Blackfly Season. There Will Be Blood.

Simuliidae. If you feel the need to curse in an ancient language at the small black bugs that are hacksawing away at your flesh in the Maine woods at this season of the year, then Latin is your language and the Family Simuliidae is your target. You may be surprised, though not delighted, to learn that not just one but dozens of species of blackfly are out there lusting for your blood. It’s a large family business, sort of like the Mafia only more annoying. You may be somewhat relieved to know — though I sincerely doubt it — that only the females do the bloodwork. Guy blackflies take their nourishment elsewhere, maybe in guy blackfly taverns. And the old folk “wisdom” that the blackflies are only around from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day? Fuggedaboudit. They are the uninvited guests that hang around long after their use-by date.

“Blackflies: Defenders of the Wilderness.” Ha ha ha ha. The Piranha Sisters. Ho ho ho. The Maine Blackfly Breeders Association. Yuk yuk yuk. You make jokes? About blackflies? May you be elected Blood Donor of the Year by La Famiglia Simuliidae.

Your lady blackfly is skilled in anesthesia and surgery. When she lands on one of your tender spots (and aren’t they all?) she immediately goes about setting up her OR. Her first task is to numb the area with her magic saliva. Then out come the power tools. Her little Sawzall opens up the flesh, the blood flows, she drinks. That’s where her Med School training stopped. Does she carefully suture the wound and apply a soothing antiseptic? She does not. She moves a few millimeters, to fresh flesh, and repeats the process. Eventually she lumbers off through the skies, heavily burdened with your vital body fluids, to find a suitable wet spot to raise her family. By the time you start to itch and swell, she’s moved on.

Itch and swell you will. One time a single blackfly wound shut my left eye for two days. And you will bleed, thanks to your tormenter’s limited surgical repertoire. Our pal Trout Boy (not his real name) often comes out of the woods or off the pond bearing an uncanny resemblance to Chuck Wepner, a New Jersey palooka known as the Bayonne Bleeder, after he’s gone ten rounds with Muhammed Ali.

Scratch an itch, as the saying goes, and you might find a solution. Clothing, such as the Buzz-Off angling shirt has been developed that is pre-impregnated with bug repellent. Pullover jackets made of fine mesh, with hoods, are more or less effective (less if you put them on after getting out of the car and trap a few dozen blackflies in there with you). You can see through the mesh, as through a glass darkly, but it’s really hard to change trout flies when you’re wearing it. There is Deet. There are Deet-free sprays and lotions. Personally, I use all of these in combination and then light a small, cheap plastic-tipped cigar. I don’t smoke, so the cigar offends me as much as it offends the blackflies, but it helps.

The Virtual Angler Playing Defense

In summation, the best advice I can offer you for dealing with blackflies is to follow my example and employ all of the above strategies simultaneously and then stay home.

I hope this helps.

Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.