By Steve Chaconas
The minnow would not be lost
In the 1930s 3M Scotch Tape was invented, Birdseye prepared frozen dinners, and a Finnish man with a plan (and appetite) carved a legendary fishing lure. Lauri Rapala deciphered the food chain…big eats small, wounded become dinner. With a shoemaker’s knife, sandpaper, and an eye for fish patterns, he created a cork prototype in 1936. Chocolate bar tinfoil became fish lure wrap, coated with melted photographic negatives. Rapala’s fish tales became legendary and the slightly off-center wobbling Original Floating Rapala Minnow was spawned.
BASSMASTER Elite Series angler Dave Lefebre’s father introduced him to Rapalas. Avid Musky angler Frank Lefebre trolled the largest, 7” F-18. Eventual pro Lefebre cast smaller 1.5-inch lures toward weed edges. “Twitching as a topwater, I was addicted when I saw fish eating baits.” At 10, Lefebre observed his dad implementing rhythmic jerks and pauses. “I thought it was my secret until I read a BASSMASTER Secrets of the Pros article where Skeeter pro Terry Baksay’s secret was jerking the big Rapala…I was sick to my stomach that it was given away.”
“Don’t move it, let it sit!” These were the first instructions 8-year-old Alexandria angler Duel Ballard received from his buddy’s dad. “Throw it out there and don’t move it, just let it settle and then give it little twitches and stop.” There was nothing subtle about the explosive attacks that excited Ballard who, 55 years later, fishes the same Original Rapala Floating #9.
The wiggle that fish couldn’t resist was everyone’s first lure. After 75 years there are more lures, not many competitors. Since 1963, Ballard’s first tutorial still produces. “Rapala is a unique bait because it was more lifelike than lures of the day. Easy to use, like watching a bobber.” Satisfying his angling addiction, Ballard collected pop bottles for deposit money, coins for casting.
Trial and error on Virginia’s rivers, Ballard improved his luck and developed his technique. Lures floating down stream were twitched for top water bites or pulled and stopped into the current when drifting into a fishy spot. A round split shot, a foot ahead, allowed Rapalas to nearly suspend. Of many colors and sizes, Rapala’s F-9 remains Ballard’s favorite as he passes ageless angling advice to his kids. At 7, his son declared he was snagged; but his line was moving. “You’re not hung up son; you’ve got a fish. 15 pound northern when it was all said and done, his first major fish on a Rapala.” Still using Rapalas, they scour tackle shops seeking different colors. “Once I lost one of his Rapalas and he blamed me for him not catching fish.” Fondness for the lure is almost superstitious. “If you get a lucky one, it stays lucky until lost. When it’s lost, it’s like a death in the family. Usually I just close my tackle box and prepare for the long ride home.”
Pro angler Lefebre focuses on Rapala’s F9, F11 and F18. Using 13 Fishing Concept E casting reels on a 7’ medium Muse Black rod, he spools 8-10 pound Suffix monofilament. The light Rapala is harder to cast than any jerkbait which is why he’s excited about the new, longer casting, Concept Z reels just introduced by 13 Fishing. To really fling it Lefebre spools Suffix Nanobraid and 15 feet of 8-pound mono leader on a Creed K spinning reel with a 7’ medium action Muse Black rod.
Lefebre says balsa wood’s unique characteristics allow erratic lure actions above or below the surface. On top, he wakes it with the rod tip up and a slight bow in the line, bulging the surface with a wide, hard, pushing action. Gentle upward rod twitches on slack line make it shimmy, pop and bob on the surface.
Calm water is more important than clarity. The light bait sneaks up on fish, quietly hitting the water. High buoyancy Rapalas float quickly, offering Lefebre more control over shallow cover. Going a bit deeper, Lefebre targets springtime weed bed holes. “When jerking the bait…jerk and pause, it floats up really fast.”
Original minnows come in many colors. Silver and black produces natural flash. “Around smallmouth, perch color with orange on belly, green and gold…clown is in my arsenal, straight gold and firetiger.” Same goes for sizes. He uses F7 a lot, recalling a 2nd place finish at Lake Wheeler. “Shad were really tiny and I crushed them on that for 3 or 4 days.” Smaller versions work especially well in fall. In a James River Bassmaster tournament, he caught a key fish on a highly pressured fishery to qualify for the Elite Series. “I wanted something on top with a different action to pull fish out of cover and I caught a 2.5 pounder.”
Plastic lures look similar, but Lefebre says Rapala’s Original Floating minnow’s action catches fish because they don’t do the same thing every time. Ballard and Lefebre memories and presentations keep this childhood lure in a prominent place in their tackleboxes.
Potomac River Bassing in FEBRUARY
Water will be cold at the beginning of the month and warm slightly by the end, ranging from 38-45. In all cases, burp a ½ ounce Silver Buddy on 10 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line on Quantum VAPOR casting reels with a medium action graphite rod. Fish will be on drops.
Mizmo chartreuse or smoke colored grub and a Mann’s Stingray grub on a ¼ ounce ball head jig can be worked in the same areas. Dropshotting with a 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hook can also work. Use a 4-inch leader and either a 1/8 or 3/16 Water Gremlin BullShot weight. For all soft plastics, soak in garlic flavor Jack’s Juice Bait Spray and use 6-pound test Edge.
As water gets closer to 45, slow roll Mann’s Classic spinnerbaits and slowly crank Loudmouth III crankbaits.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com