The shop technically got its start in 1976 as the rod finishing facility for Minnesota’s own, 3M Scientific Angler. The rod-building era was short lived, and in 1978 the shop's name was changed to Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop when Dick Johnson sold the shop to Bob Mitchell. Bob made two decisions from the start; the first to get out of the rod building business and the second was to become the place for fly fishing education in the area. Under Bob and Jean’s care, the shop nurtured a sense of community. It quickly became a gathering place where folks could spend a few hours on Saturdays talking, sipping coffee and making new friends. In 1994, Bob and Jean retired and moved to Montana, selling the shop to Michael Alwin.
When Mike purchased the shop, he not only moved it up out of the basement, but he settled it into its new home right on Lake Elmo’s main street. He increased the class offerings and stayed loyal to the store’s original intent- offering first-rate tools, materials, equipment and clothing. Mike’s passion for the sport, as well as his love of story telling have been a major factor in the store’s continued success and the main reason Bob’s dream is alive and well today.
In 2013, 18 years after buying the shop from Bob Mitchell so he could move to Montana, Mike and his wife Deb sold the shop to another Bob, this one from Montana. Robert Hawkins left the blue ribbon waters so many dream of to come to Minnesota and add his piece to the BMFS story. He plans to carry on the shop’s long-standing tradition of quality products and service. It's his goal to weave his knowledge and experience together to create the shop’s next chapter. In June of 2016, the shop moved to it's current location in St. Paul.
Robert Hawkins: I was lucky enough to have been born in Bozeman Montana, a place known today as the fly fishing capitol of the world. I was also fortunate to have parents that spent their spare time on the rivers and lakes of southwest Montana. My passion for fly fishing was born from these two facts. By a young age, I had logged a considerable number of days in a drift boat and was more than proficient on the oars age 15. My dad didn’t seem to mind that I learned to row at a young age, just more fishing for him. But I eventually decided it was time to leave my little home town and head for Seattle, where I studied commercial photography. I stayed in Seattle for a few more years, focusing on photography but I eventually the rivers called me back and I headed back to Montana.
I made up for lost time and fished like it was going out of style when I returned to Montana. I hadn't realized how much I missed being on the water. After a few summers of being a dirtbag fisherman and working at the local snowboard shop, World Boards, an ad in the back of the paper caught my eye. It said, “Land the dream job of a lifetime” and had a photo of a guy holding a monster rainbow trout. That's all it took. Make money doing what I loved? I was sold. Sweetwater Travel, in Livingston MT, had a guide school to mold punks like me to into respectable guides and they had a reputation for 100 percent placement. I enrolled that winter and went to the one week class that spring. I began my first job as a official fly fishing guide in Alaska that summer. For the next seven years I guided in Alaska for the summers and worked at World Boards in the winter. It was the perfect single guy lifestyle.
Upon returning home from my 7th (and what I though would be my last) year of guiding, I did what all Montana boys dream of. I met a midwestern girl. Having grown weary of the Alaska wear and tear already, this sealed the deal- I wanted to be closer to home. And so I began my Montana guiding era. My first call was back to Sweetwater Travel. They were in the business of finding homes for salty guides like me, and as luck would have it they needed a manager for their Montana outfit, based on the Yellowstone in Big Timber, MT. And to bring it full circle, they also were looking for an instructor for their guide schools, the very same one I had attended years before. For the next 5 years I guided through out the area: the Yellowstone, Boulder, Stillwater, and Bighorn rivers. And was fortunate enough to help instruct the next generation of guides along side the amazing (legendary) Ron Meeks and Tracy Peterson. I fell so in love with the area that Rhea and I were married at the lodge in Big Timber on October 25th, 2007. It was the best day of my life.
When our phone rang years later telling us about the greatest little fly shop who's owner would be retiring, it didn't take much to convince us it was time to move east and start the next chapter of our lives. This would be moving home for Rhea, and a new adventure with some new fish for me. I couldn't have been more excited. The rest, as they say, is history...
Rhea Hawkins: The majority of my life has been defined by flukes. I transferred colleges because someone told me the other one was "in a house and the bathrooms had bathtubs." I accepted a job I don't remember applying for and that job took me to Montana for "ONE" winter (I ended up staying for almost 10 years). An impromptu drink with a friend led me to meeting my husband. A random chat with a friend of a friend lead to us moving across the country and buying a business that we'd never stepped foot into.
I am a designer by trade, but spent 50% of my days helping people get out on the water. As the owner of a fly shop, I definitely have traded a lot of my fishing time for talking about fishing time. But seeing customers come back in after catching their first fish makes it a fair trade. I recently caught a goldfish. I may retire and go out on top of my game.
