Looking for Survivors

No, I wasn’t out investigating a local tragedy or searching the rubble in some post-apocalyptic nightmare, thankfully enough. I was simply on my autumn trout streams looking for survivors of a brutally hot and dry summer season that, reportedly, took a heavy toll on trout as well as other aquatic species in my region of the world.


Whereas my investigations were brief and less than scientific, I can only echo what more knowledgeable voices have already declared– yes, the record-breaking heat and drought of 2020 took its toll on fish, at least on some of the cold-water streams of Pennsylvania and New York.

It took a while before I saw my first autumn fish on New York’s Genesee. I hadn’t expected many survivors there, where river temps can hit the high 70s even in the coolest summers. And perhaps survivors were few and far between. But after an hour or so of casting to no avail, I suddenly caught two small browns– wild fish, probably migrants from a cooler source, but a good sign nonetheless. And then came a feisty two-year-old– a hatchery brown, a summer veteran that could not resist a Weenie drifted through a deep hole underneath a bridge.

unusual for main stem Genesee, NYS…


On another day of rare warmth and sunshine, I discovered some large trout recently planted in a northern Pennsylvania stream. The fishing was almost too easy. Probably for the first time in my angling history, I landed a 20-inch rainbow on my first cast of the day. And more fish came in quick succession. No “fish story” here; they were newbies– fun to catch, but not exactly educated. One of the ensuing rainbows probably measured 22-inches, or more, but it jumped from my hands before I could tape its colorful size. Anyway, I hope these fish absorb some river wildness soon to help them stick around a while.

from northern PA…

Tomorrow? Hopefully I’ll get around to investigating a couple of wild brook trout streams nearby. Those native fish are strong and know how to survive.

And talk about survivors… My book Wings Over Water, published in 2020 just before the big pandemic washed upon our shores, had very little chance for exposure and sale, but it’s here, alive and waiting for a smile from anyone who enjoys the written word straight from the heart of nature. Three excerpts:

“The night rain of New Mexico spreads across the sand and binds the billions of particles for a light impression of foot and claw. The kit fox emerges, and the jack rabbit, and the great horned owl. The darkling beetle wakes with the dawn. The sun calls a black-throated sparrow into song. The bleached lizard runs from an approaching foot that makes an imprint on the sand…” (from Desert Rainbows).

“The deep night of the Delaware was rich with life and death. To fish it with flies was stimulating and intriguing if you played it right. With some planning and familiarity of water, you can have the river to yourself and get the spooky and exhilarating sense that angling is a whole lot more than you believed it was. When the big browns emerge from their hiding places and go hunting out in front of you, the sounds you’ll hear will be amplified above the norm. The riffle splash will sound as though it’s coming from inside of you; the headlight of a passing car may seen accusatory; the crack of underbrush along the bank might change a rabbit into a murderer; the slap of a beaver tail can shake you silly, but beyond all that the deep night will enfold you in the cradle of wild nature…” (from Small Stream, Big River).

“I like to find poetry in the world, in the elements surrounding us, waiting for connection and interpretation. I like to translate what is raw and flex it into ordinary words. That process, I suppose, is one facet of my job as naturalist. We all have personal frameworks in the world of nature, but all too many of us have forgotten our framework or allowed the social world to smash it. We have ways of realigning our humanity, however, with the history of our kind and with our hope for future days. As a naturalist, I try to do my small part allowing the lands and waters to assist our realignment. They speak directly and to the point. They speak the poetry of life…” (from Like an Old-Fashioned Naturalist).

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!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Looking for Survivors

  1. So much water. so little time. Keep wading.

  2. alex55manta says:

    Some nice surroundings there RTR! I can at least appreciate, if not down-right admire the scenery when the leaves have fallen or mostly fallen. Can see right into the mountainsides and see what’s been under those trees all summer. Some great fish there – nothing (unfortunately) like I ran into but nice healthy fish I think! Just generally, where about in PA did you get to? Take care, UB

  3. Steve Vaughn says:

    Really enjoyed your latest post. Brings me back to living most of my life in Western NY, first growing up in Penn Yan (Yates Co.) and raising our family in Rochester. Fish he Genny a lot down near the border and may upland streams in the Southern Tier of NY. Also, liked the excerpt mentioning the Delaware River, where I enjoyed many trips to the West Branch and “Big D”. The experience out here in Eastern Washington is very different and while I miss fishing primarily for browns, I do love catching cutthroat. Thanks.

  4. Greetings. Congrats on your book. Is it your first? By the way, have you read Trout Fishing In America, by Richard Brautigan?

    • Thanks, Neil. Actually the book is one of my latest in a rather lengthy list of titles. Feel free to peruse the titles on my Amazon page (link on my blog’s About Page). I first read Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing” back in the 70s. It won’t teach anyone how to fish, but it’s a riot, nonetheless.

  5. Don T says:

    Nice you got out. Glad to see some survivors. I hope to explore that stream of my youth this spring. You know the one I mean.

    Happy Thanksgiving

  6. Brent says:

    I really like one of the themes here, that renewal and rebirth can emerge in any time or season. We so often think of Fall as a season of passing or decay, but it’s refreshment time for the cold-water trout. It’s much like the onset of evening for nocturnal critters, as in your book passages.

  7. plaidcamper says:

    Lovely stuff once again! I’m glad you gave the gentle nudge on ordering a copy of “Wings over Water” as I’d completely forgotten to do so. I’ll blame the pandemic and other distractions. On the plus side, it’ll be something to enjoy as the nights grow long and restrictions kick in.
    Thanks, Walt!

  8. Bob Stanton says:

    I believe I know that stream..

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    A true delight to have the gift of your words, here, Walt. Your connections to nature and earth and the mysteries of life are always so beautifully articulated. I am still lingering in the recent publication of “from the High Hills to the Bay” and am so glad you continue to write and publish. My best to you, and many thanks, for sharing your gift.

  10. plaidcamper says:

    Dear me! I went searching along the book shelves, and there it was, a copy of “Wings Over Water” – overlooked and then lost on the late winter trips between the coast and Calgary as we tried to figure out safe harbour from the approaching pandemic. I was quite ill in mid-March – perhaps it was the dreaded virus – and my evident cognitive decline and book-related forgetfulness can be traced back to then…
    Happily, I have a copy and will settle down to read it.

    • So glad you found the book, Adam. Getting lost in the March shuffle is quite understandable. What a time of madness & ill-health that whole season was, and continues to be for all of us. My wife & I are just now coming out of Covid, and we know first-hand how pernicious it all is. The good news is that we’re all survivors, and that goes for the book, as well.

      • plaidcamper says:

        Walt, we’re sorry to learn of your COVID diagnosis, and very much relieved to hear you are both coming out the other side.
        Wishing you both a full and speedy recovery.
        Take care.

  11. Thank you very much, Adam… L. is back at work, and with a few more days, I’ll be out of quarantine & back in the flow of things. Be well out there in B.C. land.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Wow-what a trip the colors on those trout are beautiful. Just wondering how long the larger trout have been in the area? How often is this place stocked? The Sipsey where I fish is stock once a month, but not with trout that size. Congrats and thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      Not sure how long these trout were in the water, though it may not have been more than a week or two, perhaps since the most recent rains (and that wasn’t long before). Typically the stocking is only twice a year, as far as I know, although it’s possible that “private” (as opposed to state) stocking has created additional plantings. In any cast, colorful, aren’t they? Thanks much for your reading and interest here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.