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Nearly 20 years ago, Amber Graham was a sales and graphics specialist and Shawn Perich the accomplished outdoors scribe when they decided to join forces around a shared side project.

They wanted to produce a magazine that reflected the rich and colorful life along the North Shore and particularly in and around Grand Marais, where Graham grew up.

She recalled last week that the two drove up the Gunflint Trail together, selling it sight unseen to businesses along the way. His background with the Cook County News Herald didn't hurt, she said.

"People trusted us," Graham said.

What's now the monthly Northern Wilds magazine began as an organic little quarterly, no doubt fueled by his writing and that of others he drew in. Whether it was about the rivers up the shore that are foundational to the steelhead population he coveted as an angler, or a lifetime of foraging, Perich had the bona fides to write authentically of life up north.

Graham said the magazine, which got its start in 2004, will honor Perich with an issue next month that includes some of its writers reflecting on his impact.

Perich died Aug. 3 in Duluth, a place that figured prominently in his life. He graduated from Duluth Denfeld High School and followed with college at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Perich was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021. He was 64.

Perich is survived by his mother, Terese, of Duluth. His longtime partner Vikki Elberling, also a devotee of the outdoors and whom he met at UMD, preceded him in death. Perich's memorial service is 11 a.m. Saturday at Dougherty Funeral Home.

While Northern Wilds was his current platform, Perich had a long run of earlier work at Fins and Feathers magazine, the aforementioned Cook County newspaper, and 25 years as a columnist in Outdoor News, a weekly publication tailored for hunters and anglers. In addition, he wrote guidebooks about those pursuits and traveling Lake Superior.

Perich wrote in a post this year in Northern Wilds that his vocational path was quickly clear:

"Lots of folks begin life unsure of what they're going to do — what path they're going to take and what their career will be. I never had that problem. From the time I was a child I knew that I wanted to be a writer, specifically an outdoor writer. I stayed on that same career path and no one discouraged me from following that path."

Fellow journalist Joe Friedrichs, news director at WTIP (90.7 FM) in Grand Marais, also was an occasional fishing buddy. He said Perich's knowledge of the area and the outdoors, in general, was encyclopedic.

"I just marveled at how much stuff he knew," he said. "If I'd name a lake, he'd been there 20 times and knew every fishing hole that I could even suggest. When it came to fishing, he was three, four steps ahead of me."

Graham said Perich was respected for his strong opinions and convictions — all came through verbally, in ink and on screens.

Perich was the “consummate woodsman and angler,” said his friend Michael Furtman.
Perich was the “consummate woodsman and angler,” said his friend Michael Furtman.

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Those qualities help explain devotion to Perich from most corners. It's clear that young outdoors writers benefited from their interactions.

"He encouraged them to expand their skills and to dig a little deeper," she said. "He just is a good mentor, a good teacher."

Michael Furtman of Duluth, a longtime outdoors writer, author and photographer, said that Perich's desire to share extended to the field, too.

"He was the real deal. … He was the consummate woodsman and angler," Furtman said.

Furtman will miss their adventures together. Both started fishing for steelhead trout in the 1970s when the population was abundant. Despite being disabled by cancer, Perich continued to pursue his beloved steelhead, many times near his home in Hovland.

Furtman also will remember their engaging, "salt-and-pepper" conversations.

"I really respect him," Furtman added. "He lit a fire under me to be a better conservationist. He influenced a lot of people, and that is a tremendous legacy."

Correction: Duluth Denfeld High School was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.