Building the ultimate coldwater jerkbait

By the time you read this, many of bass fishing’s best searched the waters of Lake Hartwell, trying to make a name for themselves. They scoured the entire reservoir in hopes of finding the game-winning fish, and no pocket, creek or cove went unnoticed.

I wish I were among them. Unfortunately, I fell a few places shy of qualifying so, instead, I worked the Classic Outdoor Expo. That’s not all bad though … especially this year.

I got to help Rapala unveil an exciting new lure called the Shadow Rap.

Designed by Rapala’s head of lure development, Mark Fisher, the Shadow Rap can be loosely described as a slow-sinking jerkbait, but one whose rate of descent is carefully controlled by water density and temperature — the colder or denser it is, the slower this lure will sink. And according to Fisher, it’s the way the lure falls that is so special. He describes it as a “slow fade.”

Balsa beginnings

Although the term “jerkbait” covers a wide range of minnow-type lures, most are designed to float or suspend. None of the current models (at least to my knowledge), are built to sink at a predetermined rate or in seductive fashion — the very characteristics Fisher had in mind while developing the Shadow Rap.

Ironically, the idea was conceived during development of the Flat Rap — Rapala’s super buoyant, flat-sided balsa minnow. While testing the Flat Rap, Fisher saw certain performance characteristics that he believed would lend themselves to a cold-water application at temperatures below 55 degrees. What caught his eye was how quickly the Flat Rap reacted compared to other more sluggish minnow-type lures. More specifically, he liked how it starts and stops.

Seeing that, he knew it was only a matter of integrating the proper weight distribution to control the lure’s attitude and rate of fall. He also wanted to limit the amount of sound and flash the lure would emit, believing that too much of either could actually repel lethargic, cold-water fish.

Rapala's Mark Fisher holds his latest creation.

Shadow size matters

To build the “ultimate cold-water jerkbait,” Fisher had to decide on the right proportions — length and the overall profile. He chose size 11 (i.e., 11 centimeters or 4 3/8 inches), which he says is the shortest length possible to support three sets of treble hooks. It’s also the ideal size to represent a multitude of baitfish types, including shad, shiners, alewives and herring (a key forage for Lake Hartwell’s bass population).

Fisher relied on pro staff feedback for this and other Shadow Rap traits, including the lure’s tracking depth. Offered in both shallow and deep-running models, the shallower version will achieve a running depth of approximately 4 feet, the deeper model can reach depths of 8 feet or more — keeping in mind that these lures have built-in ballasts, so added depth can be achieved simply by slowing the retrieve.

According to Fisher, the ballast or internal weight system, in combination with the lure’s flat profile, quickens its response and shut down, which then leads to the “slow fade” descent he intended.

Looks aren’t everything…but!

With all these built-in performance characteristics, one would think little more would be required to complete the design. For Fisher, however, considerable work remained.

From drawing board to a bass near you, the Rapala Shadow Rap makes its debut at the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.

He wanted the Shadow Rap to have just the right amount of flash and translucence to match the physical characteristics of wintertime forage. To accomplish this, he applied a chrome scale pattern above the lure’s lateral line with transparent body below. To color the backs, he selected a myriad of fine, metallic finishes. The bellies feature a subtle pearlescence.

The final touches include 3-D holographic eyes and light-wire VMC Vanadium steel treble hooks. Although light by weight, these hooks are plenty strong and sticky sharp — to ensure secure hook-ups, even from passive strikes.

Reflecting on his cold-water creation, Fisher says the challenge was in giving the Shadow Rap just the right amount of sound, movement and flash to make it irresistible to non-aggressive fish. He believes most manufacturers tend to overdo these attributes, which can hinder a lure’s effectiveness in cold water — when fish are lethargic, cautious and often unwilling to travel any distance to feed (a situation which may confront the Classic contenders).

For Fisher, that’s when a jerkbait’s movements should be “more about the struggle than the escape.” And from what I’ve seen, he's more than substantiated his claim. The Shadow Rap is in a class by itself.