Celebrating a Life Outdoors: Leigh H. Perkins, 1927-2021

Leigh H. Perkins, who purchased The Orvis Company in 1965 and over the next three decades transformed it into one of the country’s most respected sporting, apparel, and dog brands, passed away at the age of 93 on May 7, 2021, in Monticello, Florida.

Although he built his reputation as a shrewd businessman and marketer, Leigh was most at home wading in a trout stream or walking behind a bird dog in the field. He was a lifelong outdoorsman who hunted or fished more than 250 days a year into his 90s, and his reverence for nature was at the heart of his drive to conserve land and water resources for future generations.

Born in Cleveland in 1927, Leigh was raised by a mother, Katharine Perkins, who was a dedicated angler and hunter at a time when there were few women who engaged in the outdoors. It was she who fostered his passion for nature and the sporting pursuits, and these experiences shaped his desire to conserve woods and waters so that others could enjoy them. “She taught me to fish and hunt, and she was my principal sporting companion for the first 18 years of my life,” he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, A Sportsman’s Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport. Together, they caught bluegills from farm ponds, cast to cutthroats in Montana, traveled to the Atlantic salmon rivers of the Gaspe Peninsula, and shot grouse, quail, and ducks.

Although he was born into a wealthy Midwestern family, Leigh chose to make his own way in the world after graduating from Williams College in 1950. He started as a rodman on a survey crew in the iron mines of northern Minnesota, working his way up to foreman before taking a job as a salesman for Cleveland’s Harris Calorific, which made gas welding and cutting equipment. It was during this time that he discovered the value of listening to the needs of customers, which would serve him well as he built Orvis. As Leigh once told his grandson, Simon, “You always learn more by listening than by talking.” Leigh often spent time taking phone calls and reading customer letters to ensure that he was serving their needs, a practice that continues at Orvis today.

Leigh H. Perkins

The idea of mixing business and his sporting passions first occurred to Leigh when he began looking for a company of his own to build. He had been a customer of the Vermont-based Orvis since his college days in western Massachusetts. After a nine-month courtship with then owner Dudley “Duckie” Corkran, Leigh closed the deal on the first day of 1965. He was a hands-on owner, serving as president, merchandiser, art director, product-developer, and whatever else needed doing. His attention to detail was legendary, and he personally approved every item in the catalog.

Over the next 27 years, Leigh would grow the company—founded in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis—from a niche business with 20 employees and $500,000 in annual sales to a mail-order and retail powerhouse with more than 700 employees and sales topping $90 million. Along the way, he was a pioneer in both business and product development. Among the first to capitalize on changes in the direct-marketing world, Leigh made the Orvis catalog a household fixture from coast to coast and opened Orvis retail stores in cities around the country.

Leigh prioritized products that solved problems and enhanced a person’s time on the water or in the field. He introduced the first retractable zinger to hold fly-fishing tools and the first Gore-Tex rainwear. Orvis graphite fly rods were not the first on the market, but they were better-designed and more durable than competitors’. Leigh’s love for working dogs led to perhaps his biggest coup, the Orvis Dog Nest bed—the first of its kind sold in the U.S. in 1977—launching an entire category for the company.

In 1966, Leigh launched the world’s first fly-fishing school in Manchester, Vermont, teaching 150 students the basics. He added a wingshooting school several years later. “It was one of the first outdoor schools of its kind,” says Tom Rosenbauer, Orvis’s chief fly-fishing enthusiast and one of the sport’s best-known teachers, anglers, and authors. “Kids got that kind of stuff at summer camp, but it was groundbreaking for adults and the industry.” The company now offers free instruction to more than 15,000 would-be anglers per year. As his grandson Simon explains, “His passion for education and sharing has grown over the years into an important Orvis legacy of increasing access and participation in the fly-fishing and wingshooting communities.”

For Leigh, the importance of handing down family traditions—in life and in business—to the next generation was always on his mind. As his mother had done for him, Leigh passed on his passions to his children, who are all keen anglers, wingshooters, and conservationists. His sons—Leigh H. “Perk” Perkins, Jr. and David—made Orvis their lives’ work. When Leigh retired in 1992, Perk became president and CEO, with Dave working alongside him. Under their leadership, Orvis quadrupled in size. Today, the company is run by Perk’s son, Simon, while his brother, Charley, and his cousin, Hannah, also hold important positions in the business.

