Those We Honor

You’ll find more than just fishing celebrities in this list. One can make a significant impact
on the lives of many without ever being well known. It is important to honor all of
those who had a great influence on the great sport of fishing, whether famous or not.
Corporate advances tend to be much more visible to us. For it’s their products that
shape the evolution of the sport of fishing.

Marv Koep

Marv Koep

Inducted 2000

Marv Koep finally accepted what everybody else already knew — that he is a fishing legend. “I finally acknowledged that I was old enough to be a legend,” said Koep. A committee at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin agreed and Koep was elected to the Hall as a “Legendary Guide.” “I never expected I’d get in the first year,” he said. “I got the letter while I was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know a soul there. I couldn’t tell anybody.”

Link’s Bait Shop was a tiny building when Marv and Judy Koep purchased it in 1961. But anyone who has ever come in contact with Koep already knew he was worthy of the honor. “Marv gave me my first start,” said Gary Roach, who went on to become one of the premier walleye anglers in North America. Koep gave a number of guides their starts, including Al and Ron Lindner, the founders of In-Fisherman.

“Harry VanDorn was one of our first guides,” said Marv. “It happened because his wife died and people use to call his wife for bookings. He asked if they could start making bookings at the bait shop.” Thus began the Nisswa Guides League, which is still going strong. Then came the Lindners and later the Lowrance “red box” depth finder. “We were the second repair center ever authorized for Lowrance,” said Koep. “We had promotions on how to use the depth finders and we had the repair center.” People came because of the guides, the expanded business and the camaraderie.

Koep started from simple roots, growing up in Urbank, Minnesota as the son of a bait salesman. He married his high school sweetheart, Judy, on April 22, 1961 and the couple purchased Link’s Bait Shop near Nisswa. They then turned it into Koep’s Nisswa Bait – a thriving bait, tackle and guide business. “Judy was a farm girl,” recalled Marv. “We’d go to the manure pile and pick out some big white grubs (to fish with). She had a love for the outdoors too. She’s still my best fishing and hunting buddy.” Koep’s Nisswa Bait and Tackle started small but has become synonymous with fishing in the Brainerd lakes area. “We just did it by the seat of our pants,” said Marv.

Marv became an accomplished angler, if by nothing else, from listening to his guides. “I always figured if I shook enough hands I’d be good at it,” he says. “Roland Martin. Bill Dance. I got to shake a lot of important hands.” Roach recalled those early days. “Ted LaVoie said ‘why don’t you go over there and apply for a job? You can fish as good as those guys,’ ” recalled Roach. “They gave me a trial and I got voted in as a guide. They gave me an old green (Lowrance) box and showed me how to read it. I never had a boat; I rented a boat.”

Koep paid the entry fee for the first tournament Roach ever fished in, a bass tournament on Lake Minnetonka. “I won it,” said Roach, who was inducted into the Fishing Hall of Fame in 1988. “I won a boat and a few thousand dollars. Marv said that since he paid the entry fee he should get half. I said ‘get a chainsaw and I’ll give you half the boat.”

Marv said the family worked hard but always had fun. “The hours were long but it was never a job,” he said. “I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the people. The people were on vacation, they were happy.” Over the years customers became like family. “They always stopped to pick up their licenses,” said Marv. “I even knew what weekend they’d be coming up.”

The Koep’s made time to fish. “If I didn’t know what was going on I’d lose it,” said Marv. “So we fished evenings four or five times a week.” In 1991 Marv was named the Nisswa Citizen of the Year. “I don’t think we would have been so successful without the support of the community,” he said.

After the Koeps later sold the business, Marv said “what I miss is the people.” He stays active guiding and fishing with his high school sweetheart. “I’ve got to take Judy fishing at least once a week or she goes through withdrawal,” he said, smiling.

Marv’s fishing days are far from over and he still has something to prove. “My goal is to catch half the fish people think I do,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “But that doesn’t surprise me. I started the rumors about how many I caught.” Marv Koep — a true fisherman.