At some point in one’s journey deep into the abyss of the of fly-fishing obsession, the angler reaches a point where they cease being a normal person. Now let me back up for a moment here and suggest that chances are the person in question was a little off center to begin with, and that may be what drove them to take up the quest for whatever it is that fly anglers are questing for: Sanity, the meaning of life, or maybe just a fish, and so on. But let’s agree that no matter how normal their inclinations before taking up the way of the fly, once they’ve crossed over the proverbial line, their outlook on life in general changes: One’s vision becomes narrowed, and everything in life begins to revolve around fly fishing. Suddenly they become fascinated with things that, when they were a normal person, never commanded much, if any, attention: That rambling river alongside a road traveled countless times was just a flowing body of water; that weird looking boat with a curved bottom on a trailer being towed behind a vehicle on the interstate headed in the general direction of Montana was just a weird looking boat with a curved bottom (and where’s the motor, anyway?). And things that crawled or fluttered in the air were just bugs.
But that was back then. In the previous life.
Now that rambling river holds spiritual promise and beckons one to stop at the next pullout, string up the rod (that is always in the trunk), and see if perhaps the river also holds fish. Or answers. That drift boat headed to the mecca of trout fishing is something one covets and hopes to one day own, if only the purchase requisition would be approved. And things that used to crawl or fly unnoticed for the most part suddenly become things that cause excitement, or at the very least, some degree of interest.
Those things are, of course, insects. And once bitten by the fly fishing bug, insects forever lose their anonymity and insignificance and become trout food in the eyes of the angler. Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler is just as likely to grab a fly swatter and smack anything that carries the label of “bug”, and while I am certainly not opposed to crushing a pest, I can’t bring myself to do that if the bug in question is one of the noble trout food variety: Mayflies, caddisflies or stoneflies. They deserve better than to have their short lives snuffed out by an ignorant human–they deserve the privilege of sacrificing themselves to a hungry fish: To die in honor.
Obviously it makes sense that fly fishing peoples should have some degree of interest in bugs. After all, we’re doing our best to imitate those bugs with the flies we tie to the end of our tippet. Certainly one has to occasionally engage in the art of “matching the hatch”, so it goes without saying that observing bugs is an important part of being a fly angler. Whatever is in, on, or above the water, or crawling on the rocks or in your ears and up your nose, is natural and necessary.
Now, before you accomplished anglers roll your eyes at me for stating the obvious, allow me to point out that there’s another type of fascination with bugs: The irrational type.
Mosquitos and grasshoppers are common. I see them all the time when the seasons allow for it, and even the layperson knows a skeeter or a hopper when they see one. But what of the other bugs that nobody other than a fly angler or perhaps an entomologist becomes remotely familiar with? Those are the bugs that get me all worked up. Now I don’t exactly live in Troutville, and the nearest moving water is, by way of the crow (or mayfly), a good 3/4 mile away, through dense timber, a broad valley floor and a two lane highway (filled with speeding windshields just waiting to collect low-flying insects). The lower Snoqualmie River is a lazy, meandering slough of a river near where I live, and it doesn’t hold any resident trout. Searrun cutts, steelhead and salmon move quickly through this stretch of river en route to more oxygenated waters upstream, and from my experiences the only resident fish are Squawfish (alright already– Northern Pikeminnow!). While I am probably wrong, I always figured that the bugs which trout feed on live in the same waters where trout live, and since trout don’t exactly live in the waters near my house I don’t expect to see trout bugs around these parts. And I don’t – very often. But occasionally when there is a rare trout bug sighting, everything else can wait while I take a photo, download it to my computer, administer Photoshop adjustments to make up for poor photography skills, then send it to my favorite back alley entomology enthusiast for a positive identification. Thanks to Roger Rohrbeck for always being there with answers.
While there may be no real qualitative value for me in discovering what the bug is, I find it interesting to know that the small mayfly I discovered crawling on the side of our house in March of one year was a male dun of genus Ameletus! It’s not like I was out looking for bugs, either – I was actually engaged in something very important when I happened upon this delightful looking little specimen, so I set aside the task of cleaning my fly line and moved in for a closer look. Or what of time I was again deeply engrossed in something of critical significance (rearranging the contents of one of my fly boxes) when I observed a much larger mayfly specimen crawling on another side of our house in May. This time it was none other than Ameletus female subimago, which became clearly identified by the forewing veinlets attaching longitudinal vein CuA to the rear margin! Both of these mayflies are commonly called Brown Duns, though they were quite different in size. If that’s not enough to make you say “WOW!” then consider the bug that landed on our window during late October. Looking up from my peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich and the latest edition of one of the many fly fishing magazines I subscribe to, I immediately noted the swept-back wings of a caddisfly and was so overcome by intrigue that I actually pushed aside my lunch, grabbed a footstool, and went outside in a drenching rain to photograph what would later be identified as a Summer Flier Sedge, genus Limnephilus! There are (25) species present in WA, usually present at higher altitudes but apparently not always.
Now THAT right there is riveting stuff – and there’s more! However, sensing a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of my readership, I’ll stop while I’m ahead, if in fact I haven’t fallen way behind already. But before I return to one of several very important tasks, I wanted to briefly address Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: You know that “gross thing” on the bookshelf in my office? It’s the nymphal shuck of a Hesperoperla pacifica and no – I will not “get rid of it”.