BY ANDREW CREMATA
FOR THE SKAGWAY NEWS
After scoping out a promising area on Google Earth where a freshwater stream emptied into a shallow saltwater inlet, I drove to the nearest public parking area and began assembling my gear. My target zone was still a quarter-mile to the north. Getting there required wading through waist-deep tidal water during the final hour of a rising tide. I hoped to encounter silvers, so I carried along a lightweight rig equipped with eight-pound line, and a small assortment of neon-colored spinners.
I entered the water along the shore of a well-manicured public park. It was impossible to see the bottom in the tea-colored water, so the going was slow. After working my way around a rocky jetty, the shoreline changed to verdant meadows of thick, partially submerged grass.
Across the inlet, a black bear emerged from a dense alder thicket and sat down by the water’s edge. He looked in my direction and scratched his ear with his back paw, before picking himself up and sauntering back in the direction he came.
Nearing the stream, I noticed a swirl in deeper water to my right. I was poised to cast, and instinctively flipped the spinner within inches of the target.
As I began to reel, I felt a pin prick on my forehead. I brushed at it with my shoulder and saw the smeared remnants of a sand fly on my jacket. This annoying pest is also known as the no-see-um, misleadingly named because I could see a few more-of-um buzzing around my head. It is the smallest of the flies but attacks in great numbers, interested only in drinking the blood of its hapless victim.
I hate them.
This annoying distraction was interrupted when I noticed a rising wake a few feet behind my spinner. The surging fish closed the gap in an instant, inhaled the lure, and then turned in the opposite direction at full speed.
All I could do was hold on for dear life. The drag cried out with a high-pitched whine until the fish turned and ran perpendicular to my position. My rod distended in a narrowing arc that made me wonder if it would snap in two.
Still early in the fight, it was obvious I was into something far bigger and more temperamental than a silver salmon. Fifteen minutes later I was removing the hook from a 20-plus pound king, certain there were plenty more lying in wait.
During the fight, a legion of interested onlookers had gathered. It was a cloud of no-see-ums hovering around my head, bobbing up and down on the air currents of my breath and bodily movements. Some landed in my eyes, others inside my ears, but they were especially concentrated on my forehead and wrists. Even worse, they were hungry.
My mosquito netting and insect repellant were in my backpack, which I’d left in the backseat. The choice between wading back to the car for bug dope and casting toward hungry kings posed no perceivable dilemma, so I became the main course in what must have been a memorable feast for those stinking bugs.
After catching four more nice kings over the next two hours, I decided to call it a day and waded back to my car. My forehead and wrists felt like they’d been wrapped in poison ivy. I lifted my ball cap and checked out the damage in the rearview mirror. Where the brim of the hat rested against my forehead was a blood-red border of sand fly carnage. My wrists fared no better. Fortunately, the drive the drugstore was short.
The no-see-um is a rapture of pure joy when compared to its bigger cousin the white sock, which is nothing more than a black fly equipped with terrible mouth-parts that tear human flesh asunder in order to feed on fresh blood. Symptoms of a white sock bite include terrible itching, swelling, and a blinding hatred for all insects.
Earlier this month, I was enjoying the quiet tranquility of fishing for brook trout at Upper Dewey Lake. However, the only bite I got on that trip was the one on the back of my calf. Blood trickled down my leg from the freshly mined hole. Apparently, white sock saliva comes complete with a nightmare-inducing anti-coagulant that partially numbs the bite, enabling them to fully enjoy a leisurely dining experience. This means that once the stabbing penetration of the bite is felt, the fly is long gone, leaving no method to quench one’s uncontrollable thirst for revenge.
This isn’t even the worst part. Swelling around the bite starts almost immediately and is accompanied by itching from which there is no obtainable relief. The affected area then swells to freak show proportions, leaving a physical reminder that nature simply doesn’t care about you or anyone else.
When a white sock finally graduates from the nether regions of man’s most hideous subconscious terrors, it becomes a horsefly, which is often mistaken for a small bird or Cessna. Horse flies are a good reason to stay indoors.
One would think that flying creatures of this size would lack any notion of stealth, but a horsefly somehow manages to plan its sneak attack while its target is distracted. I have little patience for horseflies or their devious tactics, so I wear long sleeves when there is any risk of crossing their path.
On a hot summer day back in early July I was fishing the shoreline on the north end of Tutshi Lake in the Yukon. A horsefly made an appearance, but there was no need for worry because I wore an impenetrable suit of armor – a long sleeve shirt made of thick cotton.
A sudden stabbing sensation on the back of my left shoulder made me wonder who I’d wronged. I threw my fishing rod on the ground and whipped my head around, ready to retract whatever sharpened weapon had been thrust into my body cavity. Sitting on my shoulder was a large horsefly that had bitten through my shirt, happily draining the lifeblood from my withering body with its six-bladed razor-sharp proboscis.
There are a lot of macho men in Alaska who will fearlessly face the risk of encountering a grizzly bear as they set forth into the unforgiving wilderness in search of fish. These same brawny outdoorsmen will whimper like infants after losing a battle against a swarm of hungry flies.
Who really sits atop the food chain?
Fish eat flies. Man eats fish. Flies eat man.
I need better insect repellent.