Ladyfisher

This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

July 19th, 2004

Bug Latin

My husband, JC (or Castwell), our good friend Neil Travis and I were walking along a winding path from the old Canoe Harbor campground down to the South Branch of the Au Sable in Michigan to fish, and a blue butterfly flew in front of us. It was a lovely warm summer day when you could smell the heat in the jack-pines left over from yesterday. We were wearing waders and clomping along enjoying the trip. I remarked something about the pretty blue meadow skipper and Trav, in his matter-of-fact tone, said, "It's not a meadow skipper, it's really a" ...insert Latin name here. It's been so many years ago I don't remember the Latin name, sorry. In fact, I probably promptly forgot it since knowing it did not add to my appreciation of its clear-blue-sky color. Which if you want to get technical is probably a form of camouflage so the butterfly isn't as visible against the sky to its predators. There's a piece of trivia you probably don't need either!

Trav is a naturalist and does know the technical names of most of our birds, flowers, insects and he and JC did delve rather deeply into which bug is which, especially mayflies. The "Bug Latin," as author Glenn Law calls it is very helpful if you are researching technical writing trying to find out which bug you might have in your region, it's habits and life cycle. Such as does a particular insect stay in the stream for one or two years. There is other stuff too, but when it really gets involved even the scientists don't always agree on which insect belongs to which group - and add to that someone is always renaming something!

The mayflies for example are classified by the markings on their wings, called venation. Each little line has a number. (If you've taken a close look at mayflies, their wings look like leaded church windows.) Really very neat! But that only works when they have wings.

Ernest Schwiebert author of Matching the Hatch and Nymphs used the technical Latin names as did Doug Swisher and Carl Richards in their first book Selective Trout . Those books were the foundation of a relatively new tradition in American fly fishing - Bug Latin.

Having been there (yes, remember I'm older than dirt) those who actually knew one mayfly from another looked down their well-studied noses at those who called the insects by their 'popular' names. Screaming matches were pretty common in fly shops and at gatherings where the knowledgeable tried to out-do the other amateur entomologists. It wasn't pretty.

Is it important to know the Bug Latin?

I keep saying there is something for everyone in fly fishing, and if knowing the order, genus, specie of the various insects where you fish floats your boat, go for it!

If however, you prefer to say you had a size 18 brown mayfly hatching on the stream, you had tied some up and really cleaned up - why not?

Considering the small size of a trout's brain, not to mention the size of the insect's brain, they probably don't care. They are more concerned with getting through their life cycle, eating and reproducing than knowing what order they belong to. Sounds a bit silly don't you think?

So what is important?

There are three major food sources for fish. Mayfly, Caddis and Stoneflies. Those all live in streams and lakes. They 'hatch,' change into different forms, (as from egg to flying adult with some stages in between) and the fish - not just trout - eat them. The fish eat them because it is the food source they have. It's not like they can go into a restaurant and order off the menu!

In the great scheme and order of things, different insects appear as flying insects at different times of the year. Thus, there is a reasonably constant source of bugs for even the newest of fly fishers visible in the air over the water, or floating on it. With very little effort the fly fisher can observe the insects, find a fly to somewhat match it in size, color or profile. Remember a lot of flies are tied to catch fishermen - check the bottom color of the insect to catch fish.

With the fly and a decent presentation cast the fly fisher is in the ball game!

It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

If however, you wish to fish the insect before it develops wings and flies off, your nymph should be very close to what the fish is seeing in the real live insect. The fish now has a better view! Things get more serious the more determined you are to catch fish on nymphs, scuds, and other wet (underwater) forms of the insects. You indeed may want to find an old copy of Matching the Hatch!

Just in case you haven't found them, Fly Anglers OnLine does have some help for those just getting a toe into the Bug Latin waters. Al Campbell did a section, with photos of the live insect, the underwater form and the flies to use for each form HERE. Scroll down to the Insects where you will find Mayflies, Caddis, Stoneflies, Midges, Scuds and Sowbugs, Damsels and Dragons, Terrestrials and Artificial Flies.

When you've had a chance to digest that, there is another whole section here on FAOL called NQ Entomology (Not Quite Entomology) which has much more detail on the various insects with some Bug Latin, as well as how to fish for them. The section is arranged chronologically, that is, in the order the insects appear during the year. You can find the articles listed HERE.

If you tie your own flies, the NQ Entomology series can also be very helpful as to what you should be tying for your next outing!

One thing the Bug Latin doesn't cover - although my husband has created a term or two just in fun, like Oxdentalis Improbalis to poke a little fun at the really serious, is what do we do with attractor patterns which have no basis in reality at all?

Maybe we should just go fishing and have fun. ~ DLB

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