I‘m a liberal leaning outdoorsman attempting to open the minds of right wingers to the idea that libs fish too. Anglers come from all walks of life, left, right, and center. Not everyone who fishes for bass is a redneck fond of Nascar, country music, and religiosity. Expect posts about largemouth bass fishing, techniques, reviews of lures and other products, but not any condemnable conservative rants. I hope to inspire the online angler community to dial down rhetoric which will do more harm than good to our sport.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

• The Rapala Original Floating Minnow

The Rapala Original Floating Minnow is in the family of hardbaits we call jerkbaits. Many hold the opinion that this one lure revolutionized the world of minnow-mimicking baits. The story is an interesting one and if you have some free time, visit the Rapala web site and give it a read. The story itself is a relatable one because most anglers are habitual tinkerers and adjust their fishing repertoire in order to take advantage of fish behavior they've witnessed in the wild. The story itself can be summarized as follows. In the mid to late 1930's, Lauri Rapala noticed how fish in predator-mode selectively attacked baitfish swimming with an off-center wobble. He set out to create a lure which behaved similarly. After whittling, carving, and shaping, the finished product became the design which ultimately grew into the Original Floating Minnow we know today. The legend that is Rapala blossomed from this one bait.

The Original Floater is available in different sizes, but I prefer the larger F11 model, so it will be the focus of this post. All of the specifications for each model are readily available on the Rapala web site. Sadly, Rapala lacks some clarity when it comes to specific diving depths for many products, including the Original Floater. The site generally only includes the diving depths as a range for the whole family of one kind of lure, but not for each individual model. In other words, unless you still have the original packaging, you might not remember what depth your fancy schmancy Rapala lure was rated to swim at. The Original Floater family covers depths from the surface to 11 feet deep according to the site, but the F11 is strictly a shallow water lure, but with some help from you, it can venture into deeper water with ease.

Basic Stats:
Balsa wood construction, assembled in Ireland
Weight: 3/16oz (6g)
Length: 11cm (4 3/8"), hence the "F11" label

The F11 is available in 23 colors. I own one in Silver and another in Shiner, two very natural designs considered more "classic" patterns by the company specs. Alternatively, Rapala offers a few in a "bleeding" motif to cater to your bloodthirsty red-obsessed alter ego. The lure has three No. 6 treble hooks now made by VMC, however the F11's I own predate the switch and sport a different brand of hooks. I want to say they were made by Mustad, but I could be wrong.

Although the Original Floater is widely considered a multi-species bait, I don't have the luxury of diversity many northern anglers are accustomed to, so I use the lure to target largemouth bass exclusively. That's not to say I don't catch other fish with the F11. In fact, just yesterday, I caught a crappie larger than my hand on my trusty F11 and also snagged a small bass too. The F11 has fallen by the wayside in my lineup though. The F11 used to be one of my favorite and somewhat more productive shallow water baits growing up. At that time, I used somewhat lighter tackle, not the baitcasters I cast with now. While three of my rigs are capable of throwing the lure, my jerkbaits were replaced by similar plastic alternatives like Senko-type worms. Still, part of me can't seem to let go, so by revisiting the lure by way of this blog entry, maybe the F11 will make its way back into my life. If I had to pick between a 6.3:1/ML finesse rod, 5:1/medium rod, or a 6.3:1/ML cranking rod, I'd choose the cranking rig first. The 7' rod makes casting the light lure greater distances much easier and the backbone allows for the fish to take the bait before I set the hook.

