Hunting adult bugs can be as simple as prying them off the radiator grill or as complex as setting out traps baited with ultra violet lights and pheromones. For the budding flyfisher entomologist, probably the best method is hanging out by the riverside with a butterfly net, a collecting jar and a six pack.
Butterfly nets can be found at drug and variety stores for around ten bucks. They’ll work just fine, but if you want to delve seriously into the wacky world of bug collecting, I’d suggest getting an industrial grade model. The cool bug nets have lightweight (even extendible) handles, sturdy rims, and strong, reinforced nets that will stand the rigors of sweeping willows and the occasional stream dip. THE source for quality collecting gear is Bio Quip at 17803 LaSalle Ave. Gardena, CA 90248 (310) 324-0620.
Clear, wide mouth plastic jars make great bug bottles. Scrape out the peanut butter and wash the bottle thoroughly with warm soapy water. Drill a half dozen holes through the lid and replace the waxed cardboard insert with a piece of window screen. Finally, wad up a paper towel and shove it into the bottle so your bugs will have something to cling to. Voila!
Plastic bottles are nice but sometimes can get squashed at the most unfortunate times. If the collecting jar is going to be knocked around in the back of a pickup truck or on the floor of a boat, consider using a coffee can or a heavy Nalgene bottle. Regardless of the type of bottle you use never, absolutely ever, leave it in the sun. Only a moment of exposure, even on a cool day, will turn your little friends into lint.
The six pack is up to you. I’d suggest cans so you can squash the empties and carry them out in your back pocket.
Catching flying bugs is an art. In the morning and evenings, many of the insects are in flight and vulnerable to a quick whisk of your net. Mayflies and stoneflies are relatively slow of wing and even slower of wit; once they’ve entered the net, they’re as good as gotten. Caddis, damsels and dragonflies are amazingly deft and will often double back and out of the net. The trick with these speedsters is to twist the net handle as soon as the bugs make entry so they get trapped in the folds of netting.
During mid day, the bugs will be hiding in the shade of stream or lakeside vegetation. The best bet is to sweep the net through the riparian growth. If you lack a pro quality net, have a friend shake the willows and alders to flush the bugs into the open where you can bag ‘em. Some bugs such as stoneflies will not fly out of the vegetation, but will simply drop deeper into the growth. In this instance nothing beats going into the brush on your hands and knees with an aquarium net.
No matter how impressive the gear and innovative your technique, you WILL look like a dork prancing around the fields swishing a butterfly net. This is where the six pack come in. You may either numb yourself to the social ineptitude of it all or try to win over any spectators with an offer of a cold one. Don’t be too surprised if they back away while politely declining your offer.
Do yourself a huge favor and don’t try to identify your bugs in the field. Go back to your tent, motel room, or other comfortable and confined environment. If possible, put the bug jar in the refrigerator or ice chest for a few minutes to mellow out the hostages.
Here we go. Does your bug have tails? If so, are the wings folded neatly and flat atop its back? If you answered yes and yes again, you have identified a stonefly. These are found in every cool mountain stream and are important trout fare. If the bug has tails but the wings stick up in the air or out to the side you have captured that loveliest of all insects, the infamous mayfly.
|The MAYFLY has 2 or 3 long tails and its wings stand upright.|
Look closely at the abdomen just behind where the wings are attached. See any fleshy or knobby protrusions? If so, this is a member of that vast family called Diptera. Diptera include true flies, mosquitoes, midges and craneflies. Just be satisfied you figured out it was a Diptera, we’ll knock them down to size in some future article.
Are the wings folded like a little pup tent over the back? If so, are they soft like moth wings or are they cellophane-like? If they’re soft you’re holding either a caddisfly or an aquatic moth. Look at its face. If it has a coiled tube dangling out from under its nose it’s a moth; you’re looking at a mouthpart that can be uncoiled and extended deep within blossoms to gain nectar.
If your bug with soft, tent shaped wings lacks the coiled mouthpart, it is the most important insect in the Western US. It’s a caddisfly. Caddisflies can be almost too small to see and some are as big as your thumb; all have hairy tent shaped wings and lack coiled mouthparts. All are important to fish and fishermen.
|This little yellow STONEFLY has two tails and it's cellophane-like wings fold flat on its back.|
Now, if those tent shaped wings are crispy and like cellophane, it is most likely an alderfly. This fly has a thick shiny head and well-developed mandibles. If it bit you with those gnarly jaws, you made a positive ID.
The remaining bugs do not have tails, nor do they have clubby protuberances behind their wings, nor are their wings folded over their back like a tent. The remainder of your aquatic insect adults should be long and slender with relatively large compound eyes and crispy clear wings about as long as their bodies. If these wings stick out to the sides you’re looking at a dragonfly (but you knew that already). If these wings are folded together above and parallel with the back, it’s a damselfly.
The remaining bugs in your jar are most likely terrestrial insects. That is, they live their entire lives on land. This doesn’t mean they are unimportant to the angler. The mere fact that you caught them near water suggests that at one time or another these guys might accidentally fall into the drink and become potential for trout food. We’ll discuss terrestrials in the future, for now you can put them in your garden.
Between this column and the last one, you should be able to identify all the aquatic insects necessary to jump-start your career as an angling entomologist. You now have a stronger foundation from which to "match the hatch" than 85% of all the flyfishers out there. Believe it.