Malin has fished since he was a young boy living near a creek in Iowa where he caught catfish for his mom to fry.
From there, as a young man, he first learned to musky fish in Arbor Vitae Lake near Minocqua. The man who took him out that day wanted to try out a new lure made by Robert Vander Velden in the 1930s. “Bobbie Bait,” as it came to be called, is still the leading musky bait. That day Malin caught his first musky—32 inches long doing a figure eight by the boat without casting.
“I was hooked,” Malin said.
Today Malin, 84, is one of the region’s most experienced and well-regarded fishing guides and co-host of the popular Sunday morning Wisconsin Northland Outdoor Radio Show with John Myhre.
He didn’t plan to land in Hayward. He and his wife Jackie originally planned to retire in the Minocqua area, but they visited a friend who lived on Lac Courte Oreilles and “caught two nice muskies” that day. His friend then showed him one of the world record musky fish caught on Moccasin Bar and mounted on the wall of the Moccasin Bar in Hayward.
Malin said that same weekend they walked around Victory Heights, saw a three-season property for sale, and bought it.
“That is how it started—in just one weekend,” Malin said.
The cottage they bought was built in 1920. They built 800 square feet around it, keeping the original cottage and stone fireplace intact, which now serves as their living room.
Malin’s primary occupation was as a psychiatric social worker in Madison and later, for a brief time, a realtor in Stoughton, Wisconsin.
He and Jackie have now lived on Lac Courte Oreilles 22 years, and Malin has fished all of those years in pretty much all of the lakes, except Round, which he avoids because there is too much traffic on the lake and it doesn’t have a lot of “structure,” Malin explained.
Three years after moving here Malin joined the Hayward Area Guides Association and got his guide’s license, guiding three days a week, leaving a little time for golfing.
Much about the lakes has changed in those 22 years and Malin can describe it in the plainest terms, particularly Lac Courte Oreilles:
“The walleye population has yo-yoed up and down in Lac Courte Oreilles; five years ago there weren’t many walleye but today it’s a very good walleye lake,” Malin said. He also said there has been a tremendous increase in largemouth bass in Lac Courte Oreilles, and they eat the walleye. “When we first moved here you could hardly catch a largemouth bass,” Malin said.
There’s also so many areas where there are weeds, Malin explained, adding that some of the two-tiered lakes—Lac Courte Oreilles being one—are losing oxygen due to global warming and phosphorous.
“There is little or no musky reproduction because of the eutrophication of Musky Bay. Consequently, the musky population is adversely affected because the eggs sink into the muck and die. There is no oxygen,” Malin said.
Malin said it used to be that 60 to 80 percent of his guiding was for musky fishing in Lac Courte Oreilles. “Now it’s 30 percent,” said Malin.
Malin has also witnessed a substantial shift in what people who live on the lake or visit want. “They want action from walleye, crappie and blue gills, along with the smallmouth bass,” Malin said, adding that the Minnesota musky fishery has drawn those who just want big fish.
Malin said the levels of muck in Musky Bay can range from two feet to sometimes nine feet.
“In the 1930s Musky Bay was 90 percent wild rice and it had been that way for thousands of years. Today there’s not one stem,” said Malin, who points to what he calls the “obvious cause and effect” of cranberry marshes and the previous practice of aerial crop dusting. (No longer done.) He also, however, is quick to point to the tremendous positive change created by the holding pond on the east side of the bay, which has brought back natural vegetation and the ducks.