Jerkbaits, stickbaits, rip baits, or whatever you want to call them, are all fished in a similar fashion. Because the F11 is a floating lure and does not suspend, it has to be handled differently than other jerkbaits which are usually geared more towards fishing deeper water. How does the F11 fit into the "jerkbait twitch" school of thought? The Original Floater is considered a shallow runner or a subsurface bait and the lure does not hang in the strike zone for very long. You will want to optimize your efforts towards working this lure in this narrow zone of opportunity. To compensate for the narrow target zone, you will want to be very subtle with your presentation. It does not take much movement on your part to elicit a dramatic response from the bait, and in turn, the bite. This has to do with both the weight of the lure and how it shimmies and flashes relative to the speed of your retrieve. The F11 will behave as intended, but only if you are aware of its presence in the water. The body essentially wiggles side to side, sometimes with a circular bias, creating a special kind of shimmy Rapala is known for. The shimmy produces a flash close enough to a real minnow that a predator fish doesn't even have to think twice. What you perceive in terms of action and what a bass sees are two very different things. Your retrieve may be slow, but the shimmy of the lure is misleading and not something we intuitively understand. This wobble gives of a visual modulation similar to spinnerbait blades. The lure ends up looking like it is moving faster than it really is. In light of this, remember to slow your retrieve so that the bait does not lose its natural swimming quality. Learn how the lure moves and reacts to your own input and then move on to mastering the techniques below.

The Technique: Your goal is to mimic a live minnow on the run or one that is wounded and dying.

Jerkbaits rightfully deserve such a nickname. Aside from the likely intended straight cast and retrieve approach envisioned by Lauri Rapala, another more creative technique made these lures a go-to bait. By snapping the rod, we can move the bait in an erratic fashion, adding pauses of varying lengths in between. In many ways, this technique is similar to what I described while writing about the Arbogast Hula Popper and more specifically, a post I wrote discussing twitching techniques. After the lure hits the water, you are left with two decisions. You may let the lure sit for a moment and wait for the ripples to subside or retrieve the lure right away. Once you do decide to move the lure, briskly snap the rod a couple of times. Follow that up with a steady retrieve or a series of brief twitches. Notice that every time you move the bait, the lip causes the lure to swim a little deeper. A quick snap of the rod makes the lure dive even further. You can opt to make this a powerfishing technique by immediately reeling in after twitching near a target or you can methodically work the bait over an area as needed. Because this is a floating lure which does not suspend without added "help," allowing a pause for the lure to float back up to the surface before continuing depends solely on personal preference of the angler and the mood of the fish. I generally do not like to let the lure to break the surface at all during a pause. With regard to the twitch itself, while many jerkbait anglers encourage snapping the lure hard enough to create a splash, in my experience, bass seem to prefer a much more subtle snap without all the commotion. The F11 is too light to really rip hard to begin with and any attempt at doing so will likely yank the lure clean out of the water altogether. Quite often, a strike will occur during the pause. Make sure you are prepared to respond accordingly.

A technique I personally use involves raising the rod tip almost straight up in the air and reeling the bait back in using a steady retrieve and very light twitches. In effect, what this does is very similar to what anglers can do with wake baits. This keeps the nose of the lure up and disrupts the surface of the water leaving a wake trail. I fish the bait in this fashion over various depths, whether shallow or in five or six feet of water unless I'm in rougher water, but it is best suited for when I'm fishing in inches of water or hanging up on shallow weeds.

The other option is to troll. Many anglers up north use trolling to go after other species of fish. This approach, in my experience, seldom appeals to largemouth bass. I've wasted plenty of time on the water attempting to troll a jerkbait behind the boat in search of active bass only to come up empty handed.

The Hookset:
Setting the hook all depends on the tenacity of the strike, but in most cases, I like to let the fish take the bait for a moment before yanking the rod back. If you find you are getting hits, but no hookups, let the bass take the bait just as you would a topwater frog. Again, I prefer using a limber 7' rod that has enough give so as to not rip the bait out of the mouth on the hookset. If you miss, there's a good chance that throwing back to the same spot will still produce. Few baits can make that kind of claim.

Most fish I catch tend to snag on the frontmost hook, so I've been known to foul hook a few. Any lure sporting three treble hooks is bound to stick 'em with at least one. Make sure your hooks are sharp and replace them when you feel the current set have been rendered ineffective. When removing the hook from an impaled fish, take precautions so as to prevent the other hooks from creating additional problems. It is very easy to hook the fish a second or third time, but also rather easy to hook yourself in the process.

