BRAINERD, Minn. — Ron Lindner didn’t set out to be one of the most influential freshwater anglers in the world. He just really, really loved to fish.
Lindner and younger brother Al Lindner sought to turn that shared passion into careers more than 50 years ago when they walked into Koep’s Bait and Tackle in Nisswa, seeking employment as fishing guides. That fateful moment set the pair on a course to develop a vast media empire spanning several mediums — including In-Fisherman magazine, nationally syndicated television and radio shows, books and instructional videos — responsible for the educations of generations of anglers. Associates said Tuesday, Dec. 1, that the Lindners helped mold and grow the sport of fishing to what it is today through invention and a scientific approach to the quintessential northern Minnesota pastime.
That’s part of the legacy left by Ron Lindner, the 86-year-old longtime Brainerd lakes area resident who died at his home Monday, Nov. 30, after a brief bout with cancer and other illnesses. But there was more to the man than his successes in fishing. Friends and loved ones recalled Lindner’s strong faith, which led him to preach Jesus’ word to a number of audiences. His family played a central role in his life, including his wife of 64 years, Dolores Lindner, and seven children, several of whom continued the Lindner legacy in outdoors media.
“The easiest way I could capsulize and describe my brother were the three parts of his life that were important to him — his faith, his family and the fishing business. Those three things,” Al Lindner said Tuesday. “His whole life, nothing else interested him, nothing else was important to him. It was his faith, his family and the fishing industry, 24/7. … If you spent a half-hour with him, one of those three things would come out in the conversation. It just automatically flowed out of him.”
Enshrined in the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame, Ron received numerous awards for his contributions to fishing. He’s credited with developing a comprehensive lake, river and reservoir identification classification system and a fish response calendar, according to the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame, along with what he called the algebra of angling: F+L+P=S, or Fish + Location + Presentation = Success. He had three patents and 30 unique designs under his belt, along with co-authoring 10 books and writing hundreds of articles and thousands of radio and television scripts.
Over the last 17 years, the Lindner brothers continued to share their knowledge and the joy they found in fishing by educating anglers as part of Lindner Media Productions, a company led by Ron’s sons James and Daniel Lindner. The company currently produces five outdoor television shows: “Angling Edge,” “Fishing Edge,” “Ultimate Fishing Experience,” “The Ontario Experience” and “AnglingBuzz.”
A Northwoods dream
Marv Koep still remembers the day in the late 1960s when the Lindner brothers showed up at his Nisswa bait shop in search of fishing guide posts.
Koep said he was skeptical of the Chicago natives who were new to town, wondering how they planned to guide anyone with so little knowledge of the local lakes themselves. But he was hard up for help as interest grew among tourists and aspiring fishermen in what the Brainerd lakes area had to offer, so he gave Ron and Al a shot.
“I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a chance on them,” Koep said Tuesday. “They learned the lakes so quick … and then they came with new methods of fishing and that type of thing, too, so it helped us.”
The collaborative spirit of the guides, who shared methods and helped one another land the big ones for their clients, took shape in the Nisswa Guides’ League. It was within the group in 1968 that the Lindners invented the Lindy rig, a live bait method of fishing since used by millions of walleye anglers. It was the principal offering of the Lindy Tackle Co., the company in which the Lindners sold their stakes in 1973 to transition to the world of outdoors media. In 1975, the pair launched In-Fisherman magazine, which eventually segued into a full-blown multimedia venture. Together they ran the publication for 23 years before selling it to Primedia in 1998.
Al Lindner said the tackle company was not the brothers’ first foray into business together. Back in Chicago, the two, separated by a decade in age, manufactured jigs and spinners in the basement of their home. The love for fishing was nurtured by regular trips to northern Wisconsin to their grandparents’ cabin. Even in those days, Al said the two dreamed of moving to the Northwoods to open a bait shop and guide service, perhaps running a small resort on the shores of some fish-rich lake. When Al returned from a tour serving in Vietnam, the brothers took the leap, moving first to Wisconsin before settling in the Brainerd area.
