Thanks to greatly expanded media coverage—including radio, television, the Internet and copious print media—sport fishing has reached each and every one of us in North America, in some way. For me, back in my formative years, it was guys like Al Lindner from the American Midwest who helped teach me the ways of the muskellunge, and later my passion unfolded with Canadian hero Bob Izumi on television each and every week. Izumi’s Real Fishing Show was a breakthrough for Canadian television and has remained a fixture since. To these faithful fishing warriors and many more, we salute you! Here are 5 of the Top Ambassadors of the Fishing World!
What can you say about Canada’s number one ambassador and best-known fisher? What can you say about a guy who, not unlike many of us, started from humble beginnings with a passion for rod and reel? Bob grew up in a family of seven. His parents raised their family in the southwestern Ontario town of Blenheim. Bob’s father, Joe, was also instrumental in the very first Canadian Bass Tournament and exposed Bob and his brother Wayne to a sport that would become a big part of their lives. Later on at a family picnic, as the story goes and after Bob and Wayne had already teamed up to win many a fishing tournament, someone suggested the idea of a fishing show. Back in the early 1980s, fishing television shows were somewhat of a rarity. Perhaps it was destiny for the man to become Canada’s first full-time fishing professional in 1979; here we are over 40 years later and Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing Show is still going strong. Bob also developed his own company called Izumi Outdoors and along with his brother, Wayne, continues his vision of providing avid anglers with the information they need.
Izumi Outdoors is all about educating and entertaining. It boasts a television production department, a magazine department, a radio show and also maintains a popular website. Izumi Outdoors has become a brand unto itself and taken on a life of its own, if you will. Izumi is not only a knowledgeable ambassador of the sport; he is also Canada’s most successful tournament angler, a prolific outdoor writer, a conservationist and a seminar speaker with many years of experience behind him.
The Lindner Brothers
Al and Ron Lindner revolutionized fishing media in the United States since founding the In-Fisherman Company in 1975. The Brainerd, Minnesota, brothers, who lived and breathed the sport, became a true angling dynasty and built a company with annual revenues of over $10 million. Al and Ron Lindner started In-Fisherman and it later became the nation’s largest fishing multi-media communication company. In-Fisherman television was established in 1979 and was hosted by Al Lindner and reached nearly one million households. It aired every weekend. In-Fisherman magazine was published eight times per year and had more than a quarter of a million subscribers. The Lindners then launched In-Fisherman Radio in 1979, which now has over 800 affiliate stations across the Continental United States. Along the way, In-Fisherman has produced numerous videos, how-tos, books, instructional manuals and much more. Ron Lindner retired and Al stayed on with In-Fisherman until May 2002, when he left to host his own new TV shows called Lindner’s Angling Edge and the Fishing Edge. In 1982 Al Lindner became a born-again Christian and wanted to take his new television series in an all-new direction to include a message of Christianity.
The Lindner brothers were also the creative forces behind the Lindner fishing tackle industry back in the 1970s and the famous Lindy tackle in 1973, which was sold off before they began their media empire. The “Lindy Rig” is still available on the market today and remains a popular set-up for catching walleye. I owe a personal debt of thanks to Al Lindner for providing my early education on muskie, when I was a teenager and knew very little about muskie “hunting.” Back in the early 1980s when I developed an interest in pursuing the elusive muskellunge, there was little training material available on this exciting sport fish. The Lindners’ Muskie Hunting video series was crucial to my early days of muskie fishing. The Lindners were famous, not only for sharing their love of the sport, but also for crafting a more scientific approach to angling. The Lindner’s educated and scientific approach to the sport was partially responsible for my interest in fish and wildlife management today.
Babe Winkelman became a household name on U.S. television 40 years ago. Winkelman is known as a guru of sport fishing and a world-class angler in his own right. The man is downright enthusiastic, whether he is working at his desk or on the water. He is prolific, too, frequently appearing in magazine and newspaper articles, broadcast segments and many major publications. As a presenter, Babe is every bit as inspirational as any of the best motivational speakers. Like the Lindners, Winkelman is from the Midwest, where he spent his early years fishing at this parents’ cabin in Northern Minnesota. He began fishing competitively in the 1970s and he even co-founded the Minnesota Bass Federation where he served as president for many years. He co-founded the Masters Walleye Circuit or the MWC where he emceed for numerous years and where he fished competitively for walleye, bass, muskie and other species.
