You can cast a Rapala Shad Rap about as easily as throwing half a potato chip. If you launch it into the wind, you might end up with negative yardage on the play. It’s not particularly snag-proof, either. Bank on sacrificing one or two in the course of a day. Even if you don’t, you’re going to spend lots of time getting unhung, assuming you’re willing to fish it in the right places. And it runs best on light line, so despite the fact that it tempts big fish, you’re going to have to battle them gingerly—and probably see a few go buh-bye. That’s the price you pay for glory.
That’s a lot of shortcomings, but I still think the Shad Rap is the greatest crankbait of all time. Not one of the greatest. The Greatest. Ali-level greatness. Bigger than the damn Beatles. Why? After all, it’s not technologically special or novel. In fact, it hasn’t changed much from the version Rapala introduced nearly 40 years ago. The longevity is part of what makes it so great. In all of that time, no one has been able to turn out a tight-wiggling crank that’s as effective—especially in cold water—as the OG Shad Rap.
Think about it. If you’re grinding a square bill into stumps, you may prefer a Strike King over a Lucky Craft, or vice versa, or a Bandit over both of them, but marketing hype aside, you could likely get the job done with any of them. On my frequent trips to Lake El Salto in Mexico, for years the gold standard deep-diver was the Bomber Fat Free Shad in the citrus shad color. It still catches tons of fish, but so does the Strike King 6XD and Rapala DT20 and Berkley Dredger. One might outfish another on a given day, but from my experience the long-term differences are marginal at best. When they’re chewing the paint off a Shad Rap, though, try as you might to feed them something similar, that something similar will retain a lot of paint.
Don’t just take my word for the power of the Shad Rap. 2019 Bassmaster Classic champion Ott DeFoe swears by them any time the water temperature is less than 55 degrees. He’s convinced their magical abilities are tied to their cores.
“Shad Raps start off as balsa,” he said. “Balsa inherently makes any crankbait better.”
OK, but there are other manufacturers working in lightweight woods. Why can’t, or won’t, they copy it? According to Rapala’s Dan Quinn, the company sold over a million Shad Raps last year. It’s hardly a close-held secret, and one you would assume would be eagerly knocked off.
DeFoe thinks that despite the catching ability of the lure, most anglers feel they’re just too much of a pain in the ass to fish.
“There’s so much stuff on the market that if you put a new lure out there today that was as painful to fish as the Shad Rap, people wouldn’t pick it up,” DeFoe said. “A Shad Rap doesn’t cast well at all, but if they made it cast well, then it wouldn’t get the same action and depth. It has drawbacks, but I’ll deal with them because I know how well it catches bass.”
Compared to what is on the market, the Shad Rap is unassuming and reasonably affordable at around seven bucks. With any lure, seeing is believing, and confidence is everything, so if you want to see and believe, DeFoe offered some pointers for getting past those Shad Rap shortcomings faster.
“Bass bite just about any crankbait better when there’s a breeze,” DeFoe said. “Generally, when possible, you’re going to need to get that breeze at your back if you want to have any chance of casting a lightweight balsa Shad Rap.”
To enhance his distance and accuracy, DeFoe typically upsizes the stock hooks to VMC Hybrid trebles, either a #6 or a #4 short shank. That adds a little bit of extra mass and it goes a long way.
For years he’s relied most heavily on the #5 and #7 model Shad Raps. The former is 2 inches long and weighs 3/16 of an ounce. The latter is 2 ¾ inches long and weighs 5/16 of an ounce. Several years ago, the company came out with a #6, right in between the two, and while it weighs less than its big brother, it is by far the best in terms of getting the lure where it needs to go because it tumbles less on the cast, according to DeFoe.
DeFoe throws his Shad Raps—including the 3/8-ounce #8—on spinning gear. For years he used 8-pound fluorocarbon to maximize distance, abrasion resistance, and depth, but he’s now moved to a main line of 10-pound braid with a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader and says the combination is the sweet spot for effective Shad Rap delivery.
Because the Shad Rap’s long bill tends to get wedged into crevices and snagged, some anglers only throw them around do-nothing banks with minimal obstacles. Not DeFoe. In his first Bassmaster Classic appearance in 2012 on Louisiana’s Red River he relied heavily on a Shad Rap to pull fish out of a virtual underwater jungle.
“If I could bump a stump and not get hung, I’d catch a fish,” he recalled. “But I still spent a lot of time retrieving my lures.”
He said that hang ups are an inevitable part of the game with Shad Raps, but if you want to minimize snags, you have to retrieve the lure slowly and pay attention to what’s going on at the end of your line. “If you can feel it catch as the bill hits, you need to stop. Let it float back and try to ease it up over the obstruction.”
The Paint Jobs
The modern Shad Rap is available in a few dozen colors, but DeFoe, who was born in 1985, still goes back those mid-’80s originals most of the time.
“I’m a fan of the old-school, plain Jane colors,” he said. “I like the original silver when the water is clear and they’re feeding on baitfish. I use the original shad when they’re eating baitfish in off-color water, and the original craw any time the water is clear but baitfish aren’t the main meal.”
Those are staples, although DeFoe has added in Dark Brown Crawdad for times when the water is dirty and the bass are spitting up crawfish. At the 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake, Purple Olive Craw was his primary weapon.
While DeFoe only has largemouths, smallmouths, and spotted bass on his mind during competition, he noted that an added benefit of the Shad Rap when fun fishing is that, “it’s not just a bass bait.” Indeed, the universal baitfish shape will absolutely wreck everything from stripers to crappies to trout to walleyes. In this era of social distancing, with tournaments on hold for the time being, that means that if you can’t cash checks with a Shad Rap, at least you can fill your plate.
Featured image by Pete Robbins