Lauri Rapala is rightfully credited with the advent of the floating minnow lure. He developed the genre in 1936 as a need to boost his commercial fishing efforts by eliminating bait from the equation. What came from that invention wasn’t just a phenomenal bait. He unknowingly would create the minnow lure battles.
Rapala carved his first minnow lure out of cork to bring more efficiency to his commercial fishing effort. He was a student of fishing and knew if he could develop a lure that mimicked the movement of a wounded baitfish, he could possibly bring more money in to support his young family.
The lure lived in obscurity for several years due to World War II but after the war, it started gaining popularity throughout Europe. Then in the mid-1950s, the lure reached the banks of the U.S. The lure was an instant success
Unfortunately, there were no jobbers or distribution companies for the lure at the time. Lures that happened to get to the U.S. market would draw large sums of money and folklore has it that tackle shops would rent them out for $25 per day.
Then in 1959, two Minnesota anglers by the names of Ron Weber and Ray Ostrom, came together to import Rapala lures to the U.S. under the name of Normark.
Although the Rapala got its formal introduction in 1960 through Weber and Ostrom’s Normark Corporation, the bait wouldn’t get national recognition until 1962 – specifically in Life Magazine. That issue was dedicated to the recently deceased Marilyn Monroe and became the most-sold issue of Life ever. That historic coincidence put Rapala on the map.
Even though the Floating Minnow was available in the States, stock was still low, keeping the price well above average. As with any open market, this opened the door for copycats. This is a short look into those early copycats and the baits they developed based on the Original Floating Rapala.
Possibly the first to knock off the Floating Minnow was a newcomer to the hardbait industry, Jim Bagley. Bagley had gone into business in 1955 as a pork rind manufacturer. In 1960, he attended the annual American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Show (AFTMA), the precursor to ICAST and started manufacturing plastic worms.
Then in 1961, Bagley started making the Bang-O-Lure, a balsa floating minnow lure that resembled the Rapala. The bait initially came in two sizes, 5 and 7 inches in length. By 1965, the bait was also sold in a 4-inch model and 11 colors.
Bagley’s claim for the bait was the way it was constructed. Balsa wood with a straight-through wire harness, two sealer coats, aluminum foil, 11 coats of epoxy, needle sharp hooks and a “nose ring to keep line from killing action.”
Reading Johnny Garland’s Bagley’s Collector’s Guide, there’s talk about how the early baits were inconsistent. They may have stuck to the length, but they vastly differed in thickness. Garland published a funny quote from Bagley when asked about those inconsistencies and he said, “some fishermen prefer skinny women, and some prefer hefty women.”
I can vouch for these differences as I have several early Bang-O-Lures and from one bait to the next, they are different. Evidently the size differences didn’t matter. The baits sold as fast as they were produced.
The next company to copy the Floating Rapala was also new to the industry. In 1962 George Perrin, owner of Plastic Research and Development Company (PRADCO), was making plastic products for home and industry. Perrin was an avid bass fisherman.
It’s written that Perrin wasn’t too happy with the wooden minnows of the day because they didn’t run consistently. With his experience in the plastic molding industry, he figured he could make a lure out of plastic that would be easy to replicate time and time again.
Out of this idea came the Rebel Minnow in 1962. Maybe not an exact copycat, due to the fact it was made of plastic, but it’s obvious the bait was designed per the Rapala. One look at its dimensions will convince you of that.
The next company that got on the band wagon was Action Certified Shiner, or more commonly known as the AC Shiner. Arthur Schoultheis of Okeana, OH, couldn’t afford and couldn’t find Rapalas so, like most people in need, he designed his own lure. In 1963 he developed the AC Shiner and has since made his living out of his house manufacturing them.
The ad presented, from a 1964 Southern Angler’s and Hunter’s Guide, shows his offerings as of 1966 – seven different sizes ranging from 2-1/2 inches up to 10 inches in length. Along with the ad, I also found a great video on YouTube. It’s 8 minutes long and Arthur himself talks about how he started the company. It’s a nice look back into the history of minnow baits.
The final company I found from the early 60s who took advantage of Rapala’s momentum was industry mega company James Heddon’s Sons. It’s hard to say whether Heddon wanted to wait out the hype of the new lure design or if they took extra time in developing their bait. They didn’t introduce the Heddon Cobra to their lineup until 1964.
The first ad presented is the actual feature in their 1964 catalog. The write up describes the Cobra as:
“Bouyant as a bubble of air. So light, so sensitive, it darts, dips and dives at the slightest flick of the rod tip.”
The description of the bait doesn’t refer to the material it’s made out of but from the looks of the hook hanglers and line tie, it’s probably made of wood with a straight-through wire construction. They touted its foil finish, six colors and extra sharp treble hooks.
That wraps up what I’ve found on the early minnow lure companies. If you know of any other companies that got on the Rapala train in the early 1960s, please put a comment below or hit us up in the contact form. We hope you enjoyed this look back into the history of minnow lures.