Most seasoned fly fishermen know from firsthand experience that there are two vastly different kinds of flies. There is the artificial fly – the thing of beauty: the Adams, the Light Cahill, the Quill Gordon. And then there is the real McCoy – the buggy thing that has no virtue, except maybe to snakes and bats: the black fly, the mosquito, and the no-see-ums.

Fishermen I have known, who have abruptly given up fly fishing and taken up golf, were almost always discouraged by the insect-ridden downside of trout habitat (They spray golf courses during the bug season, don’t you know).

Those of us addicted to seducing trout with artificials simply accept, with resignation, the tradeoff. In fact, the most addicted trout fisherman will take perverse pleasure in the presence of mosquitoes and black flies, for that is generally when the fishing is at its best.

This was a bad year for flies. Veteran Millinocket guide Wiggie Robinson said that, just as last year was the worst partridge year in his memory, this spring was a record breaker in his memory for big, biting mosquitoes in the Katahdin back country.

If you are a fisherman, you no doubt remember a time or two when the bugs were so thick that even you couldn’t stand it – unless, or course, the fish began to bite like never before.

Diane and I had a fly-fighting experience this July in the Lamar River Valley in the shadow of Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. I was there on Soda Butte Creek with my 5-wt fly rod and collection of Parachute Adams. So were the deer flies. Deer flies in numbers that you had to see and feel to believe.

This was a first for me. I’ll take a mosquito, a black fly or a breeding ball of no-see-ums any day of the week over deer flies that come on like locusts. When the high-noon sun begins to beat down on the creek meadows and sagebrush, these buzzing, biting little buggers are in charge. They get in your eyes, ears and nose. Up your pants and down your shirt. They bite your hands as you struggle with tying on that No. 16 Yellow Humpy. Although Diane and I were not among the quitters, the deer fly phenomenon did drive a number of diehard anglers off the meadows.

What’s the deal on these deer flies, anyway? Why this year?

Here’s what I learned. Horse flies and deer flies like sunny areas and usually will not enter deep shade. They breed in mud and areas that are both wet and dry. These flies apparently are attracted to such things as movement, shiny surfaces, carbon dioxide, and warmth. Once on a host, they use their knife-like mouthparts to slice the skin and feed on the blood pool that is created. Bites can be very painful, and there may be an allergic reaction to the salivary secretions released by the insects as they feed.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Animals may even injure themselves as they run to escape these flies. Blood loss can be significant. It is estimated that horse flies consume 1 cc of blood for their meal, and they calculated that 20 to 30 flies feeding for 6 hours would take 20 teaspoons. This would amount to one quart of blood in 10 days.

Labrador is fabled for its insects. So I went fishing there two years ago with lots of what I use to ward off bugs: big, cheap cigars. Labrador’s reputation for bugs is deserved. What’s different about the bugs there is that they are tactical and organized. Unlike Maine, the Labrador insects come on all at the same time. Like P-51s, P-48s and B-17s over Dresden, they attack in waves. One memorable evening at dusk on the Atikonak River, I waded a backwater pool that was holding big brookies. The big fish were top feeding but avoiding my Elk Hair Caddis. As the Labrador sun sank beneath the skyline and I concentrated my all on seducing a fish, my face became a defenseless forage base for hordes of black flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and the most blood- thirsty Labradorian insect of them all – the “Stout.” This is a mutant size horse fly that bites like a Wolverine. Despite marginal light, a cigar smoke haze, and a halo of attacking insects, I managed to maintain eye contact with my fly long enough to hook one of those Labrador footballs and hold it long enough for Diane to snap a picture.

Back at camp, under the gas lamp, Diane said with a big-eyed chuckle, “Look at your face in the mirror.”

I did. Along with a burned lip from a stubborn cigar stub, my face was not a pretty sight. Welts, blotches, and blood covered my face as though I had been fighting in an alley instead of fishing for trout. It was nice to have access to a screened-in cabin off the river, and a bed and a soft pillow to lay our weary heads on.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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