By 1982, the Rapala name was more than an icon, it was the truth. Since 1958, when the Rapala Minnow hit the shores of North America, it had been winning the hearts of anglers and proving its mettle as a fish catching bait. Today in The Rapala Shad Rap, we’re going to delve into the last super star of the Rapala line.
You might disagree with the last sentence above. But I am fully supportive of it. If you look at the company, what baits are made today that were made forty, even 60 years ago? The Rapala minnow, in all original models, and the Shad Rap. Think about that. My beloved Fat Rap, a crankbait that should never have been discontinued, hasn’t been around for over 25 years. The Risto Rap, a bait that was supposedly designed by a master himself, only lasted a nickel’s worth of years. The only bait I know of that is still available after this long is the Rapala Ice Jig, and it has a seasonal following.
But I’m not here to talk about Rapala’s entire history. We’re here to talk about their history with one lure, a lure that’s been around for more than four decades. A lure that still produces 30-pound-plus bags, and what is considered the all-around best crankbait ever designed for the winter.
The Shad Rap.
At the time, Fall of 1982, I was working at arguably the best tackle shop in California, Bob’s Fishing Tackle in Norwalk, California. For those interested, it’s still there and here’s their Facebook page. Around Thanksgiving, I remember our jobber coming by the shop to take an order for the coming month. He mentioned to Bob that Rapala was coming out with a new crankbait called the Shad Rap and he was taking pre-orders. He wanted to know if we’d be interested in placing an order for them along with the standard order of 6 cases of each color and size of Fat Raps.
Bob asked me what kind of room we had on the wall and I told him we were tripled up on Fat Rap pegs, and for a good reason. Two years earlier, we were caught flat footed with a release of the SFC color, chartreuse back silver sides. Bob wasn’t about to place himself in that position again. He pre-ordered the Shad Rap, six cases each of the #5 and #7 in three colors, Silver Foil (SR-S), Gold Foil (SR-G), and Chartreuse Back Silver (SR-SFC). Little did we know what would happen.
We had no idea what this bait looked like except for the black and white renderings of the bait in the jobber’s three-ringed binder. But, knowing what Rapala had produced in the past, Bob, took the chance.
The next month, Rapala put an ad in Bassmaster Magazine for the coming crankbait. It wasn’t just any ad, it was a two page ad, with nothing on the first page and a small image of the bait on the second page. The fine print of the ad stated:
“There are 350,000 of the new Rapala Shad Raps on their way from Finland. And there are 30,000,000 licensed fishermen on their way to American tackle shops.”
Before the end of the year, and two months before we got the order, we were sold out.
A call to Western Hoagie, our jobber, placed us on another order for 12 cases of every color available. Because we ordered first, we had seniority with the jobber, a move that Bob became famous for in the southern California tackle industry.
We hadn’t sold a single bait, yet we had everything sold 6 months prior to receiving the first order.
Fast forward 40 years. I’m sitting at a park in Winter Haven Florida talking with Lee Sisson, mastermind behind the Bagley’s Divin’ B series of crankbaits. We got on the subject of the Small Fry Series and he said it was the series of baits he was most proud of. But the Small Fry Shad was a particular bait he wanted to talk about.
It turns out that the Small Fry Shad was the bait that Rapala copied for the Shad Rap. The problem was, the Rapala model was better than the Bagley’s version. Jim Bagley asked Sisson to make a copy of the bait. Sisson wasn’t too keen on copying but he realized he didn’t have to make payroll.
He copied the bait, except for one detail, and they produced the Bass’N Shad.
But what Sisson’s biggest memory of this event was, was the ad placed by Rapala. The same lead-in ad placed at the start of this article.
You know you have a successful ad when you make the consumer base buy baits prior to their release. You know you have a successful product when you make the manufacturers change their production. Rapala won on both sides and still, to this day, there is no better winter crankbait than the Rapala Shad Rap.