Written by: Charley Perkins
In November of 2020, the outdoor community said goodbye to a legend. Paul Roos was an angler, a bird hunter, an outfitter, a conservationist, and a fixture in the Blackfoot River Valley. Alongside his first wife, Kay, and his friend Johnny Kowalski, he founded PRO Outfitters, which evolved over the years to offer a little piece of Montana to generations of anglers and bird hunters. Over the course of his life, Paul taught countless friends and clients to love the woods, the water, and the prairie, and to protect the fragile natural resources in which he, and we all, find meaning. He lived well and with intention. We miss him.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for and with Paul for many of my adolescent summers. One of my first memories of Paul is from the day I arrived for my first “job,” which was more of a two-week internship at PRO where I wound up tasked with every imaginable chore that a 12-year-old could accomplish. Through the eyes of a scrawny kid, Paul was an intimidating sight. He had that big beard and massive hands and a shockingly deep voice. But I remember how quickly my intimidation dissipated; it was obvious how gentle and caring he was. You could feel it whenever he spoke to you. Paul was one of those few-and-far-between guys who took a special interest in every person, saw them for who they were, and took the time to connect with them. That really stood out to me: Paul had a remarkable way of looking at things closely, and he had an eye for the details and seeing the beauty within.
A couple years later, I went back out to Montana to work the whole summer season. Paul was a tough boss, but he was kind. He was also generous enough to show me his Montana–from the mountains to the rivers; the fish, wildlife, and people that make Montana home–which seemed to have a healing quality. I was blown away by the Montana that Paul gave me, and I know that I was not the only one. He cared deeply about his home, and he wanted his friends and clients to experience the range of gifts it had to offer.
This philosophy carried over into the way Paul approached work. All aspects of his clients’ visits were thought-out and elegant, and always authentic. I believe he introduced “glamping” to the West, and had his guest sleeping in tents before they before they knew they wanted to, especially the folks who’d never nodded off to the sound of a rushing river. He imported a New York City chef, built world-class wall tents, and personally selected, mentored, and trained the best guides around. These were the details that mattered to Paul, and he helped me see the importance in the details, too. In my early days working for him I literally spent hours every day picking up dog poop because to Paul’s way of thinking, if you loved your home and respected it, you took care of it.
Fast forward a couple years. I eventually graduated from helping around the grounds to working on becoming a guide. During one of my first seasons, I remember getting a call saying that the next day I’d be guiding for Paul and my dad, Perk, on the Blackfoot. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. Both of those guys knew the river better than I ever would. We pushed off, and after only a couple minutes on the water, I lost track of myself and got focused on Paul. His passion for and knowledge of the river, the animals that depended on it, and the local community was incredible. It was if he knew every rock an eddy on that river. Even though he obviously knew more than me, he allowed me to “guide” him. He sat in the back of the boat all day and happily fished a single dry fly he called a Dead Chicken, which was essentially a massive Royal Wulff. The way he fished that fly was nothing short of incredible: pinpoint casts combined with the most romantic mending I’ve ever seen. Paul’s line work put every cast in the movie “A River Runs Through It” to shame, but his was all real and he caught fish. We all had a lot of fun that day.
The last time I saw Paul was in Montana last September. We randomly ran across each other chasing sharp-tails on the same piece of block management. Classic Paul, with a huge smile and a Brittany by his side. Unfortunately, due to COVID, I couldn’t give him a hug, and we had to catch up from a distance. Although I could tell his health was taking a bit of a toll, the sparkle in his eye could not have shone brighter. We exchanged stories for a bit and then wished each other good luck in the next cover. I could tell there was no other place he would rather be, and no company he’d prefer than his good bird dog. He seemed truly happy. I am glad I get to remember him this way.
Orvis is proud to recognize Paul Roos as recipient of the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. We are so grateful for Paul, for his work, for his generous spirit, and for his friendship.
Charley Perkins is Mens Product Strategist at Orvis and is part of the third generation of family ownership.