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> > Black flies--bane and boon

This topic is about the True Fly Family Simuliidae

Black flies are not usually regarded as important trout fare, but scientific studies of some rivers have shown them to make up the majority of the trout's diet. Such places are few and far between, but anglers should be aware of the possibility and keep a lookout for high concentrations of the larvae.

The adults are nasty, annoying, biting flies. Read more...

There is 3 more specimen...

The Discussion

GONZOApril 4th, 2007, 12:35 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Although many anglers have been driven from the stream by these nasty little flies, the fish love them. I remember a crazy day on a tiny Pike County brook trout creek. The black flies were legion, but so were the brookies. As long as I could stand it (I was prepared with a headnet, but it was only a partial defense) the little trout hammered a Griffith's Gnat on almost every cast.

Even if you can't tolerate the adult flies, an imitation of the larvae is very good. In fact, Don Holbrook (the author of Midge Magic) recently told me that his imitation of these larvae was the single most reliable and productive pattern of all of his "midge" imitations. He complained (only partly in jest) that the widespread spraying for black flies could ruin his fishing!

-Gonzo
EntomanJuly 7th, 2011, 2:14 pm
Northern CA & ID

Posts: 2604
Hi Lloyd,

Black flies... I really learned to hate them during an unseasonable warm spell in the Maine woods several years back. Even with pants tucked into socks and sleeves taped, they'd find a way in. One poor guy had to leave camp and get medical assistance. We have them out here too, but for some reason, they don't bite. I think they have the same morphology.

Anyway, one of the locals in the group showed some flies he liked to imitate the larvae with. If I remember they looked like tiny bowling pins with grayish olive bodys and little brown heads, 18's or so. He tied them with about a foot or so of stout white tying thread underneath the bodies coming out through the eye and just left dangling. Not very practical to my way of thinking so I wasn't paying enough attention to remember a method mentioned of how he tied the thread to his leader, but he must have worked something out. He claimed they were deadly at times. I would have thought he was pulling my leg except he had quite a few of them tied up. I'm aware of the alleged effectiveness of imitating the silken guy lines of caddis and such, but have never bothered with it. Any thoughts?

regards,

Kurt
"It's not that I find fishing so important, it's just that I find all other endeavors of Man equally unimportant... And not nearly as much fun!" Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Fisherman
TroutnutJuly 7th, 2011, 3:43 pm
Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2555
I haven't read much about fishing these guys, or their emergence behavior. Lloyd, how did they end up on the water? Emerging pupae? Egg-layers? Or were they just so thick that there were lots of flies mistakenly crashing into the water?
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
AdirmanJuly 7th, 2011, 5:21 pm
Monticello, NY

Posts: 490
Yeah, I don't think they hit the water too often but when they're out thick, not too often may still be alot!!
GONZOJuly 7th, 2011, 7:13 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
I'm aware of the alleged effectiveness of imitating the silken guy lines of caddis and such, but have never bothered with it. Any thoughts?
The local that you mentioned seems to have been following a longstanding tradition, Kurt. LaFontaine said that his "magic act" (whitening the tippet to imitate the silk lines of some caddisfly larvae) evolved from the practice of Maine fly fishers using a white thread as a tippet. He attributed the effectiveness of this technique to the abundance of black fly larvae. My experiments with the technique have been limited and inconclusive, but LaFontaine (and apparently the old-time Mainers) claimed that it was very effective at times.

Lloyd, how did they end up on the water? Emerging pupae? Egg-layers? Or were they just so thick that there were lots of flies mistakenly crashing into the water?
The Pike County incident was during an emergence. It was similar to many caddisfly emergences in that the fish were feeding heavily on the emergers, but very few adults were seen on the surface. (Instead, they were looking for any opening in my defensives.) As I understand it, black flies emerge from a cocoon and rise to the surface (as adults) buoyed by an air bubble.

I was fishing the Griffith's Gnat in the "original" manner, without floatant and awash in the film. I assume that it was a suitable imitation of an emerging adult black fly, but--small stream brook trout being what they are--I'm not sure how important that really was.

I've only witnessed black fly egg-laying one time (in the evening). The females were crawling down sticks and emergent vegetation to lay their eggs underwater.

The larvae seem to cluster in extremely heavy concentrations in certain areas. I recall pulling a stick out of another small headwater because it was catching the loose coils of my fly line. At first it appeared to be covered with a very thick coat of grayish moss. Closer inspection revealed that the "moss" was actually many thousands of black fly larvae.
Shawnny3July 7th, 2011, 8:36 pm
Moderator
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Given LaFontaine's endorsement of this method, it's a wonder some manufacturer hasn't started producing pre-whitened tippet.

