Rabble Rouser, 1977 Out-House catalog.

The 1970s-era Rabble Rouser Lures company produced one of the most unusual-looking baits ever marketed in the U.S.. The bug-eyed lure with the “bar ice scoop” nose shape was unique. It compelled anglers to either open their wallets or shake their heads at this weird-looking bait. Those who did open their wallets, however, found Rabble Rousers to be effective fish catching lures. But the company didn’t last and vintage Rabble Rouser lures are now collectible objects that attract retro-minded anglers. But lo, the old Rabble Rouser has new life with a modern company that is producing an updated version of the old bait. First, let’s take a brief look at the old Rabble Rouser Lures company.

Doug Parker

Doug Parker is the man who designed the Rabble Rouser. Parker’s life story is pretty inspiring. I have to concur with Mike McCabe of Angling Archaeology, who declares that Parker’s life is more like that of “the most interesting man in the world” than of a simple fishing lure designer. Briefly, Doug Parker was a WWII fighter pilot; had degrees in zoology and geology; worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; achieved his law degree and was known as the best trial lawyer in Arkansas; and was a member of several church and Fort Smith community boards and commissions (and taught Sunday School for 25 years). He was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver award winner. Additionally, Parker played a big role in the development of Sugar Loaf Lake, Sebastian Lake and the James Fork Reservoir. 

Doug Parker, creator of the Rabble Rouser lure.

It’s a wonder the man found time to do any fishing at all, let alone develop a line of popular lures. But fishing was one of Parker’s passions, and in 1951 he carved his first Rabble Rouser lure. The lure and company really came into its own and grew in popularity in the mid-1970s.  The company line expanded and added several different lures. These included the Ransacker (a kind of sinking lipless crankbait), deep diving Roo-Tur (later called Rooter), medium depth Rouster, shallow diving Baby Rowdy, rattling crankbaits Baby Ashley and Deep Baby Ashley, a Hellbender mimic called the Di-Dapper, a multi-use spinnerbait/jig called the Rabbler, and of course the original topwater Rabble Rouser. There were around a dozen or so color schemes to choose from.

The company dissolved in the 1980s. That’s a little unfortunate, given that while the lures weren’t as popular as some other baits on the market, they did seem to have a pretty solid following and were quite memorable. They even won a couple of tournaments.

New Rabble Rouser Company

Now onto the new Rabble Rouser Fishing Lures company. Started in 2013 by Gary LaDuke, the story of the company’s inception is an interesting one. LaDuke was part of a loose group of anglers who fished the St. Clair river, though they all fished separately and from their own boats. Back in the day, Gary says there were 30 or so boats that fished the river regularly. They all kept in contact with one another via CB radios. At that time they were fishing primarily for walleyes.  If someone in the group caught a good fish on a specific lure or certain color, the angler would announce it over the CB. Several times, Gary recounted, some of the older anglers would announce something like, “Caught on a red and white RR!” Trouble was, according to LaDuke, the younger anglers didn’t know what RR meant. So at some point he asked one of the older guys what exactly they were referring to. “Rabble Rousers!” was the reply. Well, it turned out that all of the older guys had Rabble Rousers in their tackle boxes but none of the younger guys had them.

Vintage Rabble Rouser courtesy of the Retro Bassin' YouTube channel.
Vintage Rabble Rouser courtesy of the Retro Bassin' YouTube channel.

So the search for original Rabble Rousers was on. But unfortunately the company was no longer in business and Rabble Rousers were tough to find. Necessity being the mother of invention, two fellows connected to the group contacted Doug Parker. Parker gave the partners his written approval to produce a new Rabble Rouser bait. They built the molds – a costly endeavor in itself – and started to work making new Rabble Rousers. They marketed the new RR under a short-lived business called Pop’s Lures. The partners had a falling out and production ceased, whereupon Gary LaDuke stepped in and took the reins. Bob VanBuskirk, one of the two men who formed Pop’s Lures, worked for LaDuke. VanBuskirk gave LaDuke the go-ahead to continue producing the lures, using the molds he and his partner had made. LaDuke also copywrited the name Rabble Rouser and began producing the bait under that name. 

Making New Baits

Gary indicates that his lures do not have the textured side ribbing of the old Rabble Rousers due to patent guidelines. Other than that the old and new lures are pretty much identical in appearance. Gary is also determined that every component of the lure be made in the U.S.A.. Eagle Claw, the hook supplier, is currently delaying production of the preferred hook model. This is causing some concern for the company.

Unfinished Rabble Rousers as they come out of the mold.

The process of forming a Rabble Rouser is not difficult, although it is a multi-step operation. The first step is injecting ABS plastic for the eyes and halves of the lures into the molds. Next, the hardware is installed and the two halves glued together by hand using MEK solvent. The eyes are then attached in the same manner. Once the solvent evaporates and the ABS plastic cures, the lures are hand-painted and a clear-coat applied. Then the hooks are attached and the lures are packaged and ready to go.

Unfinished Rabble Rousers pre-hardware, eye installation and painting.
Unfortunately, the new Rabble Rouser company has no plans to expand the line beyond the original topwater/shallow diving lure. I wouldn’t, however, be surprised if some other company – possibly a Japanese lure company – began producing lures similar to those in the original company’s mid-1970s expanded line. The aesthetics of the Rooter, Rouster and Baby Rowdy seem to be in keeping with some of the wild lure designs coming out of Japan these days. Also, a lot of Japanese lure designers appear to have a fondness for vintage bass lures.

Fishing the Rabble Rouser

The Rabble Rouser is a fish catching lure. LaDuke declared that they’ve caught everything from smallmouth bass to muskies and even catfish on it. There are 78 color patterns to choose from. Gary is adamant that fish see color, and he’s determined to produce as many color schemes as he can. He states that his four personal favorite color patterns are Fire Tiger (#27), Chrome Clown (#102), Chrome Black Headed Wonderbread (#140) and Mrs. Vampire (#141). “Big Minnow Mike” McCabe’s YouTube channel,  Angling Archaeology, has released two videos dedicated to the Rabble Rouser. The first video spotlights the original lure from the 1970s. The second, follow-up video (“Old School Rabble Rouser vs The New Rereleased Rabble Rouser. Which is Better?”) focuses on an on-the-water head-to-head comparison between the old and the new lures. The second video’s conclusion is that there is no real discernible difference in the performance of the two baits. Both catch bass and are essentially the same lure. The only noticeable difference is the surface texture of the baits. That and the fact that there are a whole lot more colors available to the modern version.

Rabble Rouser Lure Company logo
For those of us who enjoy fishing with vintage baits it’s pretty great that the option is available to acquire a modern recreation of an old lure. Whether it’s the Canadian Wiggler or the Rabble Rouser, it’s fantastic that there are companies like these that are producing vintage-style, effective fishing baits. I want to thank Mike McCabe here as well, for his help with some of the history concerning Doug Parker and the original Rabble Rouser company.