From an Idea to a Best-Seller: How the CountDown Elite was Born

When casting a lure and retrieving it through the water, there are things we focus on – and things we ignore. We think about how far the lure soars, and how delicate the swimming action is. We think about how well the lure does its job. We think about the things we can see and feel. And we often leave out the things that lie underneath the surface: the analytical research, the tireless planning, the endless trial-and-error. It’s time to change that.

Innovation, Sustainability | 7 min read

It was late 2017 when the Product Development team at Rapala started conceptualizing a new lure for the brand. The goal was to make a modern version of a long-trusted Rapala classic, the CountDown, and introduce it to the booming trout fishing scene in Japan. With these specs to guide them, the PD team started developing CountDown Elite, the lure that would make a splash not only in Japan but also in Europe.

But it wasn’t a clear-cut case. Each development process is unique, and some projects can take a lot of time – and patience. Working in close cooperation with Japanese experts, the PD team sent different prototypes to Japan for approval, working towards the final product step by step.

“You should have seen the first prototype – it was nothing like the lure that’s now on the shelves! During the three years we spent designing the CountDown Elite, we came up with probably 20 different prototypes,” says Lure Designer Peter Mörsky, one of the designers leading the project.

“But we weren’t in a hurry. We wanted to think every aspect through and through because the task wasn’t easy – the original CountDown is still catching fish all over the world! It’s a legendary lure, and the CountDown Elite wasn’t designed to replace it, but to complement it.”

And that’s where the team found their starting point: from the high-profile design of the original CountDown – the profile that had been fooling fish for more than half a century. If you look at the CountDown Elite, you can see that the lure’s slim but prominent profile is based on the original design. But, since the 1965 introduction of the original CountDown, hard bait technology has taken immense leaps. Today, we can craft lures that would have been unimaginable in the 1960s. With this cutting-edge technology at their disposal, the PD team started thinking of ways to modernize the CountDown. That meant ticking off two boxes: durability and castability.

“We started looking into ways to make the CountDown Elite as tough as possible, and the first thing was to add a through-wire. But we made an additional discovery: we found a way to make the wire that runs through the lure’s body about 20-30 % stronger than before! In a lure this small, that’s a tremendous percentual difference,” Peter explains.

“And there’s more to the wire-through construction. We figured out a way to attach the diving lip to the rigid internal wire instead of the wood, giving the lure even more robust construction.”

Peter’s not exaggerating. The story has that a prototype of the lure was taken to the ICAST trade show a couple of years ago. It was handed to a burly colleague as a challenge: try and pull the bait’s diving lip off. The colleague – and many others – gave it a try, but the CountDown Elite returned to Finland in one piece.

However, the biggest challenge was yet to come. It was paramount for the Rapala PD team that the CountDown Elite’s casting abilities were in a league of its own. The lure needed to fly. But this proved technically difficult: how to ensure the lure was heavy enough without cramping up the delicate swimming action?

“Finding the right material for the lure’s weights was by far the most challenging step. The industry is moving away from using lead weights due to environmental reasons, and replacing lead isn’t easy. We tried zinc, but it was too light – we would’ve had to have half the lure made of zinc just to have the weight right!” Peter tells.  

“And we tried other materials as well, but there was always something. Too expensive, too frail, too incompatible with coating materials. Until we found it.”

What Peter and the team found was tungsten-polymer – a material that didn’t even exist until ten years ago. More sustainable than lead and heavier than zinc, the material provided the perfect balance between swimming action and casting abilities. And when the team found tungsten-polymer, they knew they had hit the jackpot. 

“The low center of gravity, the casting ability, the super-sensitive swimming action, and the flutter on the drop – yeah, we knew it right away. This was how we wanted to make our lure,” Peter recounts. 

That’s how the CountDown Elite got its fish-catching design – or half of it. Lure’s not a lure before you give it the finishing touch: the coatings, the life-like patterns, and the vibrant colors. While Peter and the rest of the team were figuring out how to make the CountDown Elite cast and swim, Esa Juusola, Rapala VMC’s Lure Color Designer, was figuring out how to give the lure its unique, yet instantly recognizable, appearance. 

“Since the CountDown Elite was aimed for the Japanese anglers, my mission was to give the lure its Japanese aesthetics while making sure it was still distinguishably a Rapala product,” Esa says.

“I also wanted to add something unique to the lure. I don’t know how many anglers pay this close attention, but if you look at the CountDown Elite real close, you can see that the top and bottom sides of the lure are covered in shiny lacquer, while the flanks have a matt finish. This gives off a cool effect – it’s like the lure has a tin foil layer underneath.”

Esa’s job is not only to to create, but also to make sure the end result is feasible and practical. Creativity must be paired with no-nonsense realism. 

“You have to make sure the lure does what it’s designed for: catch fish. There is no point in making a lure that looks pretty but isn’t appealing to the fish,” Esa points out.

Based on that line of thinking, inspiration was sought from Japanese live trout patterns – resulting in beautiful and life-like finishes like the Gilded Yamame, Gilded Oikiwa, and Gilded Wakasagi. Of course, this nailing the finishes was no piece of cake, either. The Japanese consultants were pedantic about the degree of realism the finishes exhibited, and Esa recounts how he had to, at one time, move the spots in a certain finish one millimeter to the right to nail the pattern. 

But, as history shows, it was worth it. The CountDown Elite, with its impeccable swimming action and exquisite finishes, became an instant hit in Japan. Even as the lure was designed for the Japanese markets, it turned out premium craftsmanship was in demand in European waters – and in the Finnish Lapland, where Esa himself uses the lure with “extremely effective results.”

But, when looking at the hard bait, there is still one question left unanswered: what’s with the long face? As it turns out, the CountDown Elite’s slight expression of disapproval and alarm was born from personal preferences.

“I almost always draw the eyes first. For this lure, I wanted the eyes to portray a distinct character while preserving the life-like feel of the design. But I didn’t want to make it look too angry or anything. Instead, I aimed for an ambiguous expression – a bit like the Mona Lisa,” Esa laughs. 

For many, that enigmatic frown is among the first things they notice when picking up the CountDown Elite. Upon closer inspection, intricate and naturalistic patterns and colors reveal themselves. The angular edges of the lure. And when cast, the lengths it crosses in mere seconds. Upon retrieve, the alluring action. Even though you may not always pay attention to all the details and the painstaking work put into them, you’ll see the result of the long journey – each time you cast the lure