When Tony Capra was a kid, he was summoned one day from class to the principal’s office. Worried he had done something wrong, he shuffled down a long hallway expecting the worst.
Tony’s father, Ted Capra, was waiting for the young boy, along with the principal.
“This has to be bad,’’ the young boy figured.
“Then Dad said, ‘Come on, get your stuff, they’re catching big walleyes up north and we’re going up there,’’ Tony Capra, now 53, recalled. “The principal said, ‘You can’t take your son out of school to go fishing.’ And Dad said, ‘Yes, I can. He’ll learn more with me in a boat than he will in your classroom.’ ’’
In retrospect, his dad was correct, Tony Capra said. He and his brother, Dean, 57, did learn more from their father than they did from anyone else.
Ted Capra, whose victories as a competitive angler span an unsurpassed five decades in Minnesota, and who throughout his life was driven by three passions — family, fishing and converting bright ideas to profitable businesses — died Wednesday after a long history of heart problems. He was 80.
Born in Minneapolis, Capra as a youngster was left behind sometimes when his dad and older brother went fishing. “But I got even with them and fished all my life,’’ he would later say.
Enshrined in the National Freshwater Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame, Capra at one time was a manufacturers’ sales representative for brands such as Ranger boats and Humminbird electronics. In 1980, he founded Capra’s Marine Electronics, timing his entry into the fish-finding-gadget business with pinpoint accuracy
Capra not only sold eager anglers the latest electronics, he repaired them. Already by then Capra had burnished a reputation as an elite angler, regardless whether the quarry was walleyes, muskies or, his favorite, bass.
“Ted was obsessed with fishing,’’ said Al Lindner, the celebrated Brainerd angler. “And he was a fishing innovator. He could see things before they became popular, and developed them and promoted them. He was a great businessman.’’
When Lindner and his brother, Ron, along with Nick Adams, founded Lindy Tackle Co. in 1968, Capra was their sales manager. At the time, Capra and Al Lindner fished together competitively, and often traveled from tournament to tournament, or to sport shows to peddle fishing gear.
One time en route back to Minnesota they brainstormed the idea for a fish-frying batter. Fellow pro angler Gary Roach signed onto the scheme, and Shore Lunch was born —a popular breading the Capras ultimately expanded to 50 companion products before selling out.
Famed Florida bass fisherman Roland Martin also was a longtime Capra friend.
“I think it was 1973,’’ Martin said. “Al Lindner and I had just finished fishing in the Bassmaster Classic. It was late September, and Al said, ‘Why don’t you come up north and we’ll fish some walleyes?’ Al said a friend of his, a guy named Ted Capra, called and said he’s catching 10-pound walleyes.
“So I went up. This was in October and we were on Cass Lake, Al Lindner, Ron Lindner, Babe Winkelman, Jeff Zernov, Teddy [Capra] and me. I’ll never forget: We each caught 10-pound walleyes.’’
Capra’s business acumen extended beyond fishing. He also invested in real estate, and at one time he and his wife, Nancy, owned a home in Orono on Lake Minnetonka they referred to as the “fish house.’’
Built in 2008 with 100 feet of lakeshore, the Capras listed the property in 2011 for $2.347 million.
Ever the salesman, Capra said he would throw in his boat with the home sale, and give buyers a tour of his favorite Lake Minnetonka fishing spots.
Many a Minnesota bass angler would have happily paid for those fishing secrets.
“Mom and Dad were married 57 years,’’ Tony Capra said. “And a lot of those years, things were tight. I remember when we lived in an apartment and the whole place was filled with boxes of trolling motors. This was Thanksgiving, and we ate Thanksgiving dinner on those boxes.’’
In 1987, Capra, his wife and sons debuted Capra’s Sporting Goods in Blaine. By then the Capras’ fishing reputations had expanded nationwide, thanks to their fishing show, “Capras Outdoor Frontiers,” which had a 15-year television run.
Capra’s Sporting Goods, said Dean Capra, who owns the business, competes with big-box retailers by selling “value with good information.’’
“Our sales people fish and hunt passionately themselves, so they know what they’re selling,’’ he said.
Ted Capra’s weakness was his heart. He suffered his first heart attack 35 years ago. Others followed. Ultimately, he was fitted with a battery-operated device that kept his heart beating.
“I remember fishing with him once and he knew if he fell overboard into the water, that gadget would short out and he would die,’’ said “Minnesota Bound” TV host Ron Schara. “But he fished through it. He was very, very competitive.’’
Occasionally, said Al Lindner, he would call Capra to chat while driving alone at night from fishing tournament to fishing tournament, or while filming TV shows.
“Our relationship wasn’t as intense after the first 20 years, because our businesses went in different directions,’’ Lindner said. “But in his business, as in our business, family is a part of it. And his concern, always, was that his family was taken care of.’’
Visitation for Ted Capra will be 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at St. John the Baptist Church, 835 2nd Ave. NW, New Brighton, with Al Lindner speaking at 7:30. A one-hour visitation will precede Capra’s funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at the church, with Roland Martin among eulogists.