Winkelman is known for being one of the most versatile fishers in the world and blessed with natural skills that few of us have ever seen, but his achievements have not gone to his head in any way. He still takes the time to fish with friends and family and shares his vast knowledge with anyone who will listen. He is probably best known for his walleye catching prowess on the lakes in and around Minnesota and the Midwest. In the early days, through his TV show Outdoor Secrets, Babe educated his viewers on conservation issues showing the merits of fishing and hunting on a weekly basis. As Babe put it so perfectly, “Fishing is not just a sport for men. It is for people, for families. There is an intimacy in the outdoors that you just can’t get other places. I love to go fishing with family and friends as much as my schedule allows.” It is men like Babe Winkelman, another great ambassador of the fishing world, that keep this sport so vibrant.
For all you southerners out there, there is Bill Dance—avid fisher and the host of the Bill Dance Outdoors Fishing Show. Dance was raised in Lynchburg, Tennessee and although his father had plans that he would be a doctor, all that changed after Bill was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in the 1960s. Dance began to focus on competitive bass tournaments and one of his sponsors suggested that he start his own television show. For anyone who has ever watched Bill Dance on TV, he is about as entertaining and colorful as any host I’ve ever seen. His southern boyish charm has won over viewers from across North America, and Bill strives to produce the most real and honest look at our country’s favorite sport.
Dance is a member of the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame and a three-time Bass Angler of the Year. In 1978, Dance was awarded the Congressional National Water Safety Award and he joined the National Freshwater Hall of Fame in 1986. Bill began producing his fishing show with an ABC affiliate in Memphis back in 1968 and his signature look of sunglasses and a Tennessee Volunteers baseball cap became a symbol to the hard-working everyday anglers of North America. The Bill Dance Fishing Blooper Video is perhaps the funniest fishing segment I have ever seen. Dance shows outtakes from his television series including true comical blunders. In one segment Bill falls out of the boat, and in another scene, snakes are raining down on him from trees above. In yet another clip, he’s closing the tailboard of his pickup on a couple of fishing rods. We need more light-hearted men like Bill Dance, a man who is one more proud fact of fishing and a great ambassador of the sport.
The name James Heddon is synonymous with artificial fishing lures. The company that bears his name was founded in 1902 and originally manufactured handmade wooden lures out of the family kitchen in Dowagiac, Michigan. The fishing lures that James Heddon created in those early days were all made by hand and later mass produced by the Heddon Lure Company. By 1910, Heddon had sales connections in Canada and a factory in Michigan. By 1950, the Heddon Company was churning out an incredible 12,000 lures a day. There has not been a single person in the history of fishing who has created such a stir and paved the way for so many other lure aficionados. The Heddon lure changed fishing forever, as did the quiet, humble man James, who started off as a beekeeper in Michigan, but who had great aspirations of a change for the fishing industry. Not only did he revolutionize the industry, which was soon to become a multi-billion dollar per year industry, but he also created an interest in the collection of antique lures.
The Heddon lure company has changed hands many times since the early days when James sat in his kitchen carving, but some of the noteworthy dates when Heddon created his masterpieces are well documented. Before the 1900s, Heddon’s original tackle was made from broomsticks, whittled away by the man himself. By 1902, the first manufactured fishing lures were created at a time when James and his son William worked together and William moved to Florida to test his new plugs as the company began to grow. By 1932, the first plastic fishing lures were introduced under the Heddon name and followed by a whole series of famous fishing lures such as the Dowagiac Minnow, the Heddon Frog, the Woodpecker, the Musky Surfacer, the Spindiver and the Flipper. Heddon was a colorful character and an ambassador of the sport, not simply for the way he created these masterpieces, but for the legacy he left behind, paving the way for an abundance of lure enthusiasts, fishing collectors and vintage tackle organizations.
These well-known North American personalities have contributed far more to sport fishing than even they probably realize. A tip of the hat goes out to these 5 brave mavericks of the industry for demonstrating various facets of the sport, and showing us that although it is a strange pastime on occasion, it also has great benefits!