"Our father was a kind, humble man," says Risto, Lauri's second son. "He liked to spend time on the water. My best memories were those times when we fished. It was cold, and we would take a break, go to shore, start a fire to warm up and eat sandwiches prepared by our mother."
Lauri used a troutline with about a thousand hooks to catch northern pike and perch. He trailed the troutline behind his “soutuvene”, the traditional Finnish fishing boat. Lauri had no motor so he rowed about
30 miles every day, except in storms, of course, and he baited his own hooks with minnows from a nearby forest lake.
"Our father really understood fishing," says Risto. "He recognized the relationship between bottom structure and where fish are located. He learned how fish fed, and how they moved from one location to another. And Lauri understood the effects of weather on fishing."
He thought a fishing lure might help him catch more fish, and in turn, earn more money. A well-made fishing lure also might eliminate the need to constantly bait lines. After all, minnows die, a fishing lure doesn't. So, Lauri whittled, shaved and carved. Eventually, a lure began to take shape.
Lauri worked hard but initially, his desire to capture that slightly wobbling action failed. Together, with his friend Akseli Soramaki and a local hermit, Pylvalainen, who lived on an island in the middle of Lake Päijänne, Lauri observed that his wooden lure did not have the same action as a live, wounded baitfish.
Lauri continued experimenting. He fiddled with hook assemblies and guttapercha sheets. Finally, using a shoemaker's knife, a file and sandpaper, he shaped his first successful lure from cork in 1936. Tinfoil from a neighbor's cheese packets and chocolate bars formed the lure's outer surface. Lauri melted unwanted photographic negatives on the lure to create a protective coating, since he was unable to obtain lacquer. This first lure still exists today - it's black on top, gold along its flanks, and white on the bottom - just like the minnows of Lake Päijänne.
When he completed it, Lauri trolled his first successful lure with a line tied to his thumb to prevent the lure's loss. It mimicked an injured minnow so well that trout and pike hungrily attacked it. As fish tales go, his sons Risto and Ensio, who were young children then, say Lauri sometimes caught
600 pounds of fish a day with his new lure.
In 1939, war broke out through Europe. Shortages of all types worsened and Lauri's growing family needed food. Fortunately, his little invention worked and he caught many fish. With his knowledge of nature, Lauri switched from cork to pine bark to create lures. Lauri obtained the bark from pine stumps and logging sites. Some owners were probably surprised when Lauri asked to buy their crooked pine trees, and even more so when he left the trees bare - the bark painstakingly removed.
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland, Lauri left his family to defend his homeland. When Nazi Germany declared war against the Soviet Union, the enemies switched, and the Finnish people soon found themselves fighting the invading German Army.
Word of Lauri's lure spread during the war years. He frequently used the lure to catch fish for himself and his army friends. Legend has it, according to his grandson, Jarmo Rapala, chief executive officer of the Rapala, that Lauri's lure received a "bang" of promotion one day when he challenged his Army friends to a fishing contest. During those times, dynamite was sometimes used to obtain fish. Lauri said his lure could do better, and after several hours of fishing, Lauri caught 78 fish, far exceeding what his friends "caught" with dynamite. After six years in the Finnish Army, Lauri returned to his family.
Demand for Lauri's lure increased after the war, particularly among summer vacationers to Lake Päijänne. Lauri was surprised that anyone would buy his lure. Yet the lure's reputation grew as word of Lauri's abundant catches spread throughout the region.
By 1948, Risto, Ensio, Esko and Kauko, Lauri's four sons, were emerging as young men. Lauri taught them craft of making the Rapala fishing lure, and they all caught on quickly. Ensio, in particular, did so well that one of the lures he carved won a national craftsmen's award.
For her part, Elma designed and wrote promotional copy for the lure boxes. Because she could read, write and understood mathematics, Elma handled the bookkeeping, and made sure the family was paid for their hard work.
"Lure making was good for our family," says Risto. "In addition to giving us work, it helped to keep our family together and taught us many life lessons, especially the value of honesty and hard work."
The enterprising business also had a big impact on the village.
"At first, I don't think Lauri received much respect," Ensio says. "After all, who knew what would become of this business? It wasn't a respectable profession, like a lumberjack. Some even said he was lazy. But our father didn't listen to the criticism, or become angry. He just went about his business."
Machinery improved the quality of the lures, and enhanced production efficiency. The first sign of mechanization was the introduction of an old spinning wheel with a strip of sandpaper around it. The spinning wheel was used to smooth and polish the lures. Ensio developed a special circular saw and a band saw to create identical lure blanks.
"We each had our favorite part in making the lures," says Risto. "Ensio liked painting the eyes, I liked to glue the celluloid on the surface, and our father liked carving them. We all took great pride in our work."