On a recent rafting trip with the WHS senior class, black flies quickly made their mark on many of the participants. While most of us sustained only a few bites here and there, a handful had minor allergic reactions however nothing to serious. Hate to tell you guys, as bad as they seemed to you that day, it was nothing. Just an average daytime nuisance (they do not bite at night). So what would you consider bad? Well, you know they are bad when you see a moose running down a logging road at full speed trying to generate wind to blow the flies off or when you literally can't stand still, see or breathe, then you know they are bad.

Black flies are those little dark brown buggers that come out for a couple of months in the spring and annoy the hell out of you. Unlike mosquitoes, they do not bite once, fill up, and leave. Oh no, they bite and chew continually. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide your body dispenses naturally hence they tend to target your facial area. Not to worry, they will go for any location where they can get to your skin. They are masters at getting to your wrists, neck, waist, and ankles. While they are biting they inject a bit of saliva into the wound which acts as an anticoagulant and itches like crazy. You can take heart in the fact that only the females bite and only during daylight hours. They love wet swampy areas and the farther north you go, the worse they get. They can be absolutely ferocious. I have been in areas where they literally drive you crazy. Having tried the "moose run" technique before out of frustration, I can tell you, it does not work however it will take your mind off them for a moment or two.

How do you deal with them? I remember as a child in a campground an old 50's vintage Chevy driving around the premises at dusk spewing a secret mixture of fog that seemed to keep their numbers quite low. As I think back on it, it was probably DDT. Not your best option. Head nets and bug suits work. They tend to get in the way and are a pain in the butt, but, so are the black flies. At some point the hat and suit become the lesser of two evils. Repellants tend to be the most popular choice. They work by interfering with the fly's navigation system making it hard for them to zero in and land. By far, the most effective repellants contain DEET, a chemical that was developed by the military back in the late '40's. It is highly effective in repelling a variety of insects. The higher the concentration of DEET, the better it works and the longer it will continue to work. Supposedly it is not harmful to you. However it is recommended that you do not use it on children and with adults, wash it off as soon as you are indoors. That is reassuring. I can tell you that it will melt plastic. Next time you use some with a high concentration of DEET grab the steering wheel in your car while you still have some on your hands. Ben's and Muskol are a couple of serious, heavy duty brands that truly work, containing 95 to 100% DEET. They do not smell bad either. A little bit goes a long way. You do not need to be smothered in it. I have a 2 oz bottle of Muskol that is over 20 years old. It is still one-quarter full and works great. During my college days, the hands on favorite for the hardcore woodsman was "Old Woodsman". It was and still is, a brown, sticky mixture made with pine tar I think. It too worked great and not only did it repel bugs but anything else that was alive as well.


If you would like a more natural approach there are plenty of options. The color of your clothing has an effect. Black flies are more attracted to dark vs. light colors. Citronella, cedar, geranium, rubbing alcohol, lavender, basil, rosemary, peppermint, marigold, etc., etc. It seems that just about any natural product works for somebody. It depends on who you talk to. What works great for some does absolutely nothing for others. Avon skin so soft is claimed to be the repellent of choice for the Marines. I have tried it with no luck at all. Oh yea, lets not forget garlic. I have also heard that large doses of vitamin E work by causing your body to emit an odor that is offensive to black flies, etc. Hmmm??? An old Canadian remedy is to take an aluminum hard hat and cover it with oil. Since the flies tend to favor your head, which is where the higher concentration of Co2 comes from, attracted by the aluminum they get stuck in the oil. Sounds like it is worth a try. How about Vicks vapor rub? From personal experience, this works however it goes in the same category as Old Woodsman, Garlic, and vitamin E. No one else will go near you either which at times may not be a bad thing. It is also a bit on the greasy side.

Regardless of your approach if you play outside, one should be prepared for the inevitable attack from these miserable little buggers each spring.

Until next time,


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