Leigh’s fervent belief that anglers and hunters must work to protect those resources that make time in the outdoors so fulfilling became a company ethos and business imperative. In the 1980s, he helped pioneer corporate conservation efforts by donating 5 percent of pre-tax profits to conserving fish and wildlife through organizations including Trout Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “I think this is his greatest and most lasting contribution to the outdoors and the industry,” says Rosenbauer. “It wasn’t a cynical business decision. Leigh did it because he wanted to be a steward of this world he loved. And if the company didn’t make enough profits in a year to support a project, he would reach into his own pocket, quietly, without telling a single customer or even his employees.”

He also served on a variety of non-profit boards, and in 1985, he founded the Orvis-Perkins Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to habitat and wildlife conservation efforts over the years. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Leigh Perkins was a friend to anglers everywhere,” says Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and long-time friend of Mr. Perkins. “Leigh was a lifelong conservationist. Through his generosity and clear-headed advocacy, he was an inspiration to all of us who care about the outdoors. He was one of our heroes.”

Humble with a self-effacing sense of humor, Leigh once responded to an interviewer who asked what he’d like to be remembered for by saying, “my duck soup recipe.” However, for his dedication and impact on the outdoor world, Leigh received many accolades, including the 1992 Chevron Conservation Award. Nine years later, the University of Minnesota awarded Leigh an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, for “[helping] some of the most prominent and important conservation organizations in the world to modernize their practices, create scientific research programs and achieve their potential for service,” as well as for creating a permanent forest-wildlife research program at the university. In 2016, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust named Leigh Sportsman of Year, honoring his conservation work and dedication to the preservation of the fish and waters he so loved.

Despite all the good he did, Leigh didn’t think of himself as a do-gooder. “No one feels sorry for me,” he once said. “I’ve done exactly what I enjoy most all my life.” It is that example of pursuing the real joy in life that he will be remembered for by everyone with the good luck to have known him.

Leigh H. Perkins is survived by his wife, Anne; children Perk Perkins, David Perkins, Molly Perkins, and Melissa McAvoy; stepchildren Penny Mesic, Annie Ireland, and Jamie Ireland; grandchildren Simon Perkins, Charley Perkins, Hannah Perkins, Molly Perkins, Jake Perkins, Leigh Perkins, Spencer McAvoy, Emma McAvoy, Ralph McAvoy, Melissa Mesic Marshall, and James Mesic; three great-grandchildren; and a pack of four-legged family members.

“The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing” Now Streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube

Fly anglers looking for easy access to instructional content can now stream “The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing” television show on two of the largest video platforms online: Amazon Prime and YouTube. The show, a 13-part documentary-style series hosted by well-known author and angler Tom Rosenbauer, focuses on instruction in a variety of settings and angling situations, covering everything from fly-fishing basics to targeting trout and bass with a fly rod.

“The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing” originally aired on the World Fishing Network (WFN) in 2012, and has been available on the Orvis website’s Learning Center since. Rosenbauer believes that the addition of the show to the Amazon lineup will provide the content with a second life.

“People can watch it on their television anytime they want now, if they have Amazon Prime,” he said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I love your show and watched it five times, but I can’t see it on WFN anymore. I like watching it on my tv.'”

According to Rosenbauer, having the content available to stream on home televisions via Amazon and on mobile devices through YouTube will broaden the series’ reach substantially. If you were to click here for the statistics and look at the stats regarding cable TV as well as streaming services being used in today’s world then you’ll be able to see he’s not actually wrong in being able to reach more by migrating the series onto the various online streaming platforms.

“The Amazon audience, it’s a different audience, for most parts an older one,” he said. “The younger people will watch it on their phones.”

Colin McKeown and Mark Melnyk, producers and hosts of “The New Fly Fisher,” helped produce the Orvis show. Both believe that the partnership with Amazon and the presence on YouTube will be a boon to anglers everywhere.

“There are 40-odd million people using Amazon Prime in the U.S.,” McKeown said. “This is a big score for the show, for Tom, and for Orvis. It’s going to enable a lot of people who are learning how to fly fish.”

Melnyk echoed McKeown’s thoughts.

“I believe that this is going to open up a window to a whole bunch of brand-new fly anglers,” he said. “They are going to find this while browsing and it’s going to pique their interest.”

That’s not the only big news involving “The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing,” however. Over the course of 2019, Rosenbauer, McKeown, and Melnyk will be producing the long-awaited second season of the show.

