It was the 1930s – a time when fishermen sought dinner, not fortune and fame. Long before anything resembling a fishing “industry” took hold, a man in Finland came up with a scheme to catch more fish. Little did he know he would change the world.
By now, many of us have heard the story of Lauri Rapala and the first lures he carved out of scrap wood. Long before, Rapala realized predator fish targeted the weak, so he set out to recreate that same wounded-minnow action, later covering his creations in foil from chocolate bars to also mimic a minnow’s flash.
Today, Rapala lures are sold all over the world. The company has grown to one of the largest in fishing, employing thousands of people and generating millions of dollars in revenue. Yet, it was a man obsessed with fooling fish who unknowingly put the wheels in motion.
Although Rapala’s story began in Finland, it represents the epitome of the American Dream. Today, we recognize the immense size of the fishing industry and the potential for substantial sales of fishing-related products. Unlike the simple times of Rapala, today many fishing-lure designers dream of pots of gold rather than stringers full of salmon.
Once again, we’ll view their greatest attempts this week at the annual ICAST tackle show in Orlando, Fla. ICAST is everything to the U.S. fishing market; manufacturers pull out all the stops and unveil their latest, greatest attempts to fool fish, or perhaps fishermen.
Along with all the new lures, electronics, rods, reels, apparel and boating add-ons will be on display. Some may be gimmicks, but others will, undoubtedly, revolutionize the world of fishing. I’ve been lucky enough to be in on one of these with Minn Kota’s newest creation, and I can’t wait until the cat is let fully out of the bag.
ICAST shows in the past have been a mixed bag of legitimate show-stoppers and trendy attempts. Each year, a number of “best of show” awards are presented, thus stirring up PR for the lucky recipients. The hard and soft lure category, certainly two of the most anticipated classes, have a tendency to fall flat on their face when it comes to representing a true winner. While the victors gain a bump in sales, most have failed recently to win a permanent place in America’s tackle boxes.
As an ICAST regular, I anxiously await the newest products in the apparel, electronics and line categories. Each of these had major traction in recent years, and it seems the sky’s the limit in terms of advancement. I know I, for one, have come to greatly appreciate cooler clothes, nearly unbreakable lines and ultra-accurate charting.
ICAST is upon us, and so with it comes renewed excitement for fishing. And with each passing year and breakthrough development, I again find myself wondering how the fish stand a chance. Then things settle down and I again realize it’s all part of the greater plan: we get smarter, and we advance our quarry right along with us.
But what about the aforementioned story of Rapala and today’s version of the American Dream? Does it still exist in fishing? Is it possible to fashion a lure, or possibly another angling invention, and turn it into a fortune?
At one time it was, but I’m not sure anymore. The world has changed, and with all the advancements in fishing have come buy-outs, corporate take-overs and conglomerations resulting in fishing mega-corporations that own large percentages of the industry. With such size comes power, and the ability to squash the little guy.
Over the past two decades, I’ve been involved in a few tackle-related products that went to market, and I can personally attest to the impossibility of competing with corporate giants, whether they be tackle companies or the retailers that also market their own products. Mold costs, patent attorneys, pro-staff marketing and sponsorship packages are just a few impassable hurdles for the little guy that the big boys easily take in stride.
But that’s part of doing business with just about everything, and, occasionally, we still see a glimpse of what could be. I remember the excitement of telescopic rods, allowing flippers to put their sticks in the day’s shorter rod lockers. There was the ChatterBait, flying under the radar until a select few anglers went out and won everything on them. Later still, the Alabama Rig upped the ante. And who could forget the Sweet Beaver?
What will it be this year? Have manufacturers outdone themselves yet again? Most likely; but the challenge will be to see through the smoke and mirrors and find the gems within. I will attempt to do so this week, and report back.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)