A Fishing Legend Makes His Biggest Catch
Over the past forty plus years, Al Lindner has become a world-renowned sport-fishing leader. He is a member of four different fishing halls of fame. He and his brother Ron were co-founders of Lindy Tackle as well as In-Fisherman, Inc., which has become North America’s largest multimedia sport fishing network. The In-Fisherman magazine, In-Fisherman television, as well as radio shows, books, videos, calendars, website, and professional walleye tournament circuit are all a part of this organization. Today, Al and Ron and their sons are still highly involved in the sport fishing industry. They operate Lindner Media Productions which produces various television shows including their own Angling Edge/Fishing Edge Television shows. They also make commercials for many of the biggest companies in the sport fishing industry.
In his own words, this is Al’s life story:
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t fish. My earliest recollections are the summers I spent with my grandmother on a lake near Hayward, Wisconsin. For me it meant countless hours of fishing from shore or wading while collecting frogs, seining minnows, running through the woods with my friend from next door, and occasionally getting a chance to fish with my uncles in a boat. I also fished with my older brother, Ron, who was ten years my senior, when he came up for a two-week vacation. If I dug the worms, seined the minnows, fixed the tackle, and loaded the boat, he would take me out with him. He told me that everyone starts out first as a “worm boy” apprentice, and for years I believed him. These were idyllic and really innocent times.
When I was sixteen and enjoying one of my many summers at Grandma’s, I entered a Musky Derby and won! I actually got paid for fishing. I was also interviewed by the local paper and did a snippet for the TV sports news in nearby Duluth. With that incredible experience, my fate was sealed. I was destined to become a professional sport fisherman.
Growing up in Chicago, I was a mediocre student. If there was a book report to write or a speech to be given, my subject was fishing—always! I had no other hobbies or interests. I didn’t hunt, golf, or collect stamps. In my high school yearbook, I stated that my life goal was “to catch a record fish.” Even when it came to work, outside of a few odd jobs like cutting pulp and painting houses, guiding or activities directly related to sport fishing, like promoting products, would be the only work I’ve ever known.
Even when my army stint took me to Vietnam, where some guys carried the New Testament with them into the field, I carried Buck Perry’s A Spoon Plugging Lesson or Bill Binkelman’s Night Crawler Secrets. These tattered, marked, and underlined booklets were as well annotated as many of my fellow soldiers’ Bibles. I could even quote many of the passages verbatim. Yet, except for one horrible night in Vietnam, when I didn’t know if I would see the light of day, I gave little thought to God or any lesser subjects that required real introspection and study.
When I returned home from Vietnam, my piscatorial interests were running high. In 1967 Ron and I, along with Ron’s huge family, moved from Chicago to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota. Our dream was to set up a guide service and launch our tackle-making business. From that point in my life until I retired from full-time competitive fishing, the Bassmaster Professional Tournament Tour in 1979, I sometimes clocked as many as two hundred and fifty days on the water in a single year. During these halcyon years I promoted lures for our Lindy Tackle Company, I made films for TV, did radio shows, wrote magazine articles with Ron, and appeared at what seemed like an endless parade of sport shows and seminars.
In retrospect, it was an impossible schedule to keep up with for very long. Sooner or later, something had to give. Nevertheless, it was this intense apprenticeship period that allowed me to explore all types of waters in just about every part of the country, and in the process, I kept discovering new ways to catch more and different types of fish. I learned the art and honed the skills of fishing that would later serve me well in the higher ranks of my profession.
What little time I had for reading during these years was given to books such as Man Against Musky, The Herter’s Catalog, Jason Lucas’s Writings on Bass, and Bill Binkleman’s The Fishing News newspaper. My days were spent on the water with fishing and guiding, and I devoted my nights to talking fishing in bars. Unlike my brother Ron, drinking for me was mostly a social function, and it never became a significant problem. My real addiction was fishing, and I was hooked big time! I figured why waste a day doing something else when you could be on the water, whether the day was rain or shine, hot or cold, windy or calm. My occasional diversion on really bad-weather days was chasing women.
All this time, the God whom I didn’t know or care about not only allowed me to have these experiences, but preserved me as well. God had a plan for my life that would take my all-consuming passion and turn it into a lifestyle that was both acceptable and ultimately useful to Him. Not surprisingly, a few changes were in order—big changes that dramatically impacted my “fish all the time” obsession.
The changes seemed to happen fast, all in the span of a few years. First, at 32 years old I finally got married. Then I became deeply involved with Ron as an owner in a magazine publishing and TV fishing show business. Soon my family grew to four, and then, most importantly, I came to faith in Jesus Christ and, as they say, I was “born again”—and that would change everything!
