• My experience, or lack thereof, with entomology

    Adult salmonfly cocktail, no olive.

    As I posted a few times ago, my eldest son just went to college. He's studying Biology, and in his current Zoology class he is tasked with finding and collecting five different phyla. When he told me that, I immediately started thinking about the entomology aspect of fishing the fly. I've always loved insects, and collected them in one form or another it seems. When I was about 12, that "hobby" was known enough that my great uncle used to send me interesting packages, including live praying mantis eggs in the mail.

    Small stonefly nymphs, pickled.
    When I started fly fishing, I was enthralled with "matching the hatch" and the art and science of that endeavor. I bought the typical books - the "Orvis Streamside Guide to Trout Stream Insects" and the like. I learned what a mayfly, stonefly and caddis larva looked like, and started counting tails on mayflies I saw while out on the water... and realized I'd completely gone off of the deep end. I was (am) ok with that.

    I realized that I could never really "match the hatch," and that the best I could do was approximate the estimated diet of my quarry. Sure, I could get a close size shape and color in my meager offerings, but I could never match it.
    So my tactics changed. Sure, I still had an overstuffed dry fly box with approximations of the local edible flying insect collection in it, but I realized that the fish I was after only really fed on the surface offerings when the floating buffet seemed to offer an abundance. I decided that while dries were the epitome of fly angling and the pretensiveness often associated with it, I wanted to see what was up under the surface where the fish were usually collecting their meals... I broke through the meniscus, went under and became a nympher.

    I'd never collected aquatic bugs prior to that little revelation. Luckily, near that time in my fly fishing obsession progression, I had been participating at Westfly.com and had gotten a BUG Bagz kit from Brad at Tyt-Lynz.
    I'll digress for a minute and mention the Bug Bagz Aquatic Entomology Kit. It's really a nifty piece of kit. Small, portable, and fun. Brad designed it with input from the old guard at Westfly to be a minimalist piece of useful gear and it is just that. Vials, logs, tweezers and a magnifier in a compact kit, and a seine that you supply dowels for that all fits in a vest or pack. If you have even a remote interest in subsurface aquatic entomology, it's worth a look.

    With the Bug Bagz kit, I had a whole new hobby. My kids who were too young to cast a rod never turned down a trip to collect bugs in the local stream or river, and my collection of ispopropyl alcohol filled specimen vials steadily rotated and increased. I love that collection. My wife, not so much. (grin...)

    I also started the sometimes gruesome task of pumping a few fishy tummies. What I realized is that as one may suspect, unless there is some massive hatch happening on the surface, the fish we most often target seem to feed mostly on stuff that is passing them by in the water column. Often that includes immature stages of the insects on the top.

    As my collection grew, I realized the lack of diversity in my home waters. That was the true revelation. In my nymph box, I found that if if I had green rockworms (Caddis larva, genus Rhyacophila) in a few sizes, some various Plecoptera nymphs (just call 'em stone flies) in a few sizes from tiny up to "huge," a few generic mayfly nymphs like Pheasant Tails and the typical "attractor" nymphs (Princes are my favorite) I was good to go about 95% of the time.

    I had found that my fly selection shrunk as my bug collection grew... which was really the revelation. With the "bug thing" I have learned a lot, have had some fun, involved my family in my passion for fly fishing, and become a better fisher.

    For the record, my wife still doesn't like the vials of dead things, even after all these years... but she's learned to tolerate my little pickled pets.