Long after Denny Green had moved on from coaching the Vikings, he would stop at Wayzata Bait & Tackle whenever he was in the Twin Cities.

An avid Lake Minnetonka bass fisherman when he lived in Minnesota, Green was friends with the shop's owners, brothers Tim and Bob Sonenstahl.

Conversation among the three was oftentimes jocular and when Green brought his Arizona Cardinals to town to play the Vikings, included a little football banter.

But the late coach ventured to Wayzata Bait & Tackle to do more than talk.

"I think Denny probably bought more than 300 of our custom spinnerbaits,'' Tim Sonenstahl said the other day. "The way we hand-tie the wires on the spinnerbaits, they don't come off. The same with how we glue the hair jigs. As a bass fisherman, that meant a lot to him.''

A mainstay in the Twin Cities fishing scene, Wayzata Bait & Tackle was founded in 1975 by the brothers' dad, Archie Sonenstahl, an avid hunter and angler who owned small businesses as side gigs to his daytime job as a Hennepin County Sheriff's detective.

“Bait trappers' kids see all the work their parents do, and see them struggling, and say, 'Not for me.' Like dairy farmers, we're on the job seven days a week, rain or shine.”
Tim Sonenstahl

Archie and Bob, the elder of the two brothers, had been trapping bait for a wholesale outfit in Motley, Minn., so they weren't entirely new to the business. Plus, Archie had years of firsthand knowledge of west-metro fishing.

Soon enough, Wayzata Bait & Tackle was born in a small strip mall along Hwy. 12.

Today, at the same location, the Sonenstahls still scoop bait for anglers headed to Lake Minnetonka, Lake Sarah, Medicine Lake and other area waters where bass, crappies and bluegills are the primary targets.

But changes aplenty have occurred in the past nearly half-century that have affected their business.

Now one big change, the possible loss of their lease, threatens the shop's survival altogether.

The prominence in the metro beginning a couple of decades back of big box outdoor stores such as Cabela's, Scheels, Fleet Farm and others posed a major threat to small Twin Cities bait shops. For many years the sale of lures and other tackle provided key income streams for these "mom-and-pop'' outlets. But often they couldn't match prices offered by the larger retailers.

Additionally, artificial baits such as Berkley's Gulp! and others weren't even imagined in the 1970s. Now they're favorites among some anglers, in part because, unlike minnows, leeches and night crawlers, they're not subject to dying. And in part also because in some instances they can be reused.

Angler demographics also have changed. While Minnesota's fishing-participation levels have generally held up, the state's angler cohort is aging. As importantly, anglers of all ages seem to have fewer leisure hours to spend on lakes and rivers jigging for walleyes or casting for bass.

Tim and Bob Sonenstahl have weathered these challenges and soldiered on as well after the death of their dad in 2005 at age 73.

Now, however, with the possible loss of their lease at the end of the year, to make way for an auto dealership, Wayzata Bait & Tackle could go the way of Bob's Bait in Mound and Roy's Bait in Excelsior — two similar-sized angler hangouts that fell victim to changing times.

"As far as moving the shop, as some of our customers have suggested, finding a suitable location wouldn't be easy,'' Tim said. "We'd have to be close to the lakes, of course. And with the volume of bait we sell, we'd have to have our own well, like we do here. It's not practical to use city water because it has fluoride and chloride in it, and we'd have to take that out before we used it in our bait tanks.''

Jeff Anderson of Edina is among anglers who will miss Wayzata Bait and Tackle if it ends its long run as a live-bait peddler and specialty shop whose hair jigs and spinnerbaits, Anderson said, have no equal.

"Bob does the lure making and the ones he makes are far better than their off-the-shelf competitors,'' Anderson said. "You just can't get them anyplace else. Additionally, when I go into Wayzata Bait, it's fun, it's old-fashioned. You might run into a guy who rode a bicycle to the shop or a guy who drove his new Suburban.''

Another draw that has endeared the Sonenstahls' shop to anglers throughout the metro is the reel repair business Tim operates on-site. Restoring fishing reels to like-new condition, like fixing wrist watches, is a skill rarely practiced these days.

Yet the shop's bread and butter remains the sale of minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers and waxworms — bait that for retailers like the Sonenstahls is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain.

One reason is that the trappers who harvest bait from ponds scattered throughout Minnesota are becoming a threatened species. Their work is hard, time-consuming, and, profit-wise, as unpredictable as the weather.

"Bait trappers' kids see all the work their parents do, and see them struggling, and say, 'Not for me,' '' Tim said, adding that owning a bait shop isn't much different. "Like dairy farmers, we're on the job seven days a week, rain or shine.''

At year's end, if their shop closes, Bob, 68, likely will retire, while Tim, nine years younger, will catch on elsewhere in the fishing industry.

They enjoy running their shop, they say. And they've turned a lot of customers into friends — Denny Green among them.

"But we're a dying breed,'' Tim said.