I like my asymmetry balanced, socks new and the word fruition. It's like fruit, but not.
Aaron Przybylski: Aaron here. I grew up on the St. Croix River in Stillwater, MN. I spent most of my childhood in, on, or near water. The earliest memories I have of fishing are from docks with my Grandpa Rich. He liked using cane poles, so that’s what liked too. I remember him being particularly excited about a rock bass that I caught one day. It may have been the first time I baited a hook, caught a fish and released it all in my own. The thrill I felt that day is the reason I continue to fish.
It wouldn’t be until almost 30 years later that I picked up a fly rod. The decision to do so was either the best or worst decision of my life. Best because, besides my wife and two daughters, it’s my favorite thing to do. Whether its trout, musky, pike, bass, carp or even pan fish, it’s always on my mind and I like that. The reason it might be the worst decision I’ve ever made is because ITS ALWAYS ON MY MIND. Nah, it’s the best.
Today I’m lucky enough to be able to work for and be great friends with the shop owners, Bobby and Rhea. I get to guide people on local trout streams, give casting lessons and teach fly tying lessons to people who are genuinely excited to learn about fly fishing. You’ll see me in the shop quite often too.
I’m a darn lucky guy.
Evan Griggs: I’m so excited to be going on my 10th+ year of guiding and sharing the great fishing opportunities that abound in MN/WI. I have been fishing in Minneapolis and the Driftless area since before I could walk. When I was ten years old, I remember watching my dad fly fishing on Hay creek and suddenly realizing, “I’ve been watching him do this for years, and he’s never caught a fish!” At that point I was determined to catch a trout on a fly. I taught myself how to cast in my front yard, cut my teeth catching sunfish on city lakes, and practiced reading water on my neighborhood creek. It took three years, but I finally caught my first trout on a dry fly on the same creek where I watched my father. From that moment on, fly fishing quickly became my passion.
When I was 13, I made up my mind that my passion was someday going to be my profession. Right after my high school graduation, I became a trout bum and went to work on the Bighorn River in Montana at Cottonwood Campground. I worked in the fly shop, mowed the campground, and ran guide trips for two seasons. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Education from Black Hills State University. Other places I’ve guided are western North Carolina and the Black Hills of South Dakota. I’ve also taught thousands of people over the years a myriad of outdoor skills and environmental science lessons across the nation working for various government agencies and nonprofits.
It’s been fantastic being on the Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop team and creating a diverse offering of guided trips and classes! We never stop improving, trying new things, and finding better ways to support our angling community. The time I’ve spent with the shop has been the icing on the cake. See you on the water!
Bret Oeltjenbruns: I grew up in a small town in Iowa. In the summers, my dad would take me on camping trips to conventional fish for trout in Northeastern Iowa. A lot of folks think of Iowa as flat and just filled with corn fields, but Northeastern Iowa has some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest. After high school, I fell out of fishing and moved to Minneapolis to pursue music. I was lucky enough to be in a band, touring the country full-time, and singing in front of crowds every night. I would occasionally go back to Iowa to fish with my dad, but it never really stuck until in 2012 when I was at a sporting goods store deciding between a fly rod and a compound bow. Well, I went with the fly rod, and that sealed the deal!
These days, I frequently travel to Iowa to fish with my dad, fishing North and South Bear Creek and floating the Upper Iowa for trout and small mouth bass. My wife’s family lives in South Dakota, so I’m lucky to be able to fish one of my favorite fisheries quite often. I also enjoy fishing Wisconsin and Southeastern Minnesota for all fish species.
In the fall of 2016, I became part of the Bob Mitchell’s team as a guide and instructor. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest people in the fly-fishing community. In 2017, I graduated from the Sweetwater Travel Guide School in Montana. I guide predominantly in the Minnesota and Wisconsin areas for trout and small mouth bass, but I have also done some guiding in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Being part of the community and getting the opportunity to teach all ages this amazing sport of fly-fishing are the best parts of guiding and instructing.
Hazelnut: Hazel was born on a blustery Valentine's Day in 2012. After a stint in the Joplin clink (she doesn't like to talk about it), she migrated north to spend her days enjoying her new found freedom here at BMFS. What Hazel lacks in manners, she makes up for in spirit. She is working at the shop part time while she takes night classes to get her degree in business management. Hazel spends her days off fishing for sunnies and chasing bunnies. She is a life long believer of the health benefits of a strict paleo diet and has been doing it since before the crossfitters made it popular.