May 27, 2023

Lisa Marvin trades hockey stick for fishing rod to honor her brother

NORTHWEST ANGLE, Minn. – Lake of the Woods was in one of its mellower moods when Lisa Marvin set out for a few hours of walleye fishing in Ontario waters on a recent Sunday morning.

Time in a boat seemed like a good way to catch up with Marvin and her life since graduating from UND in 2017. These days, the former UND women’s hockey player from Warroad, Minnesota, lives at the Northwest Angle, that chimney at the top of Minnesota bordered on three sides by Canada, where she is in her second year as a fishing guide and real estate agent.

Marvin, 29, earned both her Coast Guard and Realtor’s licenses in the past couple of years.

“Honestly, I don’t leave the Angle much,” she said. “I never had plans to be a fishing guide. It just happened.

“I needed a break from hockey.”


Life has given Marvin plenty to navigate, dating back to her years at UND. In November 2014, she was severely injured after her truck ran out of gas on Gateway Drive in Grand Forks. According to Herald coverage of the accident, she was pouring gas from a portable can into her 1984 Dodge Ram when a speeding car ran into her truck.

Marvin, who was a sophomore at the time, sustained major injuries to her right arm and right leg and spent the better part of the next two years undergoing rehabilitation before being cleared to play hockey again in September 2016. The driver of the vehicle that injured Marvin was found guilty of aggravated reckless driving and sentenced to 126 days in jail and ordered to pay $300 in court fees.

Aside from occasional bouts of arthritis, Marvin says she feels like she made a full recovery. After college, she even completed a half-marathon in South Carolina, where a longtime friend was going to school.

“I’d say I’m very lucky,” Marvin said. “For the most part, I am healthy. My knees – I’ve got old lady knees. When the weather’s coming in and stuff, my body aches. … I’m like a human barometer.”

In December 2018, Marvin’s younger brother, Max, died by suicide. Like the rest of his family, the 2018 graduate of Warroad High School was an avid outdoorsman and had recently completed his first year of guiding.

Max was 19 years old.

“Whenever I’m on the lake, I feel closest to him,” she said. After a long pause, she describes her brother as “pretty laid back.”

“He was a little goofy but sincere. A little unpredictable sometimes, too,” Marvin said. “He was very nonjudgmental. He seemed happy – which was the craziest part of all of it.”


Whether taking younger kids hunting or meeting up with older men for coffee at the Warroad Cenex in the morning, Max could visit with anyone, she says. He fit right in with the close-knit group of guides at the Northwest Angle.

“That’s one of the things I like about the Angle,” she said. “Like age, gender stuff, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a good person, you’re a good person.”

Max might have been her younger brother, but he was like an older brother to both her and sister Layla, Marvin says.

“I like talking about him in a setting like this,” Marvin said as she jigged for walleyes on a reef north of French Portage. “Being up here, it’s just … this is where we have all our good memories.”

As Marvin shows on this Sunday excursion, she handles a fishing rod as well as a hockey stick and hooks into walleye after walleye after walleye. Muskies and lake trout are her favorite, she says, but walleyes are the mainstay as a fishing guide.

“Love you to Kenora and back in the rain!” – a phrase Lisa used when she spoke at Max’s funeral – is engraved on her fishing rod, a reference to the Ontario community at the north end of the lake.

The rod stays home on most guiding trips, she says.

“Losing Max really put things in perspective, like what’s important to you in life,” Marvin said. “Life is short, so try to be happy. That’s what the guiding was, for me. It was like, ‘I’m going to do this for myself, because I think it would be fun and challenging.’ ”


But it wouldn’t have happened, she adds, without all of the other Northwest Angle fishing guides who have helped and supported her.

“I know Max laid some of that groundwork because he was a good person,” she said.

To honor Max’s memory and raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues, his parents, David “Izzy” Marvin and Kallie Marvin, with help from David’s cousin, Conway Marvin, and others, launched the Max Foundation shortly after his death. The mission: “To raise funds with the intent to support charitable programs, projects and activities that facilitate mental wellness among our youth.”

The Max Foundation in its four years has raised “close to half a million dollars” to promote mental health awareness, David Marvin said, adding Conway Marvin’s previous experience with foundations has been invaluable.