-Shawn
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
www.davisflydesigns.com
PaulRobertsJuly 7th, 2011, 9:37 pm
Colorado

Posts: 1776
Black flies really like me. Mosquitoes don't seem to like me much. I used to consider those that complained about skeeters "wimps". Then one day I was birding with a soft-spoken and gracious woman friend -in a swamp. Wonderful place, and yup there were mosquitoes. I started a rant about people complaining about mosquitoes. My companion responded, "Some people get bitten more than others." I turned to look at her and she was covered in welts. I felt like a schmuck.

At a FFF convention held on the Ausable (Adirondacks) one year I fished hard despite the black flies. Blood ran freely down my neck and hairline. But I had no idea how much until I got back to the hotel. People looked at me in shock and horror. One woman put her hand to her mouth as if she'd seen an accident victim that didn't make it. I went into the rest room and looked in the mirror and I looked like an accident victim that didn't make it.

As to magic white tippets. I've never tried it, and probably won't. And if there are enough black flies around to create a rise, I'll probably not stick around to "enjoy" it.
TroutnutJuly 7th, 2011, 9:55 pm
Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2555
I started a rant about people complaining about mosquitoes. My companion responded, "Some people get bitten more than others." I turned to look at her and she was covered in welts. I felt like a schmuck.


Yeah, some people swell up from a mosquito bite like it's a bee sting. That really changes everything.

I've got quite an immunity to them myself... if I get 30+ bites on each hand one day I'll be itching for a while, but other than that they're not a big deal.

I don't know if black flies just don't like me, or if I've never been somewhere that they're thick (which seems odd since I've found their larvae all over), but I've never even really noticed them as a nuisance.

At a FFF convention held on the Ausable (Adirondacks) one year I fished hard despite the black flies. Blood ran freely down my neck and hairline. But I had no idea how much until I got back to the hotel. People looked at me in shock and horror. One woman put her hand to her mouth as if she'd seen an accident victim that didn't make it. I went into the rest room and looked in the mirror and I looked like an accident victim that didn't make it.


Woah, did you take any pictures? I'm not above morbid curiosity.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
OldredbarnJuly 7th, 2011, 10:25 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2599
"Bane or Boon?" I vote bane! There has been many a return home after a week of fishing where my forehead, neck, and back of my hands looked like I had been shot with someones .410! The n0-see-ems were helping out no-doubt.

In terms of a suitable fly to cover these demons, I refuse to fish a fly that may somehow help discourage trout from eating the little bastards!

I was fishing with a nephew and we discovered we were in the middle of a hatch, but the flies seemed, in a way, dormant...It was weird. They were just resting on our waders, no nagging buzzing around the back of your head or biting...Just sitting there.

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Jmd123July 7th, 2011, 10:50 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2408
BANE!!!! There's enough damned NON-BITING midges (Chironomidae) to keep the trout well fed, as far as I'm concerned. And if those damned blackflies (and mosquitos, deer flies, horse flies, stable flies, no-see-ums, etc.) were responsible enough as larvae to get a good diet rich enough in protein, they wouldn't need to suck our blood in order to lay their eggs! Again, if thousands of species of Chironomid larvae can do it, why can't they???

BTW, Avon Skin-So-Soft, or the CVS knock-off "Soft Skin Solution", works remarkably well to keep these little pests away, at least for me.

Jonathon
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
EntomanJuly 7th, 2011, 10:58 pm
Northern CA & ID

Posts: 2604
Shawn -

Given LaFontaine's endorsement of this method, it's a wonder some manufacturer hasn't started producing pre-whitened tippet.


As to magic white tippets. I've never tried it, and probably won't. And if there are enough black flies around to create a rise, I'll probably not stick around to "enjoy" it.


I think Paul gave us the answer!:)

Jason -

I've got quite an immunity to them myself... if I get 30+ bites on each hand one day I'll be itching for a while, but other than that they're not a big deal.

I don't know if black flies just don't like me, or if I've never been somewhere that they're thick (which seems odd since I've found their larvae all over), but I've never even really noticed them as a nuisance.


We all know you can catch fish so if you can shoot straight and aren't afraid of griz (but highly respectful)... Well, all I can say is you are genetically predisposed to thrive as a sourdough. Gives me confidence that the human race will survive if the crap really hits the fan!:)

Spence and Paul - Entertaining stuff as usual.

I'm waiting to read reports from the first brave souls on the forum that go out to face that nasty horde without net gear expecting to be protected by the newfangled clip ons. Those hordes in Maine treated DEET like catnip, I swear. We might never know because I fear those that survive will be reduced to babbling.