It really becomes a headache once you discover your gear cannot throw a light lure. Adding extra weight to the lure makes using it a much more pleasurable experience. To cast the F11 a little further and make it swim a little deeper, I add a single split shot three to ten inches up the line. Adding a split shot was a technique I resorted to out of intuition a long time ago, but as it turns out, Rapala recommends this rigging option at their site. An alternative is to stick on suspend strips. I have previoiusly written about both split shotting and suspend strips on the blog.

While some recommend using the individual properties of a particular line to your advantage, like sinking fluorocarbon and floating mono, I have found that for a shallow swimming lure like this, the differences are largely negligible when fished as-is. However, do not disregard the stretching properties in a line because although this bait is armed with three sets of treble hooks, you want to give optimal time for the fish to engulf the lure for a solid hookset, but not so much that later on, the fish can spit the lure out.

Adding a split ring at the nose creates a more pronounced wobble and wider twitch radius.

Bottom bounce the lure with a swivel, leader, and/or a weight further up the line. Specialty rigs may include three way swivels or depth specific drop shot presentations. I have never personally used these rigs for presenting lures of this kind.

Tie the knot directly to the eye and position it at the lower half. The bait will rise higher when twitching and will keep the nose up, not pointed down.

Use the Rapala knot or a loop knot of some kind to allow the lure free range of movement. Snap swivels are okay too in my opinion. They allow for quick changes, especially when related to differences in color and size.
Rapala Knot: animatedknots.com
See Rapala Knot Diagram (PDF) - Photo

Although Rapala is one of the biggest names in the business and this particular lure is symbolic of its raw power as a company, the Floating Minnow is not without problems. The biggest disadvantage in this lure has to be its weight. For many of us using baitcasters, the lure is far too light to make any significant casts. Even those with spinning rigs may have a hard time throwing the bait. A lure which is difficult to cast unless you employ light tackle or weights is generally not something baitcaster fans throw for very long. A Smithwick Rogue which weighs 3/8oz might be a better option than a measly 3/16oz Floating Minnow.

With three treble hooks, the lure tangles up on itself and other lures when kept in storage compartments. While tangled lures might be unavoidable, you can keep the lure from hooking itself during regular use. To prevent the lure from hooking itself, thread on trebles with shorter shanks. Some anglers recommend going to a size 4 hook, but in doing so, keep in mind you might tangle up on the other two hooks. Consider only swapping out the treble on the end for a larger hook. Conceal the rear hook and add some extra flash by using a feathered treble. Read my post on swapping treble hooks.

At around $8, depending on where you shop, losing one can really leave you in a huff.

The Final Say:
I know it's no Smithwick Rogue or even an X-Rap or Husky Jerk, but in terms of jerkbaits, the Original Floater in the F11 model is a fantastic shallow water bait. Stay mindful of the weight, action, and presence of this lure in the water and success will find you. If you know a fish is lurking in a particular spot, do not hesitate. Throw one of these. As with any lure, consider the rate at which you retrieve. With a jerkbait like this, a rapid action can be achieved by a medium speed turn of the handle. Adding a split shot or suspend strips are both options if you prefer to give your lure a little extra time in the strike zone. If you are a shallow water angler like me and can produce bites on soft stickbaits, there is no reason why you shouldn't also throw a Rapala Original Floater of the same size and color scheme.

Rapala Web Site: Original Floater

Other Rapala Posts:
Rapala SSR
Rapala JSR
Rapala DT-6
Review: VMC Sure Set Hooks


Lydia said...

nice blog and good post!!
keep blogging!!!

Jim S. said...

I have a tackle box full of floating rapalas which I think I can make much more productice after reading this informative blod. Great, specific, information.

Jim S. said...

Terrific, informative, information on how to make the floating rapala productive! Now I know what I've been doing wrong...