Lauri Rapala was born in Finland over a century ago, in 1905. When he was in his 20's, he moved to the shores of a huge lake to try to make a living as a fisherman. While waiting for the nets to fill with perch and whitefish, he would row his wooden boat, attempting to catch a trout with lures to add to the catch he could sell.
Lauri was akeen observer of nature and he noted that feeding trout would always key in on a minnow with a wounded action, instead of the healthy ones. Deciding to make a lure to duplicate this motion, he carved a piece of wood to the shape of a baitfish, glued tin foil from a candy wrapper on and etched in a scale pattern.
Tentatively, he cast his creation into the clear waters of Lake Paijanne and began trolling. The trout responded with reckless abandon. The lure caught more fish than Lauri Rapala ever imagined was possible. And it caught not just trout, but also salmon and pike as well. Word spread quickly about the fish-catching bait and soon Lauri had his sons helping him hand craft the lures.
By the mid-1950's, a few of the lures found their way into the hands of fishermen in the United States. When he found out about the amazing thin-minnow plugs, Ron Webber came to an agreement with Rapala for distributing them through the Normark Corporation.
Coverage in an August 1962 article in Life magazine (which had Marilyn Monroe on the cover) sent demand spiraling. Sixty years later, Rapalas are still one of the most popular lures in the world. They now come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from vibrators to fat-bodied crankbaits to surface lures. But the original thin-minnow version is still one of the best sellers and most productive fishing lures for a wide variety of species and angling situations. And even though it's nearly a century old, the Rapala is still a great lure to try on local Shenandoah Valley waters.
Tactics: Extremely versatile, the Rapala works well trolled on flatlines, using downriggers, and cast and retrieved for virtually all gamefish species. Twitching the lure in place drives bass crazy. On the other hand, a slow steady retrieve that anyone can master is one of the best presentations of all. Violent jerking followed by long pauses will goad strikes from northern pike and muskies. V-waking the lure slowly on top so it creases the surface but doesn't dive under it is deadly on striped bass in both freshwater and the brine.
Silver and black is the top color and imitates a wide variety of baitfish well. Also try gold/black, gold/orange, silver/chartreuse or other colors that match the forage in your local fishing waters. Sizes to use can range from lures smaller than you thumb for trout to 7-inch versions for pike, muskies and big largemouths.
The Pikie Minnow. The Rapala is clearly a classic lure that has stood the test of time. Another lure, the Pikie Minnow, is also a classic worth checking out. Creek Chub Lures, the company that makes the Pikie, has a rich history. Formed in 1906, this company created a plug called the Wigglefish that caught the world record largemouth, a bass weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces. It's most famous bait of all, though, was the Pikie Minnow.
Originally offered in 1919, the Pikie featured a unique flattened nose and bent metal lip. It gave bass, walleye, northern pike and muskie fishermen a deadly lure for casting and trolling. It dove to seven feet when cast, 11 feet when trolled. The plugs were first carved from white cedar trees, but different woods were employed later when cedar became difficult to get and more expensive.
Today the Pikie is made in one version, the 13000P, a floater-diver produced by the PRADCO Fishing Company, which owns Creek Chub and many other lure companies such as Rebel and Smithwick. It's sold through their retail website Lurenet.com in a 1 ¾ ounce version in a wide variety of colors.
Tactics: A simple steady retrieve is excellent because of the wide undulating motion this lure displays in the water. If that doesn't produce, experiment with erratic jerks. Use them for bass, pike, pickerel and walleyes as well as all inshore saltwater species. Trolling works well with flat-lines when fish are holding 6-14 feet deep. Using planer devices, in-line sinkers or downriggers will take the lures even deeper for fish holding lower in the water column in summer or winter.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.