate marketing break came from an article that appeared in Life Magazine, published in August 1962, featuring a retrospective on the life of the late Marylyn Monroe.

Rapala’s biggest breakthrough came in 1962 when LIFE magazine published an article about Lauri and the lures. The edition featured a retrospective on the life of recently deceased Marilyn Monroe, which resulted in the highest circulation in the magazine’s history. This provided a world of priceless (and fortuitous) exposure for Rapala.

Today, Rapala lures are made from Ecuadorian balsa, carved to shape by a wood lathe and finished with up to 12 coats of paint and epoxy. The company works closely with the tree plantation, rotating balsa trees, restocking and replanting what they harvest.

“Being able to control the tolerances on the density of the balsa is significant,” said Fisher. “They need so many years to grow before the density is correct to make the lures.” Rapala uses 5 percent of the balsa tree to create the most delicate lures: the Original Floating Minnow and the Shad Rap. The rest of the tree is used for lures that require a little extra weighting and additional components. Once finished, each swimming Rapala lure is individually tank-tested and hand-tuned to ensure perfect swimming action, just as Lauri always insisted. “We have forty tanks manned daily with people who do nothing more than test all these lures,” said Fisher. Over the years, Rapala expanded their lineup, adding the Countdown, Shad Rap, Rattlin’ Rapala, Fat Rap, Magnum, Husky Jerk, and Tail Dancer, among others. Rapala manufactures close to 20 million lures a year, and they are sold in over 140 countries around the world. Factories are located in Finland, Ireland, France, China, and Estonia.

“The product serves you well,” said Fisher. “I think that fact has cultivated good people to come work for the company. You find that, at times, your job isn’t your job, it’s a way of life. I think being able to carry on a heritage that started out of necessity back in the 1930s, and today being a business that can thrive in even the toughest of competitive times in the marketplace, is a pretty unique situation that the Rapala family created.”

11 on “Lure of The Month – The Rapala Original Floating Minnow


    I have been using Rapalas over 50 years and the original model has always been my favorite. Never have been without at least 3 in my tackle box. Keep up the good eork.

  2. mark

    I was 10 yes old in 1962 I remember my dad bringing home a Rapala lure and tell me this was the best lure he had ever seen
    They have been in my tackle box ever since

  3. Robert McCoy

    The Original Floating Minnow (size 13) in the firetiger color scheme is on my top 5 favorite Rapala lures. There’s something about that color along with the lures tantalizing swimming action bass simply can’t resist. Every angler must have this Rapala lure in his or her arsenal.

  4. Hugh

    Favorite lure was the 1 1/2″ silver/black floating Rapala as a kid.

  5. Barry

    Been fishing them for 50 years. Still have some of my originals that I grew up with, which are now retired in my Rapala collection.

    Give me these 3 lures and I’ll guarantee you can catch just about everything that swims in freshwater (and some saltwater fish too!)
    1) #7 Floating Original in silver/black or gold/black
    2) #7 Shad Rap deep diving in silver, shad, or crawdad
    3) #5 or #7 Fat Rap in silver or perch

    If you don’t have a Rapala in your tackle box, well . . .

  6. Jack

    I really enjoy using this bait since my Grandfather and Dad gave me one back in the early 60’s
    I just want to know what rod action and line size is the best for the Original Floater. What type of knot to you use?

  7. Ronald C. Machado

    I fish when I can, almost every weekend, alone or with friends, I go to fishing grounds, rivers, lakes, wherever I go. I evolved from bamboo wand and mosquito net hook to reels and artificial baits where one of my favorite conjuncts is a Rapala Curax 201 reel, sulphix line 0.21, sidewall rod 14 lbs, and baits like shad rap, and that has given a good result In the fish like Dourados, Matrinxãs and mainly in the Tucunarés, fish very sporting and that we have customary to photograph and to release. My father was absent, that is, he did not teach me to fish, so I do not have a history with him. But today I have a two-year-old son, and if it depends on me, and if time allows, my son will have a story with his father, and in those stories will also have the Rapala baits. Embrace of the fisherman of Brazil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *