This Week's View

by Neil M. Travis, Livingston MT

July 26th, 2004

Bug Latin (Revisited)

I read with some interest your recent column concerning "Bug Latin." The butterfly incident has long since slipped my mind, however, the issue of Latin names is one of continual interest, albeit not without its own degree of controversy. Latin or scientific names are assigned to specific species, and this creates an organized system of classification. If such a system did not exist it would be virtually impossible to know what specific animal, insect, plant, etc. was being described. One man's robin would be another man's red-breasted thrush. Turdus migratorius [the Latin name for the common American Robin] is a term that definitely tells another person that, no matter what the common name, if it is Turdus migratorius it is a robin.

In the early 60's when Jim [JC] and I first stumbled into the world of 'hatch matching' we quickly discovered that anglers wrote much of the information that was available about trout flies and the fly patterns that matched them. Unfortunately, they used 'common names' to describe the insects they were endeavoring to copy, and when we attempted to decipher which insect they were describing we discovered that it was virtually impossible. Thus began our trip into the wonderful world of scientific names. Fortunately or not, depending on your point of view, I had a background in things scientific, so when Jim and I began our particular odyssey I had some idea where to start. It quickly became apparent that it would not be an easy task since this was prior to all the excellent books on the subject that flooded the market in the late 60's and early 70's. Matching the Hatch by Ernest Schwiebert was the only book available that even touched on this subject from a scientific angle.

The Hendrickson hatch is a famous hatch that occurs in early spring on many eastern trout waters, and it was one of the earliest hatches that we attempted to understand. Regrettably there are three species of mayfly that could be a Hendrickson - Ephemerella subvaria, rotunda, and invaria. In fact, some writers described a Dark Hendrickson [E. subvaria] and a Light Hendrickson [E. rotunda or invaria]. Our research soon uncovered the fact that the female imagos [spinners] fall to the water first, and are preferred by the trout, and the male imagos [spinners] fall later. Eureka, this bit of knowledge allowed us to tie specific flies, and to fish them more precisely. Our ability to catch trout when this hatch was in progress increased 100 fold. We had become legends in our own times!

Neil and JC

The upshot of this entire trivia is not to make a case for 'Bug Latin,' but to remind us of the value and the purpose behind the effort. Learning more about the food that the fish [trout] eat made us more informed and thus better anglers. We ultimately applied this technique to all the hatches that we encountered on the Au Sable River and surrounding waters. It is likely that during that period that we knew more about the mayfly hatches on the upper Au Sable River than anyone since we spent days collecting specimens, hours studying them, keying them out, and tying imitations for those that were important to the trout. We were not scientists, but our interest was more than mere curiosity. It's purpose was to help us explain what the trout were eating, how they were eating it, and thus to give us an edge over both over the trout and other anglers. As knowledgeable anglers we were better anglers.

Our corner on the 'Bug Latin' market did not last long. Our friends Swisher and Richards soon hit the market with their book Selective Trout, and suddenly the floodgates were opened. Soon everyone who could read was spouting Latin names for every mayfly they picked up. This sudden quantum leap in supposed knowledge was a source of amusement for those of us who had some idea about the science of identification. Merely holding the insect in your hand cannot allow a person to positively identify most mayflies, but budding angling scientists would scoop up an insect and loudly announce to their less knowledgeable companions that it was an Ephemerella stupendous. This promptly drew admiring glances from the less informed, and silent snickers from the more knowledgeable within earshot. More than once I was tempted to ask if their vision was so good that they could see if the intercalary veins of the margin of the wing were single and not paired, and if the CuA vein was connected to the margin with a series of veinlets, which is the only way to differentiate E. stupendous from E. ignoramus. I demurred since it was obvious that their authoritative pronouncement proved that they were dealing with E. ignoramus, and I am not referring to the mayfly!

Like bamboo rods, Hardy reels, and silk fly lines 'Bug Latin' was a means to an end and not an end in itself. Sadly, speaking 'Bug Latin,' like owning a bamboo rod, became a status symbol without any real reference to anything that could be remotely associated with the angling. Standing in a stream, or in a crowd of lesser mortals spouting Latin names, and regaling the fawning multitudes with tales of ones angling prowess became the purpose and the end. Many have thus become a legend in their own mind, and that was really the intended end.

The labor that Jim and I extended during those days before 'Bug Latin' became the vogue is unnecessary today. A few clicks of the mouse, or a quick trip to the bookstore will provide the budding scientific angler with all the answers to their most baffling questions. We have hatch charts for every major trout stream, and, except for the egg, we have flies that are tied to represent every stage of an aquatic insects existence. If you get a fly rod you can be a fly fisher too!

Spring Azure Blue

The LadyFisher related a story that occurred long ago in a kingdom far, far away when we were much younger, far more na´ve, and perhaps better off for it. Oh, and by the way, the blue butterfly flitting through the Jack Pines was likely a Spring Azure Blue [Celastrina ladon], but that is a bit of trivia whose importance, like the years, has faded into the dusk of time and space.
~ Neil M. Travis

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