Most of us who have spent time in the wilderness, especially the northern zones of the middle and eastern US and the boreal forest farther north, are more than familiar with the hoards of biting flies that flourish there. Labrador not only falls into this geographic description, it may well be the epicenter of the perfect habitat for insects.
Let’s deal with the bad bugs first. You probably already know them, black flies and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes own the night, from dusk until dawn. They can be pesky on the front porches of the cabins when you want to relax, watch the sun set and enjoy a drink. And the nippers can disrupt evening horseshoe games that take place beside the dining lodge. We have little green coils that we burn on the porches that drive most of the bugs away. But the guys pitching horseshoes must pray that the evening wind stays fresh until “21”. (IMPORTANT Note here: Kev and Robin have never lost a horseshoe challenge in eleven summers! just saying. And even nationally ranked pitchers, members of the PHPA, have gone down to the ‘Older Fellows’ team.) Once inside our tight-to-the-bugs camps or dining lodge, however, you are safe from the fray.
Black flies rule the day. They hide by the billions under the alder leaves just waiting for the wind to subside. They cannot navigate in a breeze over about 8 mph and fortunately, an 8 mph wind day is a very quiet day in Labrador. But on the occasional sultry, calm day, the black flies can be a real nuisance. That is why it is essential to come prepared with a good bug jacket or a head net and a good supply of deet for exposed areas, particularly the backs of the hands.
The ugly bugs are rarer, but much more brutal in their damage. These delta-winged monsters come out around the first of July and last only about two weeks. For some unexplained reason, possibly warmth, they are drawn to the metal of the boats and the airplane and also hang around the eaves and porches of the camp’s buildings. Though they are huge compared to black flies and mosquitos, they can land on your skin without giving you the slightest notice of their touch-down. And then they take a large chunk of your skin and shoot away just ahead of your frustrated slap. The Newfies call these critters ‘stouts’. You may know them as deer flies, moose flies, or caribou flies. They bite like the greenheads you occasionally find at the beach. Our staff hangs blown-up paper bags around the porches to keep them away. Supposedly, the stouts mistake the bags as nests of hornets, their mortal enemies. One of the simple delights of a visit to our camps during early July is watching the yellow-rumped warblers dive repeatedly from the roof edges to snap up a stout meal. If you’re close enough, you can see the fly’s wings sticking out of a warbler’s beak and hear a faint crunch!
One of the first questions we get from any angler planning a trip to Labrador is “How bad are the bugs?” So now you know. They are bad if you are unprepared. But in our thirteen years, the bugs have yet to spoil a guest’s week. No one has asked to go home early. Most outdoors folks understand that there are always trade-offs in any adventure, especially one to the wilds, and come prepared for the occasional times when the insects rule the north woods.
When my grandmother, Beulah Keith, learned our first child was soon due, she gave us one piece of advice – “Make friends with dirt.” And so I pass along her words to those folks who want to wander northward for the big brookies – ‘Make friends with bugs’. After all, they are only the occasional distraction from the adventure, challenge and intrigue of an angler’s wonderland. And to boot, most of our bugs just happen to be GOOD bugs.
We’ll discuss those good flies next visit.