Of Fish and Fashion

Bridging the divide between sportsmen and hipsters.

Photos by Eliesa Johnson and Becca Sabot

We own the heritage trend here in Minnesota, land of Red Wing Shoes, J.W. Hulme Co., and several other American-made brands rooted in outdoor sportsmanship. Of course, these days, those thick-soled work boots and sturdy leather bags are as likely to be seen in wine bars as they are in the wilderness.

Michael Fischer is a new store owner who believes it is possible to appeal to urban hipsters without alienating outdoors traditionalists—probably because he belongs to both clubs.

Fischer is the type of guy who will rise at the crack of dawn, drive his truck out of the city and into the woods, don a pair of waders, and bushwhack his way through wood tick–infested nettles along the shores of the Rush River to fly-fish in solitude—save for the occasional heron or deer.

But underneath those waders, he’s probably wearing raw denim jeans that sell for $220 a pop.

“I’m trying to break the stereotype of the guy in the funny hat and vest,” Fischer says. Fitted plaids and waxed canvas cross-body bags are more his style. “If guys don’t like me because I wear nice jeans, that’s OK. I’m just trying to make a living doing something I love.”

Before Fischer grew a big, bushy beard and took a job at the Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop + Coffee Bar, he worked for Ralph Lauren. He managed the Polo Ralph Lauren shop when it was on Nicollet Mall, and before it closed he moved with the company to Washington, D.C. He returned to Minneapolis a couple of years ago as other upscale, heritage-inspired menswear retailers were opening— from Brightwater Clothing & Gear in Excelsior to BlackBlue in St. Paul. He decided the time was finally right to open his dream store.

Mend Provisions opened just before Father’s Day, right around the corner from Angry Catfish near Lake Nokomis. Fischer stocks not only high-end rods and reels and waders but also stylish Hardy bags from England and Tellason jeans made in San Francisco—brands that have been claimed by the hipsters.

He blew through more jeans than rods his first week of business. The serious fly-fishermen might be a tougher sell than the outdoors-gear-as-fashion enthusiasts, even though everything at Mend Provisions is functional and the flies far outnumber the Duluth Pack bags on the shelves.

It’s not the first time a retailer has attempted to make a fly-fishing store less . . . fishy. After A River Runs Through It romanced us several years back, Cooper Hamilton Ltd. opened—and closed—at Southdale Center. Bentley’s was a longtime local favorite in the category, and even it closed. The reasons were similar to what happened to Neiman Marcus: Minnesotans don’t spend enough in general, and when they want something high-end, they often look for a deal online.

Like any new retailer, Fischer is in listening mode. While he knows what he wants to sell, he’ll have to do more than stock fishing inventory to make the concept fly. Avid fly-fishermen tell me that selling fly-fishing gear does not necessarily make a fly-fishing shop. Stream reports and expertise are as important as the merchandise.

Succeeding in this town with a narrow niche is tough no matter what. So an authentic look that appeals to a broader audience could be just the thing. After all, whether customers wear your gear in the city or by the stream doesn’t really matter once it’s sold. 2719 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-724-4272