Al Campbell, Field Editor

February 2nd, 2004

Don't Bug Me!
Al Campbell

It happens about once a month or so. You would think we could get it done and over with, but it's too big a problem for that. In fact, this is a problem that could literally cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars if you don't get it fixed. I suppose that's why so many people ask how to cure it. The problem is bugs.

I'm not talking about common houseflies here. The subject has nothing to do with biting insects. I'm talking about those little beetles that will consume your most costly fly tying materials in a matter of a few days.

Actually, it isn't the beetles that do all the eating. It's their larvae; and those little buggers can chew up a hundred-dollar hackle cape in no time. You go fishing for a few days and come back to find your prized #1 cape (that you waited half a year to find) downgraded to a pile of dust in the bottom of the bag it was stored in. The only fingerprint the intruder left behind is a bunch of small exoskeletons of the larvae that were shed when they decided it was time to become adults and spread their presence throughout the rest of your tying stuff.

But you had the bag zipped shut, right? Look closely; you'll find some tiny holes left behind by the adult who laid the eggs that became the gluttons who ate you out of fly tying materials. You'll also see the holes the little buggers left as they left this bag to find new lunch prospects. Heavy plastic bags only slow them down a little, but they won't keep them out.

For many years, I used mothballs in an attempt to keep the critters away from my stash. When the bugs managed to make it past my defenses, I increased the treatment, thinking that maybe I hadn't used enough. Eventually, I got the dosage heavy enough to be smelled throughout the house. Sitting for an extended period of time in the fly tying room brought about periods of wheezing and caused my eyes to water. However, I went a few years without a bug infestation.

Then, one day I went to get some prized wood duck flank feathers from their sealed plastic container, and found a pile of dust mixed in with the mothballs. How did they do that? I could barely breath after I opened the container; the smell of mothballs was so strong. But, the bugs must have designed some sort of gas mask or became resistant to the smell. The only thing I'm certain about is the fact that they got past the mothballs and had a feast.

Next I tried moth crystals. No doubt about it, those were extra strong. My wife threatened to throw my whole stash out on the lawn if I didn't do something about that smell. People were asking us if we were wearing new clothes because they could smell the fumes on our clothing. In the meantime, bugs managed to munch down a prized golden pheasant skin I had stored in a sealed Tupperware container packed with crystals. Huh, that didn't work.

In desperation, I contacted an entomology professor at the college. He was a fly tier and fully understood my problem. He said mothballs and crystals are more of a repellant than a bug killer. What he thought I needed was something that would kill the bugs on contact, or better yet, whenever they got even close to my tying stuff it would be a terminal approach. His suggestion? Flea collars. He said flea collars didn't just repel bugs; they killed them. Then he went on to say that I should also consider something called a No-Pest strip, claiming that locked inside a plastic container they would keep me bug free for years without a replacement.

I gave the flea collar route a test on a couple of pheasant skins I knew had the beginnings of an infestation. Yup, flea collars kill bugs. In fact, they kill bugs without the nasty fumes mothballs give off. A year later, and a dozen flea collars spread about in bits and pieces throughout my fly tying stuff resulted in a zero infestation count. However, flea collars cost quite a bit too. I went on a grand search for No-Pest strips.

It seems that Shell (the company who created the first No-Pest strip) had discontinued manufacture of the things. The rumor was that some kids had ingested (does that mean ate?) some of the strips and it nearly killed them. I guess I can understand that a little bit. Outside their cardboard or plastic sleeves, they look a lot like one of those all-day caramel suckers. However, there were other strips with several similar names that promised to do the same thing. I bought them, cut them into chunks and placed them in every fly tying material container I had. I also hung one in each closet I had fly tying stuff stored in.

For the last 16 years, the only bug proofing I have used has been chunks of those strips. I replace the strips in the closets at least once a year and throw the used strips in with any new fly tying stuff I have accumulated. After a year in a closet, those strips still pack a heavy punch. If I open the box I used an old strip in, even after just a few days, I can smell the slight aroma of a bug-killing strip. So far, I have never had to replace a strip in a sealed box. Sixteen years later they still kill bugs dead.

Possibly the best feature about pest strips is what they do to the feathers and furs they are stored with. Whatever the magic ingredient in those strips is, it works its way into the feathers and fur and seems to make them deadly to bugs. So deadly in fact, that two summers ago I watched a housefly land on a hackle cape I was using, and it didn't survive to fly away. That cape had been outside of its plastic box for about a week, and it was still deadly to a bug. More recently I learned that the stuff in pest strips is sometimes used by taxidermists to bug-proof expensive mounts. Must be some good stuff.

I buy my pest strips in small and large sizes at local hardware and building supply stores. I know Ace and Lowes carry them, and a local chain called Menards has them. One pest strip costs about half as much as a flea collar, and will treat about five times as much space. I call that a bargain; and my wife has decided my fly tying stuff can stay in the house now. No heavy fumes, no burning eyes, and no bugs.

Just in case you need another Testimonial, Castwell has also been using them 'forever' no bugs there either. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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