Remembering Paul Roos, a Giant in the Montana Fly-Fishing Community

Written by: Perk Perkins, former Orvis CEO

Paul Roos was an icon of the Montana guide community.
Photo by Austin Trayser

We are sad to share with you the news that legendary Montana guide Paul Roos passed away on November 10. Some of you may have had the pleasure of knowing Paul; others have heard of Paul; and still others are about to learn just a little of why Orvis is paying tribute to this wonderful human.

When Orvis launched its Endorsed Lodges, Outfitters, and Guides program back in the mid 1980s, Paul Roos Outfitters was among the first members of the program. Orvis’s Vern Bressler was tasked with identifying and recruiting inductees for the program, and I remember him counting them on his fingers and saying, “We need to get Paul Roos.” It was the highest praise an outfitter could get.

I fished with Paul a couple years after that, when he guided me on the Missouri River. We had a great morning with rainbows sipping tricos, until a fierce wind blew up and chased us off the river. To this day, I thank the Great Spirit for that wind, because it caused me to take my focus off the trout and get to know the man. He became a best friend.

Instructor, teacher, mentor, advisor, coach, observer, even disciplinarian: Paul had an extraordinary knack for knowing which to be and when for each client. The guides he trained say the same about him. And he was exemplary at each of those roles. He worked at each to become great at them, and his career in education—as a math teacher and school principle—no doubt helped. Paul was a truly gifted angler, and he was as engaged taking a beginner from a 1 to a 2 as he was taking a veteran from 9 to 10. But most of his clients would say it wasn’t about the skills learned. It was about the engagement.

That engagement extended to the land and waters where Paul worked and played. It would not be a stretch to call Paul the “Dean of the Blackfoot River,” or even of the Blackfoot Valley. He knew every characteristic of the river from the headwaters you could jump across to its confluence with the Clark Fork: its eddies, accesses, riparian landowners, spawning riffles, bull trout holes, hatches. . . as well as its threats and opportunities. Paul was a role model of a conservationist, for anglers as well as for guides. He was adept at finding the common values that enabled him to discuss conservation needs with nearly all constituencies, including ranchers, anglers, loggers, agency professionals, and politicians. When there was a meeting on a sticky resource issue, Paul was one of the first to be called. Over his lifetime, he served on nearly every conservation board in the region and countless task forces. However, it was his one-on-one time, the individual relationships and trust he built, that made things happen.

I sat down to write a tribute to Paul and I ended up drafting a resume. To help you appreciate the real Paul, I need to append a piece that our friend, Bart Knaggs, wrote about Paul:

“Paul Roos was the perfect steak of a man – dry aged, well-seasoned, crusty on the outside, tender on the inside. We met twenty years ago in Ovando, courtesy of his dear friend Perk, and fished old Ralph’s spring creek. He cast his spell upon me and left me with the only memory ever of Lance relaxing – lying beside the stream, gazing up at the sky, fingers locked behind his head, elbows out. Paul moved people in ways they would never expect. He took me to fish, but taught me to look up and wonder more. He coached me to respect ranchers and convinced ranchers to become conservationists.

I’d usually visit Paul at the end of his season, and mine. We’d fish, hike, shoot pool, talk, drink, eat burgers, pancakes, ice cream – everything with a full coating of coarse ground pepper. He read poetry on floats down the Smith River. Out loud. Paul loved to volunteer to make coffee. His was like espresso, but without the water. His few taste buds only worked on bourbon. I’m toasting him with one now, reminded me of the time he brought a bottle to our sailing trip in the Bahamas. You clearly could not take Montana out of the man.

Once he told me he was building a new house, and I asked if it was gonna be a log cabin. “Nope, I grew up in wood,” he said. The last time he called, I picked up to “Bart, how the hell are you?” That was Paul. He said things in only a way he could. He hosted everyone in the famed Blackfoot Valley and sent us back out to change the world in the way he saw fit. And we did and we will. He gruffly waxed with earnestness and some regret on the love for family and friends. He lived for stories about my daughters. Yet he never gave an inch if it wasn’t warranted. The passing of Billy Joe Shaver last week put “Live Forever” back on top of my playlist. It’s playing now as I think of Paul’s passing. It’s hard to imagine that wild corner of the world without Paul, so I won’t. Ever. In my mind, it is his. I hope I can forever hear his voice in my head, and I’ll forever long to have one more day fishing with him. Until then, pepper, bourbon and strong coffee in your honor Paul. You’re gonna live forever with me.”


Tributes from many others in the guide community have appeared online in recent days. See below to learn more about the remarkable life and legacy of Paul Roos.

  • Read Paul Roos’s obituary in the Helena Independent Record here.
  • Brandon Bodecker and John Kowalksi of PRO Outfitters, which was founded by Paul Roos, offered heartfelt tributes here.
  • Tom Kuglin writes about Paul Roos’s conservation legacy in the Helena Independent Record here.
  • Read Eddie Olwell’s tribute in the Ravalli Republic here.
  • To read a 2018 profile of Paul from Big Sky Journal, click here.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Paul Roos, a Giant in the Montana Fly-Fishing Community”

  1. I knew Paul well. He was the first person I fished the Blackfoot River with 30 years ago. We fished many other rivers together and I learned a little more each time. Paul was a master. He taught me how to row. He taught me to put my rod down as we floated from time to time and just look up and enjoy the surroundings. Above all, he was a dear friend of mine, of the Blackfoot, and of the Valley. We had a great talk just shortly prior to his passing. We both knew the time was coming soon yet we promised each other we would fish together in the spring. Paul was bigger than life and because of that he will live in the hearts and minds of all those who had the pleasure of knowing him —— forever.

  2. I really liked Paul. He was a great guy. A true gentleman. I enjoyed Perk’s write up and I think Paul would have enjoyed it too.

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