Lauri Rapala is rightfully credited with the advent of the contemporary minnow lure, which he first carved out of cork in 1936. Yes, there were other “minnow” lures before that but nothing that could compare to the shape and movement of the Original Floating Rapala.
It wouldn’t be until the mid-1950s that a few of the lures would make their way from Finland to America and for those who had them the results are legendary. 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 was the issue with the recently deceased Marilyn Monroe – the most-sold issue of Life ever. That historic coincidence put Rapala on the map.
The history of Normark and Rapala are well known and have been written about countless times – so I’m not going to belabor that story anymore. One thing I will elaborate on, though, was the cost of the lures – more than twice the amount a normal lure cost during the day. Rumor has it that the baits were so prolific and hard to come by that tackle shop owners would rent them out for $25 per day.
And as is the norm in the fishing industry, if there’s a new bait on the market that’s selling, it doesn’t take long for the knockoffs to hit the stores.
That’s where we see the first of the copycats – Pradco’s Rebel Minnow.
In 1962 George Perrin, owner of Plastic Research and Development Company (PRADCO), was making plastic parts for home and industry. He was also an avid bass fisherman. It’s written that he 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 the bait was more than likely designed per the Rapala.
By 1964 a number of other companies had come out with wooden floating minnow baits, including tackle giant, James Heddon’s Sons. Their launch into the market came about with the Heddon Cobra. In its introductory year, it came in 5-inch and 4-inch sizes and six colors. By 1966, it came in four sizes, adding 3- and 8-inch versions to the mix.
Another company was the Jim Bagley Bait Company out of Winter Haven, FL. The Bang-O-Lure, which is still produced today, was offered in three sizes and 11 colors. Bagley’s claim for the bait was the way it was constructed – 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.” It’s a great ad and one of the first I’ve seen from Bagley.
The last company that I found offering wooden minnow lures came from a 1966 ad and really surprised me. It was the Action Certified Shiner by A.C.S. Industries – also known as AC Shiner. What surprised me was the year and how long the company has been around – 1963. Aurthur Schoultheis of Okeana, OH couldn’t afford and couldn’t find Rapalas so, like most people in need, he designed his own lure. In 1966 he offered seven different sizes ranging from 2-1/2 inches up to 10 inches in length. Along with the ad presented, I also found a really cool video on YouTube. It’s eight minutes long and Arthur himself talks about how he started the company, a company that still produces the AC Shiner today. It’s a cool look back into the history of minnow baits.