With all the artistic vision that Robert and Rhea Hawkins combine as owners of the Twin Cities’ original fly shop, customers have wondered for months where they will relocate a store that has been secluded in the village of Lake Elmo for nearly 40 years.
Funky studio space in an old industrial building on St. Paul’s Vandalia Street — just north of I-94 — is being announced this week as the chosen site.
When the relocation of Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop happens next month, the store’s new neighbors will include Lake Monster Brewing Co., a glass blower, a florist, an independent film maker and a coffee roaster.
Robert, a native of Bozeman, Mont., who studied commercial photography in Seattle, said his shop’s classic interior won’t be remade, only tweaked. And the new space won’t be much bigger than the cozy setup on Lake Elmo’s main street that he and his wife developed over the past three years. They expanded the shop’s fly selection and made other improvements as precursors to moving to St. Paul.
“We just want to keep it fly-shoppy, like a fly shop should be,” Robert Hawkins said.
With historic ties to 3M and with its status as the longest-running retail outlet committed exclusively to fly fishing in the Twin Cities, Bob Mitchell’s has long attracted a following beyond its doorstep. But with 80 percent of customers now traveling to the store from west of Lake Elmo and with the town facing a summer of heavy road construction, the Hawkinses sought a new location for the sake of their public’s convenience and to boost the shop’s profile.
“Staying in St. Paul was very important to us,” said Rhea, a graphic designer. “We put a lot of thought into it. Our intention was to open the windows and let in some fresh air.”
Saturday’s fishing opener won’t complicate moving season for Bob Mitchell’s because walleyes aren’t part of Minnesota’s fly fishing scene. But the increased targeting of northern pike, bass, panfish, catfish and muskies has helped expand the local fly angling market beyond trout. The two other stand-alone fly fishing shops in the Twin Cities are Mend Provisions in south Minneapolis and The Fly Angler in Blaine, a 1990 offshoot of Thorne Bros. Custom Rod & Tackle.
“We try to promote the use of fly fishing for all sorts of species and on lakes and ponds,” said Robert Hawkins, who caught a 57-inch muskie on Mille Lacs last fall that was later confirmed as a fly fishing world record for muskellunge. “There’s so much more to fly fishing in this state.”
The East Metro is home to at least five big fly-tying clubs, and Bob Mitchell’s hopes to take advantage of its immediate proximity to Lake Monster by hosting more fly-tying gatherings. The brewery and fly shop will share a patio in an area regularly served by food trucks. The shop also hopes to expand its training programs. And its customers will have space to cast a rod — even in winter.
“Hopefully we’ll grow our community,” said Rhea, who grew up in the St. Cloud area.
She and her husband, a longtime Montana fishing guide who also worked summers on the water in Bristol Bay, Alaska, bought Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop from Mike Alwin in May 2013. The shop’s namesake, Bob Mitchell, had sold it to Alwin in 1993.
But the roots of the fly shop go back to 1976, when Dick Johnson started making fly rods for 3M and others in a place he dubbed the Woodsan Trout Shop. 3M, with its emerging Scientific Anglers brand of fly rods and fly line, was the shop’s primary source of income, according to a journal of the shop’s early history.
Johnson made “System G” graphite fly rods for Scientific Anglers and also operated a small retail business as a dealer of Orvis Co. equipment and other branded tackle and garments. Orvis, of Vermont, bought Scientific Anglers from 3M in 2013.