I’m not exactly sure when Shawn Perich and I first crossed paths. It was certainly sometime in the mid-1980s, when my top priority was getting in as much steelhead fishing as possible. Shawn and his buddy Al Lutkevich were regulars on the North Shore streams in Ontario, so we knew each other in passing. But, our first longer interactions took place in the late 1980s. My writing career was just getting started, and I was a sponge. There were not a lot of people that wrote about the outdoors for a living in those days, but Shawn was one. He had experience under his belt writing and editing articles, magazines, and books. He provided advice freely while being realistic about the chances for making a go of it (low). Over time, we developed a friendship built on mutual interests and respect.
In the 1990s, Shawn was instrumental in getting me a column writing gig with Minnesota Outdoor News. He was already a popular columnist at the paper, and was known for his unflinching critiques of certain politicians and their conservation policies. He was always even and thorough, but you knew where he stood. I admired his guts and learned a lot from reading his work. We also worked together on a few projects, including a tourism related book.
We began talking every week on the phone, sometimes for long periods of time. These were wide ranging chats, usually about the outdoors, but also about music, relationships, politics, and writing. This is when I learned what a deep thinker Shawn was. I also learned he was not one to back away from a good argument. He could be a little prickly about some things, but we usually agreed. Shawn was always interested in the conservation policies in Ontario and took a special interest in steelhead management, and the plight of the Nipigon River and its brook trout. When conservation policies in northwestern Ontario tightened and the trout fisheries turned around, he trumpeted it in his columns.
It was in the early 2000s where Shawn and I spent the most time together outdoors. I was getting offered trips and needed a compatible travel partner who could also offer a separate media outlet for the client.
Our first big excursion together was an amazing trip to northern British Columbia in the summer of 2000. In those days, I’d developed a relationship with some tourism folks in B.C., and they offered a trip to a floating lodge north of Prince Rupert. This adventure would include a stop in Vancouver, and a white sturgeon fishing trip on the Frazer River. I asked Shawn if he wanted to go, and he was more than ready. That trip was incredible, and we both saw and did things that blew our minds. We caught white sturgeon, saw killer whales, and fished for chinook salmon and halibut in amazing places. Shawn would travel back to B.C. several times afterwards.
In 2001, he and I did a wild turkey hunt together in southern Minnesota. I’d been hunting turkey for a couple of years in southern Ontario, but was not successful. Hunting turkey with Shawn was a game changer. He understood the wild turkey game and I shot my first bearded bird with him by my side. A year later we hunted turkey again, but this time his father Dan came along. What a hoot that trip was. Dan, Shawn, and I also did a fly-in trip together to Blue Fox Camp in northeastern Ontario. That trip spawned a hilarious column by Shawn, the focus of which was how Dan had purposely flipped me out of a canoe. Shawn’s interactions with his dad made it clear why he was so passionate about the outdoors.
In 2003, Shawn was a keynote speaker at an Outdoor Writers of Canada Conference in Thunder Bay. After the conference, we traveled together to Webequie, a First Nation community near the Winisk River. We stayed in a cabin on an island and fished for walleye and brook trout with local guides on the Winisk. On the last day of the trip, we were the guests of honour at a community feast where a goose was cooked. Shawn was fascinated and humbled by this experience and mentioned it frequently in the years to come.
Around this time, Shawn began to talk about Amber, a woman he met who had a brilliant mind for business. When he told me he was going into the magazine business with her, I was genuinely amazed. We had often joked about how hard the print industry was. But Shawn and Amber both had a vision of creating a magazine that could echo the entire North Shore of Lake Superior. Shawn had always seen himself as a resident of the north, and he was unbelievably comfortable with Canadians, despite living south of the border.
During the formative years of Northern Wilds, I saw Shawn a lot less. We were both busy. He and his partner Vikki came to see my band a few times in Thunder Bay, and we still spoke often on the phone. Shawn also had a regular seat at my table for the annual North Shore Steelhead Association’s dinner auction, but our trips together had stopped.
In 2013, when my newspaper column ended in Thunder Bay, Shawn and Amber proposed I write a column for Northern Wilds. I’d also started to guide anglers in the summer, something that surprised him as much as his taking on the role of a magazine publisher surprised me. Yet, my guiding led to us fishing together again.
In 2017, Shawn, and the owner of Quebec Lodge, Ray Rivard, spent the day with me on the Nipigon River. Shawn caught his personal best brookie that day and even allowed me to pose him for some photos (he was not big on photos). The next year, I took Shawn and his buddy Dan Johnson out for a day of fly fishing on the Nipigon River. That, too, was a memorable outing.
When Shawn messaged me a couple years ago that “he had news” I had no idea he was going to tell me he had glioblastoma brain cancer. He had always been as fit as a fiddle. Shawn was as philosophical and determined as ever, but understood what the diagnosis meant. During what would be our last conversation this past spring, we talked about life, deer, steelhead, friends, family, health, environmentalism, and the swift passage of time.
“This is the weirdest conversation we’ve ever had,” he laughed—and it was.
When I got the news Shawn had died, I was on a stretch of the Nipigon River that he and I had fished several times. My two clients had just landed a rare double header of unusually large brook trout. There had been much joy and rejoicing in the boat as both fish were released and swam off. I’d taken a few pictures on my phone and saw the message.
Maybe the timing was just a coincidence. Or perhaps it was a parting gift from someone who truly loved brook trout.
God bless you, Shawn. ‘Til we meet again.