Published December 20, 2009, 12:03 AM

Al and Ron Lindner: 40 years and still going strong

With his beard and trademark smile, Al Lindner is probably the most recognizable face in fishing. In January, he and brother, Ron, mark their 40th year in the fishing TV business

By: Brad Dokken, Herald Staff Writer

Ask anyone who’s ever fished, and chances are they’ve heard of these guys.

Al Lindner. Ron Lindner.

The two brothers with their distinct Chicago accents already were established as northern Minnesota fishing guides and makers of the Lindy Rig fishing lure when they decided to test the waters of outdoor television in 1970.

Ron had gotten the idea a couple of years earlier when he helped a cameraman for TV fishing pioneer Virgil Ward film an episode in northern Minnesota. They caught walleyes on Lindy Rigs and got all of the footage they needed in a single day.

“I told Al, ‘With a little bit of changing, we could do this’” Ron Lindner recalled the other day in a telephone interview. “It would be a good way to create exposure for the products you’re making.

“So he says, ‘Why don’t we?’”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Al Lindner was 25 years old and three years out of Vietnam when they filmed their first episode on Big Sand Lake near Park Rapids, Minn. With his trademark beard and smile, he quickly became at home in front of the camera while older brother Ron, 10 years his senior, scripted, filmed and directed the show.

Also lending a hand was Al’s 10-year-old nephew, Jim Lindner.

The name of the show has changed a few times over the years, but four decades later, the Lindners and their staff continue to set the standard for fishing television. They will mark their 40th season on TV when “Lindner’s Angling Edge” premiers at 9 a.m. CST Jan. 2 on the Versus cable network. A related show, “Lindner’s Fishing Edge,” airs on Fox SportsNet.

In a telephone interview from their headquarters in Brainerd, Minn., Al Lindner, 65, and Ron Lindner, 76, recently talked about fishing, the industry and the changes they’ve seen during their 40-year run.

Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q. You’re about to enter your 40th year of outdoors television. At the time, did you envision you’d be at it 40 years later?

A. Al: It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I was actually kind of shocked when we started thinking about looking at some of the old photos and some of the pieces of the old show, which are always kind of fun to look back at.

Q. Looking back, any thoughts on why you’ve been so successful?

A. Al: Our format is so simple for us, it’s incredible: Teach people how to find and catch more fish. Pure and simple. That’s the whole key to the success of everything we’ve ever done. Whether it was the magazines, television, radio shows. Teach people how to find and catch more fish, they’re going to go and do it more often, and they’re going to have more fun doing it. It’s that simple. It’s the 40-year foundation of everything we’ve ever done.

Q. One of the things that’s always struck me is how much fun you guys seem to be having when you’re on the water. Is it difficult to maintain that?

A. Al: I like doing television. It’s fun. I know other people who look at this as a business. “I have to, DO the show. I have to, GET this done.” I don’t look at it that way. To me, it’s a bless-ing. I wake up, I can’t wait to go out there and do the shoot, I’m excited days before, when I’m going to do it. And I seriously — I’m not using this as a cliché — when it isn’t any fun for me anymore, it’s time for me to hang the shingle on my door, and I’ll retire.

Q. Has TV changed your approach to fishing? Do you still fish “for fun” or are you always thinking about filming when you’re on the water?

A. Al: For me, it’s my only passion, same for Ron. We don’t golf and we don’t hunt. Same thing for my nephew, Jimmy, and many of the guys we work with here, although … my inter-est is fishing and the fishing business and the fishing industry, particularly the media elec-tronic end of the business that I love. I mean, that’s what I do.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the business, talk to somebody about the business, watch something about the business, read something about the industry, you know it’s a 24/7 deal with me.

Q. How has the fishing industry changed since those early years?

A. Al: Consolidation, pure and simple. Like many of the other things.

Manufacturing has consolidated, distribution channels for them have consolidated. Every aspect of the bigger getting bigger, buying up more of their competition, and that’s true in all areas.

Ron: You can look at old In-Fisherman magazines, I’m talking 1989-90 — we produced is-sues that were thick as small-town phone books. We had some 300-page issues. They’re down to 54 to 64 pages now. That’s because of the lost of advertising revenue. It’s changed. People don’t read like they used to.

Q. It seems there are a lot of shows just coming out of the woodwork and coming and going. Do you see them as competitors?.

A. Ron: There’ll be a lot more going than coming. You’re going to see — what would you call it? — a winnowing, or a thinning of the herd. Every Bubba with a shotgun gets a hunting show, and that’s going to end, believe me.

Al: It’s already happened, and that’s why the agencies and the companies that are support-ing these programs, they’re forced to take a real hard looks at the values.

You’re getting scrutinized more than ever before, so the delivery has to be there because they don’t have the money they had before.