“It will be more advanced, more in-depth,” Rosenbauer said. “It will be a natural extension of Season 1, but very focused. There will be strictly a bonefish show, strictly a redfishing show, a show all about Euro nymphing.”

“The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing” is available on Amazon Prime Video USA, and as the OTT platform geo-locks its content due to certain licensing restrictions, you could always stream it in your own country. For example, if you’re a fishing enthusiast in India and would want to watch it! You could turn to certain blogs about learning how to change country Amazon Prime and watch specific geographically locked content!

Season 2 will debut in January of 2020. Click here to stream the series.

IF4™ Tickets Now On Sale In North America

An outstanding collection of films from an enormously talented pool of the very best filmmakers from around the globe. IF4™ promises to deliver the very best fish porn (what!?) to scratch that mid-winter fish itch. But IF4™ audiences have always asked for more than mind-numbing fish sizzle. These films have heart and in some cases carry an important message. Many will numb your mind with high-energy fish eats and some will challenge your soul. Welcome to the badassery that is the 2019 International Fly Fishing Film Festival. Unquestionably the best fly-fishing film event on the planet.

The Midnight Mission

Fly Fusion’s Director of Photography, Gilbert Rowley, has just released another amazing project and the film has been awarded Official Selection status by the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. Check out the trailer for this epic film as it travels around the world, exclusively with IF4.

Backpacks & Roadmaps

Couple of good friends of Fly Fusion, John Van Vleet and Tiffany Barber, are hitting the open road and will be journalling their adventures through a new travel website called Backpacks & Road Maps. We plan to live vicariously through their adventures and encourage you to join us in following this epic husband and wife team. Just a couple of outdoor lovers from Montana, they can’t get enough of life on the road. Follow along on all of their adventures, with travel reports, tips, and photography highlights from destinations all around the world. #backpacksandroadmaps

Fly Fusion Series: Season Three Begins!

Join Fly Fusion Magazine Editors Derek Bird and Jim McLennan for season three of the wildly popular Fly Fusion Series as they explore the prairies and East slope of the Rocky Mountains. Confronted by back-country closures and wildfires the hosts embrace mounting challenges and find themselves lost, but in the right direction, while exploring new and familiar water for willing trout.

Fly Fusion Series: New Episode!

The latest episode, “Treasure Hunters”, from the Fly Fusion Series has just been released! In this first episode Fly Fusion Magazine editors Derek Bird and Jim McLennan pursue some of the west’s most treasured trout – Bow River rainbows. For Jim this is his home water. He’s fished and guided on the river for a good portion of his life, so he makes the task of locating large trout look effortless. Derek, on the other hand, ends up botching a few takes before finding himself in step with the river’s cadence.

RIO Adds New Freshwater Lines for 2019

RIO–The RIO Creek line is designed for small creeks and streams with a taper design that loads at close range but has enough body and head length when a longer cast is needed. It is ideal for nymphs, dries and small streamers, and its supple, coldwater core provides tangle-free performance. RIO’s MaxFloat Tip ensures the line does not sink. Available in WF0-WF4F options in green/yellow coloration for $79.99.

The InTouch Big Nasty Sink Tip line is a multiple density sink tip line designed to cast large and heavy flies thanks to its front-loaded weight distribution and ultra-low stretch ConnectCore. The seamless blend of three or four densities ensures a smooth transition of energy when casting and the best depth control while fishing. It is available in float/hover/intermediate (F/H/I), float/hover/intermediate/sink 3 F/H/I/S3), and a float/intermediate/sink 3/sink 5 design (F/I/S3/S5). The different densities are designed to give anglers the option of fishing at different depths, with the F/H/I an ideal choice for fishing in the top two feet of the water column, the F/H/I/S3 a great line for fishing 2-4 feet in depth, and the F/I/S3/S5 being perfect for fishing between 4-8 feet in depth. Available in August for $99.99

For anglers heading deep into the jungle in pursuit of peacock bass, dorado, or pacu, the DirectCore Jungle Series from RIO is the line of choice. Its powerful front taper delivers large flies with ease, while the easy annealing, low-memory core lays perfectly straight. The hard, tropical coating ensures it will not wilt in the extreme heat. There is a full floating line option and a F/I that has a floating running line with a 30-foot intermediate head with 10-feet of that being clear. The F/S3 is a floating line with the front 20-feet being type 3 sinking (3-4ips). The F/S6 is a floating line with the front 20-feet being a type 6 sinking line (6-7ips). Available at RIO dealers in August for $119.99.

