Dennis Anderson: Like fish, Ostrom bit hard on Rapala

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2012 - 10:25 PM

The fishing world changed forever when Ray Ostrom and Ron Weber first imported these lures.

hide

The late Ray Ostrom, above, took orders for Rapala lures in his south Minneapolis sporting goods store (below) after a story about the then-novel baits appeared in an issue of Life magazine commemorating Marilyn Monroe, who had recently died.

Photo: , Photo provided by Ostrom family

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

An era passed Saturday with the funeral of Ray Ostrom, 85, of Bloomington. His life story, and that of his business partner, Ron Weber of Edina, is uniquely Minnesotan -- and one every fisherman might recall when reaching into a tackle box for a Rapala lure.

Ostrom and Weber changed fishing forever here and throughout the world beginning in 1959 when they asked Finnish lure maker Lauri Rapala for the U.S. and later Canadian and U.K. rights to distribute his hand-carved baits.

Born in Minneapolis to Swedish immigrant parents, Ostrom hunted and fished -- the latter, particularly for muskies -- with great vigor from the time he was a boy until recent years, when kidney failure tied him to a dialysis machine three days a week.

Of humble beginnings, he married his wife, Norma -- who died just last month -- in 1948. Their initial "home" was the basement boiler room of the first Minneapolis sporting goods shop Ray opened, at 3006 35th Av. S.

Later, when the Ostroms' daughter, Cathy, was born, their landlord felt sorry for the new parents and moved the young family into an apartment above the store.

Now a history instructor at the University of St. Thomas, Cathy Ostrom Peters recalls easily her first outdoor experience with her dad, when she was 3.

"Dad was duck hunting, as I would find out, but I didn't really understand what we were doing," Ostrom Peters said. "All I knew was that I saw the birds. I said, 'Get the bird, Daddy! Get the bird!' And he shot one -- which was a total surprise to me. I thought he was going to capture it alive. I cried and cried, and Dad felt so bad."

Ambitious, Ostrom soon opened a bigger sporting goods and marine store at 3540 E. Lake St.

From it, he sold Johnson outboards and hunting and fishing gear, and chartered buses for customers' weekend fishing excursions to Lake of the Woods.

• • •

In the late 1950s, Ron Weber lived in Minneapolis and owned a fishing tackle distribution company, R.W. Weber sales, whose territory included Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Originally from Duluth, Weber, like Ostrom, was an experienced and avid fisherman. His special interest, over time, became river fishing for steelhead.

Quite by accident, in August 1959 Weber tied on a "Finlander plug" while fishing in Canada, and later he purchased a few of Lauri Rapala's lures from a small shop in Duluth.

The baits, largely unknown in the United States at the time, caught fish, and Weber in turn gave a few to Ostrom -- a customer of his -- to try.

Subsequently, Ostrom and Weber wrote a letter to Lauri Rapala at his home in Finland, asking to purchase "Original Rapala" lures for distribution in the United States.

In the 1930s, Lauri Rapala --every bit the fishing nut that Ostrom and Weber were -- had noticed that fish often dart into schools of minnows to attack one that is sickly or injured, or otherwise didn't move like the others.

Attempting to replicate the injured minnow's "wobble," Rapala carved a prototype lure made of cork, wrapped it in tinfoil and coated it with melted photograph negatives. Hand-trolled behind his rowboat, the bait was attacked aggressively by pike and perch.

The letter from Ostrom and Weber arrived at an opportune time. Already Rapala's lures were gaining popularity in Finland, and some were finding their way to America. But they had drawbacks. They were much lighter than such popular lures of the day as the Lazy Ike, making them a challenge to cast. Also, their retail price in America would have to be nearly $2, or twice what most baits cost. And they didn't pair well with leaders, which changed their action.

But Weber and Ostrom pushed ahead, buoyed by the development then of nimbler rods and reels, and of monofilament line, all of which they knew would facilitate casting of lighter baits.

On Feb. 10, 1960, Ostrom and Weber wrote Rapala requesting 1,000 lures, and shortly thereafter ordered another 2,040.

Remarkably, the Rapala family gave their new American distributors permission to register their U.S. firm as "the Rapala Company," a name that in time would be changed to Normark. Headquarters at first were the basement of the Lake Street store, where Ostrom holed up taking and filling orders, while Weber peddled the baits throughout the Midwest, using his contacts in the fishing tackle business.

Soon, luck shone again on this seemingly charmed pair of Minnesota fishermen when a story about Rapala lures -- headlined "A lure fish can't pass up" -- appeared in Life magazine in an issue commemorating the life and recent death of Marilyn Monroe, whose photograph graced the publication's cover.

Virtually overnight, orders for more than 3 million Rapalas poured in -- requests that sometimes arrived in envelopes stuffed ith cash.

In response, Ostrom sold his sporting goods store, and Weber divested himself of his company. Selling Rapalas would be their full-time business. Not only Original Floaters, but, in the years to come, also Shad-Raps and other Rapala lures, as well as knives and other Rapala-branded fishing gear.

• • •

Fast-forward to 1984, when Ostrom sold his share of Normark to Weber.

"Dad used to tell me: 'Life is like a ruler. It has only so many inches, and we have only so much time,'" Ostrom Peters said. "Normark was demanding more of his time, and it just wasn't worth it anymore, the loss of his hunting and fishing opportunities."

Ostrom went on to build the "NormaRay," a massive houseboat (some would say small ship) he anchored near Cyclone Island on Lake of the Woods. And he fished and hunted, the latter oftentimes with Bud Grant.

"Ray was real easy to be with," Grant said. "We hunted in Kansas together three times for turkeys, and in Iowa for deer. He always said, 'I like going with you because you're not in a hurry. Everyone nowadays is in a hurry.' I'd tell him, 'We'll go whenever you want to go, and stop as often as you want to stop.' He was just good to be with."

Almost immediately after Norma Ostrom died May 23, Ray suffered a heart attack. He was struck again June 14 and died June 16.

Weber, meanwhile, lives in Edina. In the 1990s, he sold Normark to the Rapala family, retiring to fish and to focus on other interests, including philanthropy to the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he and his wife, Mary Ann, met.

From Minnetonka, Rapala USA still imports and distributes lures from Finland.

At Ostrom's funeral on Saturday, perhaps everyone present had fished with a Rapala lure at one time or another.

In that respect, it mirrored the recreational interests of hundreds of thousands of other Minnesotans, and of millions of anglers worldwide, who since the first shipment of Rapalas arrived here in 1960 have helped the brand earn more world fishing records than any other lure.

Which, in addition to being a father to Cathy and her brother, Kirk, and husband to Norma, made Ray Ostrom -- the Swedish kid from south Minneapolis -- happy.

And proud.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Chart: The Rapala file, a Minnesota story

    Saturday June 23, 2012

    Ray Ostrom, whose funeral was Saturday in Edina, and partner Ron Weber changed fishing in Minnesota and throughout the world when they began importing Rapala lures from Finland in 1960.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 7
Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: M. Melancon 0
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
NY Mets - WP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 2
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: T. May 3
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 10
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Motte 8
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 5 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 8
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 FINAL
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
D.C. 3 FINAL
Chicago 3
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings do on Sunday in New Orleans?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close