Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 67 - Bug Nerd

I once knew of a girl who used to live by the headwaters of the Mississippi River. One year for a science fair project she marked out one mile of the river and collected/identified all the major forms of bug life correctly. She even included their Latin names. It must have been good as she went on to the national competition and won either first or second place, netting her a full ride scholarship to Dartmouth. Of course it didn't hurt that her father worked for the MN Board of Water and Soil Resources.

I never had the opportunity to learn Latin in high school. My high school offered Spanish, French, German, and maybe Japanese (not certain though). I struggled through 2 years of Spanish. The outcome? I can comprehend Spanish to a certain level, as the words sometimes sound like English words. Like every good fly angler, I can at least say: Un cerveza por favor. I guess that's all I really need, well: Donde esta el bano? (Let's face it, after one more beer you might need to know where the bathroom is at.

In college, I managed to eek out two semesters of Classical Greek. Its a dead language (like Latin) that nobody speaks. Even the Greek students in my college admitted to having a hard time reading the required texts. My college also had Hebrew, but still no Latin.

So why is a Midwestern boy (who happens to be transplanted to NC) tripping over his tongue attempting to pronounce Latin? As any good angler knows, all bugs are referred to by their scientific names (which happen to be in Latin).

Baetis Fuscatus, Baetis Scambus, Ecdyonurus (Heptagenia), Rhithrogena, Gammarus Pulex, Asellus Aquaticus, Meridianus... you say these names too fast, and somebody will think you've either had one too many cervezas, or that you missed the Hogwarts train.

Still, there seems to me to be a bit of the mysterious in these names. As though if I understood them that I could control them. Biblically speaking, there might be something to that. In Genesis, Adam was given control over every living thing and gave them names. So maybe if I call that Yellow Sally an Isoperla Grammatica, it will give me some supernatural power to tempt a trout's mind (or at least his gullet). I might be reaching for the stars on that one...

To be truly honest, I don't have one iota on what I'm talking about when it comes to identifying bugs by their Latin names (FYI, an iota is a Greek 'i', phew two semesters of Greek right there). I barely know the common names of the bugs, going the next step would require some serious mental gymnastics for me. However, I'd be willing to give it a shot.

The last time I happened to be at the fly shop, my gaze hesitated on a package of specimen bottles. I thought about the possibility of taking my passion to the next level. I debated and hemmed and hawwed over the idea for a little bit (in fact I still am). The debate goes why do I need to do this? What do I expect to get out of this? You're no scientist, you'd need a scientist brain and notebook to get this figured out. You don't even have enough room in your fly vest for you car keys, where are you going to put these bottles at? That specimen collecting will only keep you from catching fish. And on and on went the reasons for why I should not take it to the next level.

However... a piece of me is still drawn to this idea. Maybe I've had one too many sips from the fly fishing kool-aid (I'm pretty positive it's beer flavored), or maybe it's the adventurer in me wanting to know more, to learn more. And of course their is always that hope it will somehow translate me into being a better angler.

I forget whether I read this, or had a friend tell me about a story of how an angler who wanted to know more about the insect life at his house bought an aquarium and setup a mini-river system that he stocked with local river life. He was all excited as he was able to see the insects in action, that was until he realized that he didn't put a cover on his aquarium and came home to a "hatch" in his living room.

I think for the time being, I will pour over my collection of fly entomological pattern books and at least get some of the lingo down. I'm not sure if the baetis comes before or after the other Latin word. Also, I'll review the hatch charts for western North Carolina, and then maybe cross reference them to see which patterns to tie. And if I'm really motivated, I might research some classic patterns that no one uses today (in hopes of discovering an old favorite that still produces).


  1. I admire your ambition. I have to admit, I started 'attempting' to learn the specific names of all the flies I use because I'd run into guys on the river and it always felt like a high school quiz that I constantly failed at. THEN if I came across a real wiz at entomology I really a 1st grader as they wing their latin knowledge like a roll cast around my head.
    Maybe what I'm trying to say is, if you learn it, I shall be duly impressed. If you become 'one of those guys' well then, beware of the accidental roll casts upside thy head :-)
    Finding an old pattern would be rather cool....

  2. 'one of those guys' being the ones that intentionallly try to downgrade another fisherman with their superior knowledge.