By Sean Ostruszka
It has no rattles or weight transfer system. No mold-injected body or laser-engraved color schemes. No hard-wobbling action or even 3-D eyes. Nothing of any technological significance. It’s just balsa, wire, zinc, Lexan and a paint job. It’s simpler than a Kellogg’s Pop-Tart. And it will be catching fish long after we are all gone.
It’s a Rapala Shad Rap.
Compared to the newest crankbaits, which feature most of the above-mentioned features, Shad Raps are dinosaurs. Yet even the most quasi walleye angler owns at least a dozen Shad Raps, while most pros own two dozen in each color. Why? Because they still catch fish better than almost any crankbait out there, and they have been doing so from the moment they were designed more than 20 years ago. And I do mean from the very beginning. When the crankbait first came out in 1982, it was so popular, yet hard to find, bait shops on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota rented out individual Shad Raps for the day for $25 – with a $25 deposit.
The lure is quite a bit easier to find now, yet it hasn’t lost its mojo. So, being a lure nut, I wanted to know what makes this lure so incredible. Rapala Director of Field Promotions Mark Fisher filled me in.
“The No. 1 issue is it is made from balsa,” Fisher said. “Balsa gives the lure the most delicate and lively action. The lure almost slides through the water. No other material can do that. We have experimented with various plastics, but plastic just doesn’t have the ballast and buoyancy.”
Balsa has a density ranging from about 0.1 to 0.13 g/cm3 (water has a maximum density of 1 g/cm3), making it the lightest and most buoyant of all hardwoods. It is even more buoyant than cork. That unique property creates a sharp action when combined with the zinc ballast and the right shape, but we will get to that later. For now, know the balsa construction of a Shad Rap means it takes very little forward motion to get action out of it. That, combined with its subtle rolling action, is why it is the top lure in cold water for so many pros.
The shape of the body also plays a key role.
“If you look at the lure straight on, you’ll see it is in the shape of a compressed oval,” Fisher said. “That is what gives the tight, rolling action. The flatter and narrower the sides of a crankbait, the faster the action will snap back to vertical. The rounder the sides, the more it will want to roll.”
The Shad Rap combines the best of both actions with the buoyancy of balsa. No other lure can claim the same.
Anglers may also notice a Shad Rap swims on a level plane. This was also by design. The Shad Rap was originally created to be used for trout and northern pike in the shallow rivers and streams of Europe. In order to not get hung up, the lure had to swim level while still having the desired action. That is the reason the lip is on an angle instead of straight out. Of course, this is also why the lure is not the best at bumping cover. It wasn’t created for it.
Beyond that, there is not much more to the lure. I wish it was more complicated, but it is just that simple. However, the Shad Rap has spawned numerous more complicated lures. Though, the transformation wasn’t always easy.
In 2000, Rapala set out to make a jointed version of the Shad Rap from plastic. Knowing now what you do about the importance of balsa to this lure, the plastic lure gave the designers headaches.
“They knew they would be giving up some delicacy by going with plastic,” Fisher said. “But it was giving up a lot more than they wanted.”
Eventually, one of the designers realized that jointed lures have aggressive actions anyway, so there was little reason to keep trying to make the jointed model subtle. Instead, Rapala put in a rattle and created a lure that rivals many lipless crankbaits for noise – the Jointed Shad Rap.
Along with the jointed model, Rapala has taken the basic Shad Rap design and created lures like the Glass Shad Rap, X-Rap Shad and Minnow Rap, which is actually a combination of a Shad Rap and Original Floater.
“Including colors, sizes and variations, I’d say there are probably 2 million pieces that have come out of the Shad Rap,” Fisher said. “And of those 2 million, half the ones out there are the same six lures: No.5, No.7 and No. 9 Shad Raps and Shallow Shad Raps. And I bet the majority of those are in the same three colors: silver and black, gold and black, and firetiger. It is incredible when you think about it.”
Not bad for one of the simplest lures on the market.