“When we lost Max, we decided that we should try to help, try to do something so maybe we could save another family from going through the pain of this situation,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re really doing good things and special things, but we owe a lot of it to Conway. He really took our family under his wing in very difficult times.”

Originally, David said, the Foundation focused on young people in the Warroad area, but that quickly expanded to other communities after partnering with Project 11, a Winnipeg-based awareness curriculum named after Rick Rypien, an NHL player who wore the the number 11 and died by suicide in the summer of 2011. Rypien, who was 27, had recently signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Today, Project 11 and its aim “to remove barriers and normalize the conversation regarding mental health” has touched nearly 5,000 students as part of the curriculum in Warroad, Roseau, Greenbush/Middle River, Luverne and Stephen/Argyle schools. Additional schools, including Watford City, North Dakota, are also set to add the curriculum, David Marvin said.

“As we speak, there’s training going on for five or six more schools,” he said. “We’re doing a lot, and a lot of it’s on the preventative awareness with this curriculum. We’re not doctors, but we can point someone in the right direction and we can listen if someone’s struggling.”


The Foundation also is working with another Minnesota project, Coaches Care, to provide a mental health awareness component for coaches of high school athletes, Marvin says.

“That’s something we think is a big deal,” he said. “Thousands of coaches are going to learn about it.”

On Saturday, Sept. 2, and Sunday, Sept. 3, the Max Foundation will hold its inaugural MAX Multi-Species Fishing Derby on Lake of the Woods. Open to 30 boats, the catch-video-release tournament will offer prizes for the biggest walleyes and biggest muskies, based on total inches; anglers can only use artificial bait, and the entry fee is $300.

The tournament is being held in conjunction with the Northwest Angle Buoy Bash, a celebration named after the monument marking the Northwest Angle as the northernmost point in the Lower 48.

Lisa Marvin, who serves on the Max Foundation board, says she came up with the idea for the derby after fishing a muskie tournament last fall in Nestor Falls, Ontario. The derby, she says, is a way to promote fishing at the Northwest Angle and raise funds for the board’s mission.

“When I moved up here, I realized Max had a lot of friends up here and a lot of people that missed him, too,” she said. “And this is something he loved. Fishing and being up here lit his eyes up.”

She proposed the idea to her dad and cousin, Nick Marvin, of The Woods outdoor sporting goods store in Warroad, who also serves on the Max Foundation board, and things basically snowballed from there.

Several fishing guides, resorts and other businesses donated trips and other items for a silent auction, and bids already have exceeded $11,000, David Marvin said; two people also donated $10,000 each after hearing about the tournament.


“Everybody in the Angle has been very generous with support and donations, so we’re grateful for that,” David Marvin said. “Hopefully, we can repay it by bringing some positive energy to everybody up there.”

Time on the water offers the opportunity to swap stories on fishing, hockey and numerous other topics between bites, and there’s a limit of walleyes and four bonus perch in the box when Lisa Marvin steers her boat into a secluded shore lunch spot for an afternoon break before heading back to the Angle.

A bald eagle holds court on a fallen tree as the boat approaches the island. Other guides developed the shore lunch spot in Max’s memory, and it features a sturdy picnic table he made, with a metal sign engraved by family friend Jamie Byfuglien that reads, “In Loving Memory Max Marvin, 8.4.99-12.29.18, Gone Fishing,” and a second picnic table that Warroad shop class students made in Max’s honor.

“There’s definitely mixed emotions,” Lisa said of Max’s spot. “Every time is different. A lot of times, I’ve got to cook (shore lunch) and I’m busy, and so it’s a little bit of a distraction. A couple of times, I’ve driven up here by myself and hung out. He was cremated, and there’s no headstone so this is kind of our place to come visit. I like that people make memories – and happy ones – here.”

Friday, Aug. 4, would have been Max’s 24th birthday, and Lisa decided to take a booking for a muskie trip instead of staying home “with no motivation to do anything” like she did last year.

His birthday is always a tough time, she says, so she wasn’t sure how the day would go.

“We got two muskies that day, and I think I cried happy tears on the way home instead of sad tears like the year before,” she said. “I think one of the best feelings I have is when I’m making him proud. And so I just try to chase that as much as I can.”

For more information on the MAX Multi-Species Fishing Tournament, contact Lisa Marvin at (218) 242-0024 or by email at [email protected] .


Max Foundation: .

Project 11: .