Kurt
"It's not that I find fishing so important, it's just that I find all other endeavors of Man equally unimportant... And not nearly as much fun!" Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Fisherman
PaulRobertsJuly 7th, 2011, 11:00 pm
Colorado

Posts: 1776

In terms of a suitable fly to cover these demons, I refuse to fish a fly that may somehow help discourage trout from eating the little bastards!

LOL!

Sorry Jason. No pics.
TroutnutJuly 8th, 2011, 1:49 am
Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2555
We all know you can catch fish so if you can shoot straight and aren't afraid of griz (but highly respectful)... Well, all I can say is you are genetically predisposed to thrive as a sourdough. Gives me confidence that the human race will survive if the crap really hits the fan!:)


I wouldn't get too confident. Despite my high tolerance, Alaska has pushed me very close to my mosquito limit a couple times. But the mosquitoes are nothing compared to what tree pollen does to me, and there's no effective repellent for that. You can't swat it away, kill it, or even escape it. For a couple weeks each year I find myself rooting for forest fires out of pure vengeance.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
WbranchJuly 8th, 2011, 6:39 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2569
Where I have my cabin I seem to be plagued with what I assume are Black flies all season long. It is not just a month or two but once the weather starts to warm in late April and at least until mid September I can't sit for even a few minutes without them starting to swarm in front of my face. If I do any work at all, cut the lawn, edge, do anything to break a sweat they really home in on me. Does anyone know why they specifically go into one's ears? It seems like that is the first place they really start to make contact. Running a very close second is that spot next to my ears about where my hair and upper neck are adjacent. They bite me there and I get pretty big itchy welts. Any pesticide out there that I can mix with water and put in my pump sprayer to try and diminish the hordes??
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
JOHNWJuly 8th, 2011, 7:23 pm
Chambersburg, PA

Posts: 452
Matt,
I'm in no way an expert (or even a novice) on black fly behaviour but I would venture to guess they home in to the areas where the capilaries and blood supply are dense and superficial. Just think how much more a cut to the scalp bleed than a comparable cut to just about any other place on the body.


Spence,
We used to stay at aplace on the Ottawa river near Du Rivers it became great sport to see how many engorged blackflies one could smash as they got stuck in the window screening trying to get bak out of the cabin after feasting on those inside.
"old habits are hard to kill once you have gray in your beard" -Old Red Barn
WbranchJuly 8th, 2011, 7:50 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2569
John,

Thanks for the insight into the rationale for why they bite where they do. It is really annoying, now that I quit smoking last September, to try and sit on the bench by the river and wait to see if any fish will rise. The cigarette smoke really kept them away from me.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Shawnny3July 8th, 2011, 9:36 pm
Moderator
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Interesting you mention the cigarettes, Matt. Even though I don't smoke, I have often kept a cigar going during a round of golf to keep insects at bay, and it works really well. When I'm fishing I just use bug repellant - too much time with my hands full to also be carrying a lit cigar.

Also, thank you for the explanation as to why they bite, Jonathon. I hadn't thought about the protein element. Is that a well established fact, a good working hypothesis, or just an educated guess? I was wondering just the other day why these insects bite, during a conversation with my brother-in-law, who keeps horses. He said he can't let his horses out during the day because the horseflies are too bad for them. One of his horses is particularly sensitive to them. Recently the horse got so annoyed with the flies that it kicked a perfect hoof-shaped hole in the barn's aluminum siding, slicing open its leg in the process. They were lucky it didn't sever a tendon - imagine, having to put a horse down because of horseflies.

-Shawn
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
www.davisflydesigns.com
OldredbarnJuly 8th, 2011, 11:20 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2599
Gonzo may back me up here but the biggest "horsefly" (not sure this is what it was) I ever saw was on Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in NY...We had one of those floating swimming platforms a fair swim from the dock and they would land on this platform...They were huge! Scary...They made June Bugs look small...I would swim out with one of those drink trays from a bar loaded with drinks for the folks on the platform and when one would fly by we would smack it with the tray...It would lay on the water buzzing and stunned for a moment and then fly off...Nightmarish. It was barely fazed...
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
GONZOJuly 9th, 2011, 12:03 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
OK, Spence, I'll back your tale of giant, nightmarish tabanids on Skaneateles Lake, but any rumors of big rainbows and landlocks feeding on huge hatches of Brown Drakes and Hex in that lovely lake are totally unfounded. ;)
Jmd123July 9th, 2011, 1:40 am
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2408
I saw some in Louisiana back in '92 that I swear were the size of CICADAS...horse flies, that is, NOT Brown Drakes...biggest scariest ones I ever saw. (I bet Fred can confirm this.) Then there were the red-and-black ones in Chile I saw in the Peace Corps. A buddy of mine told me of his first encounter with them - one landed on his arm and he was thinking, "What a beautiful fly - OUCH!!!"

Jonathon
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
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