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For many years I had thought that Lauri Rapala was considered the father of lure building. At least that was what the sales pitch from the Rapala company and most sports fishing magazines in the Nordic countries seemed to want you to believe. When the Internet became available this view changed as I started to study the history of lure building. Fishing with artificial lures and flies are as far as we know today something that started as far back as with the ancient Greeks. Most anglers today have heard about how Lauri started to sell his lures, and his business grew until today being the largest lure manufacturer in the world. But was it really with Lauri that this piece of history started ? Did he really make his lures out of pine bark, and where did he get the idea to make his lures?
It turns out that the truth is a little different.
Markku Lepistö unravels the mystery:
On the small island of Koreakoivu on lake Päijänne, lies a small one room cabin. For 40 years Toivo Pylväläinen lived a humble life as a fisherman. Toivo was more or less a completely anonymous sole until quite recently. The little he had ever told anyone about him self was only after someone had offered him a bottle of vodka, and with his vivid way of telling stories, and influenced by the vodka, no one could really be certain what was the truth.
Markku Lepistö’s is a Hunter and fishing guide that also is interested in the local history. His passion for angling lead him to try and find out more about Toivo Pylväläinen. His life and the story behind the man. Rural stories had it that Toivo was the person who taught Lauri Rapala how to fish, and make lures.
Toivo Pylväläinen was born in 1894 as son of a “tenant farmer ” in Leivonmäki. At the age of 11 the poor conditions at home forced him to leave home and make his own way through life. With his belongings in a small backpack, he walked from farm to farm offering to work for a little food and a place to sleep. He never liked to stay long in one place, and usually moved on to the next job after a short time. In the 1920’s he was close to Heinola, and during the early 30’s he was found working as a supervisor at a construction site, making a Railway bridge in Heinola.
At the construction site there was a small cafeteria. When the girl that worked there got pregnant, Toivo is supposed to have disappeared from the site. Toivo wandered up along the Kymijoki river until he got to the south end of Päijänne. He fished for a living, and this is when his walkabout ended. He found the small cottage on the island of Koreakoivu. it was owned by a Gideon Liuhtola. This is where he moved in at some point during the 30’s. No one knows exactly when he moved in there as it was during the prohibition, and there was a lot of traffic to and from the island by smugglers and their customers.
Toivo was known by the locals as big heart’ed person and a good story teller. When he went shopping at the Suopelto in Sysmä, he would always buy a bottle of beer, and sit outside the store drinking it. Often lots of people would crowd around him and listen to his strange stories.
His lures where imitations of Vendance and Smelt. They fished very well for trout and Salmon. Toivo sold his lures to the local anglers, and his reputation of being a great lure builder spread. He was supposed to be an expert on tuning lures so that they had a perfect swimming action in the water. One of his fishing buddies lived in Kalkkinen. This was Lauri Rapala. They fished together, and Toivo started to teach Lauri how to make lures.
You can say that Toivo was Lauri’s mentor. Toivo didn’t want to, nor had the opportunity to make big business of his lures. Toivo didn’t want everyone to get his lures either, so he got Lauri to sign a contract stating that Lauri was never to teach his craft away, nor make a business selling lures. Obviously Lauri broke his deal with Toivo, and when he was asked about it later, Lauri just said ”these lures where too good, so i just had to make them”.
In the library in Sysmä there is a small display containing some of Toivo’s lures, materials to build lures, and the original contract between him an Lauri, stating that Lauri was never to teach the trade that Toivo had taught him, nor sell lures.
Toivo did some work together with some other lure builders at some point, and appeared on some advertising picture in the 60’s. All Toivo’s lures are now considered collectors items, and are not fished with any more.
He was reunited with his family in the early 60’s by coincident. For many years his family had believed that Toivo had drowned while out fishing, but when he was being interviewed by a radio station in Lahti his nephew recognized him due to his peculiar dialect. His nephew went to Sysmä to find Toivo, and for a short while Toivo went to visit his sister.
In the middle of the 70’s his health started to fail, and he was put in a retirement home by the government. On his 80’th birthday he got a little drunk, and got home sick. He tossed his boots out of the window, but didn’t manage to get out him self. He died 85 years old in 1979.
The local stories about Toivo are many. He was known for not having much at all. Visitors would tell about him cleaning the coffee cups by wiping them clean with newspaper when serving them coffee.
His diet was more or less only fish or pork fried in butter. He only got vegetables from his garden during the summer.
He was not fond of getting visitors on his island, so if you tried to come and visit him he would chase you off the island. You would however be invited in if you presented a bottle of Koskenkorva to him.
When the Government took him to the retirement home, he was at first allowed to move back to his island during the summers. When fall came he would “forget” to move back to the retirement home, and they would have to send people to go get him.
There is a second story surrounding his attempt to escape the nursing home on his 80’th birthday. The story is that on his 80’th birthday several black limo’s drove up to the retirement home. The guys that came out had with them several bottles of cognac. The nurses at the retirement home tried without luck to stop the visitors from taking the cognac with them to Toivo’s room. It was after these guys had left that Toivo after drinking quite a bit of his gift tried to flee the retirement home, after tossing his boots out the window.
The truth behind Toivo and the girl at the cafeteria in Heinola is that the girls family did not approve of Toivo, and refused him to marry the girl. Toivo quit his job and left the construction site, and some time later a little boy was born. Not much more has been said about the matter except that his son knows who his father was.
Matthew Hauge Coutryfisher