Trout anglers can make an easy choice for leader selection with RIO’s Powerflex Trout Selection. This selection pack contains three different 9-foot trout leaders each being one of the most popular sizes. Consumers can choose between two selections: a 9ft – 3X, 4X, and 5X leader, and the other with a 9ft – 4X, 5X, and 6X leader in. MSRP $12.99.

RIO also adds a new length in its popular Fluoroflex Trout Leaders with 7.5-foot lengths from 5X to 0X for $14.99.

Sole Mates–Orvis and Michelin Team Up

Michelin Soles has entered into a new partnership with Orvis, the world leader in fly fishing, to equip the company’s Orvis Pro Wading boot with soles featuring Michelin technologies and know-how, which will offer anglers high grip levels in and out of the water, and excellent durability. The boot has been presented during Icast trade show in Florida, Orlando.

Read More

Patagonia Announces Innovative Wading Boots For 2019

Our friends at Patagonia have just announced two of their most innovative fly fishing products to date — the new Foot Tractor Wading Boots and River Salt Wading Boots. These boots are the culmination of years of hard work and research and development in collaboration with Danner, the iconic boot maker and Vibram, maker of high performance outsoles. Patagonia’s and Danner’s quest to build the most durable and highest performing wading boots possible has led to what Patagonia contends are the best boots they have ever made and possibly the last ones anglers will ever need to buy.

To achieve their goals of maximum durability and performance in a long-lasting U.S.A.-made boot, Patagonia paired their expertise in fly fishing and product innovation with Danner’s proud tradition of quality and craftsmanship. Made by hand in Portland, Oregon, both boots are engineered for the most demanding wading and fishing. And with treated full-grain leather and stitch-down construction, they’re designed not only for durability but also to be resoled and even completely recrafted as they wear to keep them on the water and out of the landfill.

The collaboration between Patagonia and Danner began with the idea of offering the best fly fishing boots made in the U.S. For both companies, this meant creating boots that are durable, lightweight, quick drying, and comfortable. “These Danner-built boots are the ultimate fusion of performance, durability, and quality,” notes Chris Gaggia, global marketing manager at Patagonia. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of our work with Danner, and we’re proud to have a product that will surely endure.”

The durability of both the Foot Tractor Wading Boots and River Salt Wading Boots are the result of stitch-down construction of waterproof full-grain leather and tough 1000-Denier nylon. The saline treated leather is waterproof, non-shrinking, and non-cracking. With technology that prevents swelling, these boots prevent water retention and maintain their appearance. Perforated drains clear water quickly, and nylon webbing saves weight while maintaining strength and support. Nylon-coated hardware also adds an additional element of durability. The stitch-down construction consists of interlocking thread that increases the durability of the boots while also allowing the boots to be resoled and recrafted by Danner. And both boots provide comfort and stability throughout from an insole board, an internal shank for arch support, a cushioned midsole for impact absorption, a wider platform for increased ankle support, and a lace-to-toe design that allows for a more customized fit over the top of the foot.

The River Salt Wading Boots feature low profile adjustable speed lacing evolved from Danner’s Marine Corps boots, and a bi-fit board combines shank, lasting board, and PU midsole into a single piece, thereby providing a lightweight platform. Additionally, a VIBRAM® Megagrip outsole with sticky rubber delivers impressive traction in an out of the water, as well as increased durability. The River Salt Wading Boots are designed specifically for the Middle Fork Packable Waders, wet wading, and the flats. They will be available in Feather Grey for $449.

The Foot Tractor Wading Boots have an adjustable lacing system and a 5mm rubber midsole. With a VIBRAM® Idrogrip outsole for durability and performance, anglers have the choice of sticky rubber ($499), felt ($499), and aluminum bar ($549) for their preference of best traction. The Foot Tractor Wading Boots will be available in Forge Grey.

And while Patagonia and Danner built these boots to endure, the companies’ shared values also brought them together to make boots that could very well be an angler’s ultimate boot purchase. Both boots have options for recrafting at Danner’s world-class facility in Portland, from replacing outsoles and hardware to repairing stitching and reconditioning the leather. Patagonia hopes that anglers will avoid the practice of sending boots to the landfill and will keep these boots in use for many years. This revolutionary approach cuts down on production, spending, and waste and provides the longest possible lifespan for these boots.

The Foot Tractor Wading Boots and River Salt Wading Bootswill be available February, 2019.