Once God started knocking on my door—the knock was relentless—first my brother and sister-in-law (Ron and Dolores)—accepted Jesus as savior. Then my wife Mary did. I’ll tell you this, I could never use as an excuse that I never heard the Gospel. It not only started pouring in from my own family, but I began getting tracts in the mail from television fans. I would meet people on the road at sports shows and seminars or even in business, who were of the same persuasion. It seemed like it was coming at me from all directions, and as many people do at first, I resisted. I told Ron, Dolores, and Mary this is all well and good for folks like you, but I didn’t feel the need—at the time life was going pretty well for me. Careerwise things were popping, I was on nationwide TV, I had lots of sponsors, the In-Fisherman magazine was growing, I was making money, my family’s health as well as mine was good, and my marriage seemed okay. Like many other folks I thought: “Why did I need to make some sort of extra special spiritual commitment?”
Yes, I did things in my life that I was not proud of—but didn’t everybody? And yes, I needed to straighten out a few things in my life, but I knew a lot of people who have done worse and needed more straightening. One thing I didn’t have was peace—or fulfillment. No matter what goals I set and met and what I accomplished, after each was reached, I felt empty. Win a BASSMASTER tournament and hip, hip, hurray! for a day. And then empty. A big successful business deal—great for a day or so—and then something was still missing. After I achieved each milestone of my dream, another thud! Empty. Something was definitely missing.
At this time I also began to feel the loving, squeezing hug of what is called Holy Spirit conviction. Being exposed daily to my wife Mary’s walking testimony of change, I also saw the slow but steady change in Ron and Dolores’ lives. God was showing me that I really didn’t have my act as all together as I’d once thought. And God does not grade sin on a curve. Sin is sin. And like everybody else, I was carrying around my share. The breaking point came one night.
Now Mary used to do nighttime prayers with the kids, but I was always a silent bystander. That night my 4_-year-old son Troy asked me if I would pray. I told him, “Dad always prays alone after you finish.” This was untrue, of course,
The plain truth was, that I didn’t know how or even have the heart to pray, and I was too ashamed to say so. Later that night after the kids went to bed I passed Troy’s room and he called me in. Lying on the bed he said to me, “Mom and Shawn aren’t here now, can I hear how you pray to God when you are alone?” Well, I couldn’t pray and I was totally crushed. I went to the bathroom and sat down and cried, probably for the first time in decades. I was truly broken.
Two days later I was fixing some equipment in my boat in the yard after doing a TV commercial when a local pastor pulled into my driveway. I knew what he was going to say for he had broached the subject a number of times before, but each time I managed to dodge it. But this time, I was ready. The brokenness had readied my heart to accept the simple gospel message of God’s grace. At the age of thirty-seven, I finally surrendered.
To tell you the truth, I was relieved that after receiving Jesus as Lord of my life, He did not ask me to go into some other endeavor. Here I was in my mid thirties, and fishing was the only thing I really knew how to do. He graciously allowed me to continue to fish hard in the coming decades, but He made certain that the intensity of my earlier years gave way to a more balanced mode of living. It involved giving up the Bassmaster and BCA Professional Tournament Fishing circuits. In the four years I was full-time on tour I won two events and qualified for and fished three Classics. This was something I dearly loved to do, but from now on I had to learn to be content with a few select events every year, just to keep my hand in.
During this phase of life, I started attending church regularly, and with my eyes newly opened, I devoured the Bible as I once had devoured books on fishing. First off, I was thrilled to learn that many of Jesus’ first inductees (the apostles) were fishermen and that life in the boat was a common theme. It quickly became evident that fishing, much like farming, football, flying, or any other human endeavor, teems with life lessons. These lessons, when viewed through God’s prism, become effective modern-day parables.
As I started to share my Christian faith with others, most of whom were fellow fishermen, I found myself naturally using fishing experiences to illustrate and explain the working of the Kingdom of God. I sensed that God, the ever-supreme conservationist, would not waste all of my earlier efforts and experiences. Instead, God took the “gift within” that He had given me for fishing and used the fishing-related experiences both Ron and I had undergone through our long, long years as professional anglers to His own purposes. I’ve heard Ron, when speaking to other fishermen about how Jesus Christ saved him from a life of alcoholism, talk about “being scooped up by the gentle net of God’s grace” and how “God does not practice catch and release. Instead, He puts us in His livewell of eternal life—forever!” While the patterns of our lives as well as our personalities are quite different, both Ron and I have found ourselves constantly sharing our faith through fishing analogies.
Looking back on my life, I’ve learned that people come to the foot of the cross by many routes. Alcoholic addiction brought my brother Ron there. In my case it was an emptiness of purpose. For others it might be illness, or jail time, or losses of one type or another—a marriage, a business, a career, a loved one. Or one might simply see the sin in their life and want to be rid of it. Whatever the case, if you want to find peace with God and experience true joy and happiness, the Bible states that: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you want to receive Jesus Christ into your life today, He will come in and change you in ways you never imagined.
You can pray this simple prayer that I used those many years ago: “Jesus, I am a sinner, and I’m sorry for the sins in my life. I ask you to forgive me and to cleanse my heart with the blood of Jesus. I give you my life. Come into my heart as Lord and Savior and direct my paths from this day forward. Thank you for giving Your life for me, and help me to always live for You. Amen.”
This will surely not be the end of the matter. In fact, it will be the first day of your eternal life.