Q. How has the fishing changed?

A. Al: I personally believe that by and large, freshwater fishing for a lot of species of fish is better than we’ve ever seen. The muskie fishing without a doubt is the best it has ever been in the history of the sport. Bar none. We are seeing more big muskies, numbers of muskies, than we’ve ever seen in the history of muskie fishing in the country. Same thing with small-mouth bass. Smallmouth bass, size and quality, it’s just exploding. Walleye fishing, by and large, it went through a phenomenal growth for about 10 years, and now it kind of leveled off but it still is quite good.

If there are a few problem areas that I’ve seen nationally up here, we’re seeing a decline in northern pike in size. The quantity is there, but the real big fish, the 10-pound fish and larger, you don’t see what we used to see.

Ron: The hardest thing for us to do now is to go out and catch lunker-sized bluegills, lunker-sized crappies, lunker-sized perch. This used to be an afterthought 40 years ago. To catch truly big panfish is not that easy. Most of these lakes, you catch a ton of them the size of your hand.

Q. Name five of your favorite fishing destinations.

A. Al: I would start off with Lake of the Woods. No. 2 would be Rainy Lake. No. 3 for me would be the Mississippi River, and that would run from my hometown actually north of Brainerd all the way down through the cities down into Iowa. No. 4 would be the Missouri River starting at Fort Peck in Montana and going down all the way through the Dakotas. And No. 5 would be Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border.

Ron: I would have to pick Rainy Lake, although it would be a real fight for Lake of the Woods as well. Second would be the Mississippi River. I’ve got a third but it isn’t a lake: it is a bunch of these small bass lakes scattered all over Minnesota, little potholes that these bass clubs don’t fish. They’re too few acres, they’re 500- 600-acre lakes and smaller, and you don’t get the bass clubs going in there and beating up on the fish. Consequently, there are some nice, nice fish. I’ve got maybe 100 of these around here. I’ve got another river that I fish in the fall here that I’m not going to name. And the fifth, I have to say the St. Lucie River in Florida. That’s where I spend four months of the year catching tarpon and snook.

Q. Talk a little bit about what makes “Angling Edge” work.

A. Al: When we were thinking about formatting the show, we made a decision that all of the water we fish now, it’s all public water. We go to absolutely no private water anywhere. We don’t do any fly-ins, it’s all drive-to fishing, and we’ve also made a decision on television, we don’t say where we’re at. I never say anything of whether it’s a big lake or a small lake. The whole thing is geared around understanding the fish, environment and the choice of lures for that environment.

We want the viewer to get themselves into the boat with us and think about their favorite, absolute favorite bodies of water. We just learned over the years, in the editing process, you want to invite that viewer into the boat with you.

You’ll never, ever see two of our guys sitting in the front deck of a boat where you’ve got the back of the shoulders, and they’re talking to each other and the camera and shooting both of them at one time. It’s an absolute hands-down, insult to the viewer. When I see this on television, I feel like kicking it. These are the guys that are on TV for two years and you end up never seeing them again.

Q. What are some of the innovations you’ve introduced on TV?

A. Ron: We have introduced every new innovation that has come along. We were the first to introduce graphite rods.

I could give you a laundry list of new things that nobody’s ever seen, we are the first to bring it in. Today they’re talking about side scanning; we are the first people that ever showed side scanning on television, the first one to show underwater cameras, ever, on tele-vision. And we could go on and on and on with this stuff.

We introduced so many new lures and so we have kept not only our viewers, but our spon-sors. We have four of our original sponsors: We have Berkley, Lund, Rapala and Minnkota still with us. And we had them 40 years ago.

Q. Your faith in God has been a big part of your lives for more than two decades, and you end each show with an inspirational message. Is it difficult to balance that faith with the de-mands of being on the road and producing a fishing show?

A. Al: That format when we decided to go into the Edge, it sounds strange to a lot of people and it may sound strange to a lot of your readers, but in prayer and thinking about that, I felt like I was led to bring that into the show. This is who we are; this is what we believe in. I really felt I need to bring a little of this as my way of saying thank you Lord, for all of the blessings on our business and our lives. And I wanted to integrate that closing into the show. It is who we are, and living up to that responsibility, for me it is simply a way of saying thanks.

Ron: We make no bones with our sponsors. They get letters too and they ain’t all positive, naturally. We tell them up front and they very well know we’re going to do this.

Q. Do you ever envision the day when you will officially retire or do you plan to just keep en-joying the ride?

A. Ron: If the Lord would let me die in the boat, that would be fine by me.

Al: At this point in time I feel totally … let’s keep doing what I’m doing. I love it, you have to have a reason to get up on Monday mornings, and for me, that’s it.

Q. When you do finally call it a career, how do you want to be remembered?

A. Ron: I don’t know … I first and foremost, I would like to be a good father — I’ve got seven kids and a ton of grandchildren — a good father and a decent person for our industry. That’s what I want to be remembered for. A Christian, I was in the industry and I did OK.

That’s as far as I’ve ever thought about it.

Al: I’m just thankful that I was able to do what I’ve been able to do all my life and really help a lot of other people make a living in this sport, in the industry that I love, and I know many people that I continue to help making a living doing something they love to do. I take great satisfaction, from that perspective.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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