Rapala: A Success Story of a Professional Angler

Lauri Rapala, founded the Rapala-Normark Group, International, the world’s largest fishing lure and tackle manufacturer. Born in Sysmä, Finland and during the world depression of the 1930s, he worked as a lumberjack in the winter and in the summer worked as a farm hand and commercial fisherman. He baited thousands of hooks on a trotline to catch whitefish, perch, and pike and rowed 30 miles every day, except during storms. During his fishing excursions, he paid attention to fish habits and baitfish habits. He learned their different locations and understood how weather affects fishing. Baiting so many hooks was a chore, so he set out to design an artificial lure that would mimic the bait he hooked. He created a lure that imitated an injured baitfish made of cork and tinfoil he took off of food wrapping and melted photograph negatives as a coating instead of using lacquer. When finished and was satisfied with the artificial lure, he tied it to fishing line (string) and trolled it behind his boat. His sons claimed he would bring in 600 pounds of fish per day.

That lure would become the Original FloaterRapala lure.

In 1939, war broke out and there were shortages, so Lauri made his lures from tree bark. After the war, his lures became known among fishermen and he began making more fo them, teaching his sons the art of making lures. His son, Ensio did so well he won a national craftsmanship award for one of his lures, and Lauri’s wife, Elma took care of bookkeeping, writing copy and designing the lure boxes. After some time they developed machines to improve production and quality of the lures, making identical production lures. All lures were tank tested before being boxed and sold.
By various means, the Rapala family lures made its way to North America during the 1950s. Athletes participating in the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympic games bought lures from a shopkeeper as well as Finns migrating to or visiting the United States helped create the popularity of the Rapala lure in North America.
Ron Weber

Ron Weber, a fishing tackle sales representative from Minneapolis, heard about the Finlander plug lure and tried one during a 1959 Canadian fishing trip when his friend showed how well it worked. Where it seemed the fish were not biting on natural bait, the lure proved otherwise. Upon returning to Minnesota, Weber stopped in Duluth to visit a Finnish immigrant’s outdoor clothing shop and bought a few. Weber tried the lures and then wrote to Lauri Rapala to make an order of 500 lures, which was received in early 1960. With a friend and sporting goods storeowner, Ray Ostrom, Weber set out to distribute the lures and creating Nordic Enterprises, which was later named Normark(north land) in 1965. Weber and Ostrom first test-marketed the lure in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where customers balked at the $1.95 price of the lures, where retailers were used to selling lures for less than a dollar. The Rapala was twice as expensive as popular lures like the Johnson Silver Spoon, the Jitterbug, and the Lazy Ike, it would change the lure market. When new mono line and lighter fishing tackle came out, sales increased for the light lure. During the 1960s, Normark became an exclusive North American distributor for Rapala, contracted across the sea in Finland. An article in the 1962 Life magazineboosted sales nationwide. A Lifereporter who had been covering the newly formed Minnesota Vikings team became interested in the lure and Lauri Rapala’s story was printed in an issue about Marilyn Monroe.

Only Weber and Ostrom were working to manufacture the lures and suddenly they had three million orders. Rumors of a Rapala copycat plug being sold and storeowners were willing to pay retail price to ensure they were stocked with the popular plugs. Weber and Ostrom were forced to work full time lure making in order to meet demands.
Rapala Original Floater

Weber then visited Finland to ask Rapala if he could increase production and offered to finance a small factory to produce the lures. Soon, two models of the Original Finnish Jigging Minnow joined the Original Floating Rapala. The new lure was intended for ice fishing, so Weber and Ostrom began selling a Finnish-made ice auger.

In 1967, Weber and Ostrom introduced a fillet knife, modeled after an old worn butcher’s knife. Weber had to convince Finnish knife maker, Lauri Marttini to produce a very thin and flexible blade. When the finished knife, Rapala Fish ‘N Fillet Knife hit the market, it soon became popular and produced more than 40% of Normark’s revenue in a short time.

Through the 1960s, anglers in the United States used Rapala lures that included a sinking model called the Countdown.

In 1970, Normark and Rapala family company introduced its first salt water lure – Rapala Magnum. Demand increased, so Lauri’s sons upgraded production facilities in Finland with modern equipment, but still retained their father’s accuracy and quality control.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, Normark expanded by offering customer angling education by publishing How to Fish a Rapala by the Book and How to Clean a Mess of Fish Without Making a Mess of the Fish. Angling tips from Rapala soon found its way into other books and pamphlets that anglers read. Educational videos were added in the late 1980s and a web site was established in the 1990s.
In 2000, Ron Weberwas inducted in the National Freshwater Hall of Fame [Hayward, Wisconsin] and died at the age of 84 in 2012.
The following short video is a tale about Lauri Rapala of Finland:
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