Call it a reverse migration of sorts — a Montana fly fisherman settling in as the owner of a Minnesota fly shop.
But that’s what Bob Hawkins did almost a year ago, moving from Bozeman, Mont., to the Twin Cities to assume proprietorship of Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop in Lake Elmo.
Hawkins, 40, purchased the business from Mike Alwin, who retired. Bob Mitchell’s founding dates to 1976, making it the longest-running retail outlet committed exclusively to fly fishing in the Twin Cities.
Ownership of the business occurred somewhat by happenstance.
“I had been a fly fishing guide in Montana for a number of years and managing a lodge on the Yellowstone River,” said Hawkins, who was born and raised in Bozeman, and who had also guided in Alaska for seven years. “But as a guide, you typically have to look for other work in winter, and while Montana is a great place to visit, there aren’t a lot of career opportunities there.”
Hawkins’ wife, Rhea, is a graphic designer originally from St. Cloud. When the couple decided to explore job opportunities outside Big Sky country, they considered Portland, Seattle and Denver, in addition to the Twin Cities.
A quick response from a firm in the metro offering Rhea a job arrived about the same time Alwin put Bob Mitchell’s up for sale. Alwin wanted to spend more time on area rivers, fly rod in hand.
“We jumped at the opportunities here,” said Bob Hawkins, who also studied and worked in commercial photography in Seattle for a few years.
First on Hawkins’ list of improvements to Bob Mitchell’s was an expansion of floor space from 600 square feet to more than 1,300. More flies and fly-tying supplies were added, as was an expansive line of fly-fishing equipment, including Simms waders and other gear, Sage rods, Yeti coolers and other name-brand fly angler necessities.
The strong interest in fly fishing among Minnesota anglers has been a pleasant surprise, Hawkins said.
“There’s a huge interest here in trout fishing,” he said. “The ‘Kinni’ and Rush rivers are nearby [in western Wisconsin], as are streams in southeast Minnesota. And it seems the interest in fly fishing in the Twin Cities is growing.”
As a bonus, fly angling for warm-water species such as northern pike, muskies, smallmouth bass and panfish is also popular here — opportunities that didn’t exist in Montana, Hawkins said.
“For me personally, the whole warm-water thing is great,” he said.
Hawkins’ dad was an enthusiastic fly fisherman and had his son on Montana rivers as a toddler. “It was either that or get left at home,” he said.
“By the time I was 13, my dad had me on the oars, rowing,” Hawkins said.
It’s possible that Hawkins will guide in this area sometime in the future, but he has no plans to do so now, he said.
Perhaps ironically, the shop’s namesake — Bob Mitchell — spent most of his vacation time in Montana, fishing. In 1994, Mitchell and his wife, Jean, who was in every way a partner in the business, sold the shop to Alwin …
And moved to Montana.
Now another “Bob” has moved back from the West to take over the shop … and care for its longtime customers.
The other morning, an old-timer collection of these self-anointed fishing experts — aka the Lost Boys — gathered at the shop as they long have, sipping coffee and bragging about fish caught, those yet to be caught and the flies that might catch them.
Among regulars in this bunch are Bill Spiess, Dennis Hook, Dick Schwartz, Patrick Daly, Vic Mason and Bob Nasby.
“Bob [Hawkins] is a real credit to the fly fishing community,” Nasby said. “He’s doing a great job with the shop.”
First-time visitors to the new, expanded Bob Mitchell’s also are common. Some walk in the door to buy, others to learn about fly tying, casting or other skills necessary to hook fish.
Interested anglers can register for classes on these and other topics on the shop’s website, bobmitchellsflyshop.com.
“A little later this spring — the date hasn’t been set yet — we plan to have a grand opening,” Hawkins said. “Everyone’s welcome.”