Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday Review: Rapala Legendary Fishing Lures by John E. Mitchell

Thursday Review: Rapala Legendary Fishing Lures by John E. Mitchell

Rapala Legendary Fishing Lures by John E. Mitchell came out in 2005 but I haven't seen very many reviews of it on fishing history sites, so I thought I'd give me two cents on it.

In short, it's about the most thorough history of a major tackle company we are likely to ever get. This is because it was written by John E. Mitchell, a British fishing writer and long-time Rapala employee, and was based almost exclusively on Normark corporate archival material. Research in Finland was conducted by a former Finnish Rapala employee who lived not far from where the founder, Lauri Rapala, grew up.

It's refreshing that the book seeks to put the rather incredible tale of a humble Finnish farmer into the proper historical context, constantly reminding the reader of such things as the Great Depression (during which Lauri Rapala worked so hard to provide for his family) and the incredible impact of World War II on Finland. That Lauri Rapala served as a soldier during the war is not surprising; what is surprising is that he managed to continue making lures.

The Finnish Minnow, Rapala's most enduring contribution, is chronicled from its origins in the mid-1930s through the post-WWII years, when Lauri took the huge gamble in starting a tackle enterprise full time, to the fortuitous sale of Rapala lures to Ground Zero for the Rapala Revolution--Duluth, Minnesota--where Ron Weber would famously stumble upon them and decide to get into the business of importing lures from a man he'd never met living in a country he'd never visited speaking a language he could not understand.

It is on such strokes of fate that thousands of livelihoods--and millions of angling hours--would turn.

Ron Weber and Ray Ostrom went on to found Normark, a company they formed to specifically import Rapala lures (the original letter of introduction is reproduced in the book, one of the most important letters ever written in fishing history). Later Normark Rapala would expand to such items as the Rapala fillet knife, but at its core the company was always about the Finnish lure maker's products. The Rapala family is never far from the center of the story, as first Lauri and then his sons play critical roles in not just running the company but growing it into an international conglomerate.

Mitchell is a deft writer working on solid historical ground. His judicious use of Rapala archival material will be a delight for all tackle collectors and the detailed descriptions of each and every lure ever manufactured by Rapala (including years of manufacture and colors) make this a definitive history of Rapala fishing tackle. Perhaps the most difficult chapters to write were the ones on recent Rapala history, which saw this family-owned company morph into a multi-national giant. Mitchell does a nice job navigating these tricky waters.

There are only a few minor quibbles. Little time is spent explaining Rapala's position vis-a-vis other tackle competitors and allies. Not all lure colors are pictured; in fact, most aren't. Additionally, the historical overviews seem to stop some time around 1950, which is a shame as they are some of the most interesting parts of the book.

A very attractive hardcover with dust jacket, this book is 208 pages and in full color. It is a book that absolutely must be part of any decent fishing tackle or history library. It is currently available from and other outlets.

-- Dr. Todd

1 comment:

Chucks Tackle Box said...

Check out the Life Magazine online archives for vintage photos of Lauri Rapala and his modest beginnings