Steven George Sobieniak, a nationally known maker of bamboo fly fishing rods and owner of Root River Rod Co., a full-service fly shop in Lanesboro, Minn., died Thursday Sept. 22 after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 67.
He was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and lived in Lewiston, N.Y., for many years. He began fishing as a boy, and learned fly fishing from his father, an avid fly fisherman, after the family moved to the Adirondacks a few years later. In the 1970s, Steve moved to Colorado to attend college, where he began working in the building industry, and met his wife, Vicki McKinney.
They moved to the Twin Cities' western suburbs in 1986 to raise a family. They welcomed two daughters and a son. Steve was a loving and supportive father, encouraging his children to follow their passions. He spent summers on the lake and winters on the ski hill with his kids. He, of course, also passed on his love of fishing and of the outdoors. He worked hard to provide his children with opportunities to try new things, travel, and live their lives authentic to who they were, a trait they learned from him.
He won respect in the Twin Cities as an artisan carpenter, adding beauty to fine homes in Minnesota and elsewhere. Steve was regularly seen on the Twin Cities-based television show, Hometime, and he worked with famed architect Sarah Susanka, prominent builders Dahle Bros, Landschute Group and many others. His craftsmanship graced many homes chosen for the Parade of Homes.
His love of fly fishing and woodworking dovetailed into another pursuit: rod building. He studied how craftsmen in the 19th and 20th centuries made six-sided fly rods from precision-milled bamboo strips. One of his mentors was rod-maker and writer Hoagy Carmichael. They developed a great friendship and were able to fish together on Canadian salmon rivers.
At 60, Steve left the construction industry to pursue rod making. He and his wife Vicki, purchased a historic storefront in Lanesboro, Minn., moved into its upstairs apartment and opened Root River Rod Co. on the ground floor in 2017. The fly-fishing store, now operated by family members, sells flies and fishing gear, and offers guided fishing on southeast Minnesota streams.
Steve often was the smiling face greeting anglers as they walked into the fly shop. He was known for his kindness, generosity, integrity and support for trout stream conservation. He built and donated bamboo rods as fundraising items for Minnesota Trout Unlimited chapters.
His rod-building workshop -- set up in the back of the store – drew anglers from around the country who wanted to see Steve's work or to discuss the merits of antique rods that Steve also collected and sold. He once told a reporter that decades from now, anglers perhaps would be discussing and casting fly rods that he built.
"I hope they say, 'This guy really knew what he was doing,' " he told the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
He loved everything to do with fishing, including angling history and fly tying. He invented a fly called the Metolius Caddis, named after an Oregon river. He traveled to fish famous waters in Oregon, Montana, Alaska, Grand Cayman, Florida Keys, Belize and Canada's Gaspé Peninsula. He also loved skiing, scuba diving, skateboarding and wakeboarding. In 2014 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. He also enjoyed painting, woodworking, building and playing string instruments. He was a true renaissance man who excelled at anything he put his mind to.
In the fall of 2021, Steve was diagnosed with stage four Metastatic Melanoma. The cancer was already present in his lymphatic system, liver, lungs, and bone. Following diagnosis Steve and Vicki took a two-week trip to the west coast, exploring his favorite Oregon rivers, the Redwood Forests and making memories with friends and family along the way. When he returned home, he started treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He underwent immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation. He also participated in a research study for a promising new targeted therapy. He spent many hours in scans and appointments in hopes of furthering this treatment, even knowing he would most likely not live to receive the therapeutic treatment himself. Ultimately his cancer journey ended almost a year after diagnosis when he passed peacefully at home surrounded by his family. From diagnosis to the very end, Steve traveled his path with complete strength, courage, and an amazingly positive attitude.
He is survived by Vicki, his wife of 37 years; daughters Mariah Rose and partner Josh Freberg; daughter Alayna Sobieniak and partner Lance Prado; grandchildren Shyla, Adelyn and Finn; mother Rosemarie Sobieniak, sister Sharon and partner Keith Tabor, sister Lisa Sobieniak and partner David Ongley, and sister Carol Sobieniak, sister-in-law Stephie Wiseman, brother-in-law Ron McKinney, and nieces and nephews Orion, Cheyenne, Rowan, Tom and Jaimie.
He was preceded in death by son Brady Sobieniak and Steve's father, Mathew Sobieniak.
Services will be held on October 8 from 2 to 5 pm at Camp Creek Farm, Preston, MN.
Funds from this Go Fund Me will be used towards medical expenses and to support his family during this time. Steve was also very clear he wanted a portion of the proceeds to go to a “worthy river cause”. In his memory, we plan to continue and expand our annual river clean up events as well as other projects to preserve his beloved waters.
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