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
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
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
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
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
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
Maybe we should just go fishing and have fun. ~ DLB
If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to
post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!