“Ron nurtured me. … He took me fishing everywhere, and it just became a burning passion in our heart. We loved the business, and it was the dream: How can you make a living in the fishing industry?” Al Lindner said. “And we just pursued and chased that dream, and as fate would have it, the adventure of life drove us to Brainerd and the rest of it is history. Right place, right time, you could say. But I believe the hand of God was on our life. I am a person of faith like my brother was, and we can look back now and say it was quite an adventure.”
Ron’s wife Dolores, who met her future husband through his friendship with her brothers, didn’t know what to make of the Lindners’ scheme to head north at first.
“I knew about (Ron’s love of fishing) but I never thought it would direct our whole life. It truly did,” she said.
Dolores recalled those early days when they’d find a babysitter so she and Ron could hit the water, her rowing and Ron casting. She laughed and agreed she was grateful when her husband acquired a boat with a motor.
“I loved him a long time,” she said. “ … We lived good and we lived happy, and we were very thankful and we loved God. … His dream was to fish, and after that, it was it. That’s what he did all the time.”
‘The idea man’
The Lindner brothers brought a scientific approach to angling that helped propel them as premier tournament fishermen and deep wells of knowledge on all things fishing. Some of the first people to use sonar as tools in the fishing trade, according to Al, the pair combined that technological advancement with the concept of structure fishing to unlock secrets of the lives of fish in a new way.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom of fishermen keeping those secrets to themselves, the Lindners found their success in sharing the knowledge they’d gained to become better anglers with others, a sort of “rising tide lifts all boats” approach that became a key feature of their outdoors media endeavors.
Longtime friends of Ron Lindner’s spoke volumes about his fishing prowess, but it was his natural inclination as an inventor, his endless curiosity and his talents as a pitchman that stood out above a litany of admirable traits.
“Ron was one of my idols when I was just getting into the fishing business,” said Jim Kalkofen, who once served as executive director of the Professional Walleye Trail, a Lindner-run tournament series. In recent years, Kalkofen became business partners with Ron and Al in Target Walleye, a digital publication.
“I always called Ron the idea man. He had more ideas that were all good in the course of the day than most people would have in a month,” Kalkofen said. “ … He was always willing to help people, and with his help, they would become successful in their own right.”
Kalkofen said Ron Lindner knew what worked and what didn’t and he wasn’t afraid to share and try his ideas. Even in the face of others’ doubts, he always seemed to accomplish what he set out to do.
“Ron was not bashful about describing how he wanted things to work, and endeared to all of us who worked for him at one time or another the attitude that this is my grandpa, my uncle, my mentor, my professor all wrapped up into one,” he said. “And he would talk to you like he was your buddy sitting in the boat with you.”
Ray Gildow, a fellow Nisswa guide who in 2004 published a book about the Nisswa Guides’ League, said Ron was one of the most talented marketing minds he’d ever met.
“I wrote an article this last winter or fall about Ron, saying he’s almost kind of like a Frank Sinatra, who was a unique man in the music world. Ron was a unique man in the fishing world,” Gildow said. “I don’t think there will ever be another person like him. … He was just always on the go. Even this last year, he fished all the time.”
On a chilly day this fall featuring a 30 mph northwest wind, a preview of the early snowstorm headed toward the lakes area the next day, Ron fished alongside his brother for the last time. Motoring around a lake Al said shall remain nameless, the two caught smallmouth bass after smallmouth bass, Ron’s favorite species — perhaps the legendary angler saw himself in the strong-willed, energetic fish with a lot of fight.
When the cold weather became too much for the elder Lindner, the brothers returned to the dock. Ever the promoter, Ron cast aside his exhaustion and perked up at the idea of sharing his fishing experience on social media.
“It was his last time in a boat,” Al said. “I’m so thankful that he was able to get out that day, and we caught a lot of fish.”
A month later, faced with the growing realization his life would soon come to an end, he summoned his children and grandchildren for one-on-one time and strove to make it to Thanksgiving. The holiday came and went, but Ron told his wife he would soon meet Jesus. That moment came Monday night.
“I know where Ron is. I know that he’s fine and happy,” Dolores said. “He’s got exactly what he wanted, and he knew when he was going to be there. … We are very grateful we had him as long as we did have him.”