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.
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.
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).