Horatio Alger Jr. was born in 1832 and died in 1899. In between, and in the years since, more than 20 million books bearing his authorship have been sold, most premised on the same plot: Virtuous boy is honest and hardworking, boy makes the most of a lucky break, boy enjoys great success.
Had Alger written a novel with a Minnesota twist, wherein walleyes were as vital to the story line as hard work and honesty, famed Minnesota anglers Al and Ron Lindner would have provided the book's nonstop action.
Ron, the elder by 10 years, and Al were in many ways as different as brothers can be. Yet, until Ron's death Nov. 30 at age 86 from cancer, the two were inseparable.
Chicago kids who grew up fishing wherever they could find water, Ron and Al longed for lives together in the North Woods. Their big break came when they settled in Brainerd in the late 1960s — a time when walleyes were plentiful, and when throngs of anglers wanted to learn how to catch them.
Thus a stage was set for Ron, the laser-focused businessman, and Al, the walleye-catching virtuoso, to find fame, fortune — and faith.
"When we were kids and Ron finally got his driver's license, we fished all the lakes between Chicago and Milwaukee," Al said. "We'd rent boats until, finally, we got a Sears car-topper, a 14-footer."
After high school, Al was hanging out at his grandmother's cabin on Grindstone Lake near Hayward, Wis., guiding fishermen, working the cranberry harvest and doing anything else he could to make a buck, when Uncle Sam came calling.
"I shipped out to Vietnam in 1966," Al said. "While I was there, Ron found a job in Rhinelander, Wis., and we wrote back and forth. 'When I get home,' I kept thinking, 'We're going to buy a bait shop in northwest Wisconsin and maybe a little resort with a few cabins. We'll have it made.' "
Instead, after Al's discharge, they wandered throughout Minnesota, checking out Alexandria, Grand Rapids and Brainerd as possible landing spots, before picking Brainerd.
"Brainerd turned out to be a home run for us," Al said.
More specifically, Nisswa, just up the road from Brainerd, site of Marv Koep's Nisswa Bait and Tackle, was the home run.
It was there that Al and Ron joined expert anglers Harry Van Doren, Royal Karels, Cully Swenson, Max Slocum, Rod Romine and Dick Young, among others, to guide out of Koep's shop.
"Even among those great fisherman, Al stood apart," Koep said. "He'd be in the shop and overhear some guy say he caught two walleyes on dead minnows. To see if it worked, Al would give it a try. Anything out of the ordinary, he'd experiment with, which made him a great fisherman."
About that time, a sportscaster from Alexandria, Minn., named Bud Gorham, filed TV reports highlighting the stringers of walleyes Koep's guides were catching.
Personable, good looking and enthusiastic-to-the-max, Al, with his big smile, loved the camera. And the camera loved him back.
"But it wasn't all Al's idea to get into TV," Judy Koep said. "Ron pushed Al to promote himself, and to promote them and their fishing ideas, using television. And it wasn't a gentle push, either."
Thus the groundwork was laid for the two brothers to build a fishing empire like no other.
First came Lindy Tackle Co., started in 1968 by Al and Ron and a partner, Nick Adams, to produce two products that remain walleye-fishing staples today: the worm blower and the sliding-sinker rig — or as it was originally called, the Lindy Rig.
"We got a taste for the media business, starting with the Alexandria TV shows, and now we were making and promoting Lindy Rigs and other tackle," Al said. "Ron was incredibly smart in many, many ways. But he wasn't necessarily a great communicator. TV, on the other hand, intrigued me, and I wanted to do more of it."
In 1975, the two left the tackle business and founded In-Fisherman magazine, which blossomed into In-Fisherman Radio and In-Fisherman Television. Their intent wasn't to titillate anglers with tall tales about big fish, but to teach them how to catch fish. Equipment advances were part of the mix, as were tutorials about lake types and fish biology.
The strategy paid off, and in 1998, a New York company, Primedia, wrote Ron and Al a big check to purchase In-Fisherman, setting them up, financially, for life.
Ron subsequently spent winters in Florida, where he regularly fished with fellow Minnesotan Dick Sternberg.
"When you fished with Ron you never just fished to catch fish," Sternberg said. "You were always fishing to solve some problem, or to make things better. He was consumed by ideas."
Ron had become a born-again Christian in the late 1970s and gave up drinking then, too. Al followed his brother's faith path a few years later, and today, still intrigued by TV, he hosts another fishing show, "Lindner's Angler's Edge."
Al ends each episode with an inspirational message based on his faith.
"Essentially, the message is, 'This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,' " Al said. "People tell me the segments encourage them, which in turn encourages me."
Also encouraging for Al are memories of his late brother, who was not only his business partner and closest friend but his fishing buddy.
"As a young kid, he took me fishing everywhere," Al said. "It wasn't like a normal 10-year difference between two brothers. He mentored me, and he nurtured my interest in fishing. Out of that grew our respect for each other."