The Gnats

I parked 20 feet from an old black truck at a pull-off by the river. I began to pull on my waders when I saw two fishermen with rods and nets returning to their vehicle. Before I knew it, I heard the husky round-faced angler saying to his partner, “I know that guy from somewhere.”

upper Allegheny…

Looking up, I finally recognized the speaker: Phil, Jr., along with his nephew Jake. Phil’s dad had been a fine companion whom I’d fished with on the Genesee, as well as on the Beaverkill and Willowemoc for a three-day outing some dozen years before.

“Oh yeah, Phil! How’s it going? I’m Walt… Franklin. It’s been years!”

“Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it…  Jake, remember Walt?  He gave me those Griffith’s Gnats to save our day when we were out on the Willow that time. Dad was fishing downstream, near camp. The trout were fussy as hell, but the Gnats were what they wanted.”

“I remember now, ” I said. “A  great visit with your family… So, any fish today?”

“We didn’t see anything, though Jake might have had a strike. I don’t think they’ve stocked this section yet. There might be a few holdovers scattered around, who knows.”

“There’s always a chance to find one. At times like these, especially when the weather’s nice, we’ll take it, right? Even without the stockers. Upstream, you might find a wild fish or two, and there’s often hatchery trout from Pennsylvania. But due to the virus, hatchery drivers aren’t distributing with their usual help from volunteers. Their buckets are getting emptied mostly at the bridges.

Fishing could be spotty this year. Still, whenever I fish down through this section, I think of you guys, especially of your dad. He sure loved the river and its wildlife. Loved to tie those soft-hackles and match them to the hatches. Loved to help out anybody who took an interest in the sport… He really had it down.”

“Definitely. He was good. And probably fishing right now. Up there, if you know what I mean… But since he died, I haven’t gotten out a lot…

Jake and I, well, we were laid off from our jobs last Friday. With this staying home and being distant, and all, we’ve been going crazy and just needed to be on the river.”

hemlock on Genesee…

“Yeah, for sure… Economies are grinding to a halt; we’re making decisions left and right.  Fatigue sets in, morally and physically, so there’s reason to be out here, aside from the typical enjoyment that we get.”

The three of us lifted an arm in farewell to each other, as if with a fly rod in our grips, on the Genny or the Beaverkill. I think we departed with hopes of seeing each other some day down the road.


Those tiny gnats I happened to have on a June day long ago were floating in my thoughts. Those miniature #20 hooks, wrapped with peacock herl and grizzly hackle, rose there sympathetically. It wasn’t even April yet.

comin’ in, then back…

…alright, the last of my “skunks” this year….

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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13 Responses to The Gnats

  1. Anonymous says:

    Another fine memory created out fishing. Looked like it was a fine day too! Great ‘Bow’ pic and the Pussy Willow’s are blooming are they? My forsythias haven’t bloomed yet – so the Hendricksons’ around here haven’t hatched yet I don’t believe. Looked like a great day to social distance on a stream!

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Happy to read you’re getting out and seeing some new-old faces. Tough times ahead for a lot of people, so if there’s comfort to be found being sociably distant on the river, then that’s great. Nice to see some green shoots! We’re back below freezing and quite a few weeks away from any greenery in AB…
    Thanks, Walt!

    • Adam, in this case the river is a good place for anglers & walkers to experience some healthy socially-distant interaction. The air is clean & there’s plenty of room for respectful maneuvering. Meanwhile the greenery sheds its promise, and I suspect it won’t be long before Alberta sees it too.

  3. Dale says:

    Hi Walt how are you guys doin staying healthy during these trying time we are doing fine so far!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    This is what life is really about, for me: making connections other people. If it happens via fly fishing, so much the better. The upper Allegheny looks almost Western in early spring. It’s not hard to imagine it as a river cutting through the plains. And the sad fact of the matter is that I was fervently hoping that the bug life would rebound after a mild winter, equating to some better hatch matching opportunities. Now that possibility maybe compromised. Damn!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    … with other people. Oops.

    • Bob, I’m glad that you and Brent (and hopefully others, too) took notice of the upper Allegheny’s western look in early spring. Lately, there have been some decent stonefly hatches in the area, which is always a good sign.

  6. Brent says:

    I like Bob’s observation about the river looking almost Western. If you use your imagination (or look back far enough in history), it’s easy to picture a wolf pack hunting through the valley. VERY nice looking fish-in-water in that penultimate pic!

  7. tiostib says:

    A many layered story which reminds me of the thousand small pleasures of time spend on the rivers of the world. Nicely done, thank you.

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