Memorial Day weekend, harbinger of the spring season, arrives at a time when there are typically copious amounts of mud and flying insects in the Adirondacks. The addition of thousands of tourists for the long weekend makes it difficult at times, to decide which is element is the most intrusive.
However,tourists usually stick around for less than a week, while blackflies last for months.
Like the return of swallows to Capistrano, the appearance of the first black flies in the Adirondacks is the most reliable indicator that spring has finally arrived in the great North Woods.
This year's significant snowpack, combined with the recent wet weather, promises a heavy year for the "little black devils".
Few creatures stir up a comparable degree of fear, dread and outright anger among local inhabitants. We'll tolerate skunks, black bears and even those damn, Canada geese, without so much as a passing glance.
However,we will all curse black flies in unison. We'll swat them. We'll pray and we'll spray. We'll hid inside and still we'll be inundated and chewed alive.
Outside, there is no escape from these annoying insects They infiltrate our clothing and actually bite a hole in our skin. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant to insure a steady flow of blood, and as it wears off; the bite begins to itch, to offer further irritation to the already abused victim.
Historically, visitors to the region feared the airborne pests and a wide variety of efforts have been implemented to fend off the dreaded 'teeth with wings'.
Woodsman often kept a smudge pot with a potent mix of natural and unnatural ingredients smoldering over a small fire. Guides guarded their secret bug smudge recipes with a secrecy that was usually afforded only to a brook trout pond, or a special, deer run.
In later years, aerial applicator sprayed a variety of insecticides in attempts to control the miserable insects. The most commonly used aerial insecticide, Dibrom 13, was mixed with kerosene as a carrying agent and applied in a fine mist. This toxic mix was deemed nearly as dangerous to humans as to the flies. Dibrom targeted only adult flies, and the continued hatches required repeated applications. It was an unhealthy and expensive process.
In the Adirondacks, the ban on aerial applications of pesticides took affect in the 1980's. Since that time, Bti, (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), is the only pesticide the NYSDEC allows for the control of biting insects on State Forest Preserve lands. It is extremely specific in targeting black fly larvae, and non-persistent in the environment.
Despite the ongoing efforts to stem the annual invasion of 'flying teeth', blackflies continue to inflict pain, especially on small children, and adults with above average sensitivity to the bites.
I've witnessed unsuspecting victims with eyes swollen shut from black fly bites, and I've seen children sickened by prolonged exposure to these insects. Victims often have the appearance of a giant cranberry muffin, albeit with legs and arms.
In an effort to guard against such injuries, a wide variety of repellants have been developed. The most effective often have high concentrations of DEET, (N,N-diethyltoluamide).
Unfortunately, concerns remain about the safety of using this chemical on humans. DEET may cause allergic reactions in children, and the higher the concentration, the greater the risk. However, studies reveal concentrations of just 30 percent DEET can be just as effective and much safer, than 100 percent concentrations.
There are numerous natural, insect repellents on the market, which contain ingredients such as citronella oil, pennyroyal, camphor, eucalyptus,lemon juice and spearmint. Even Avon's Skin-So-Soft seems to work, but only if it is very liberally applied.
Over the years, I've used a variety of natural products including Green Ban, Z'off, Naturapel, Bug-B-Gone and BuzzAway. Some work, most don't.
However, the most effective I've found is "Ole Time" Woodsman Fly Dope, which is also DEET free. Ole Time Woodsman has the added benefit of keeping people and small dogs at bay. Conveniently, the not-so-fragrant scent will also assure you a private seat at local restaurants, one that is far removed from the crowd.
Repellents are only as effective as the applicator. A similarly conscientious effort to cover all exposed areas, will usually be just as effective, yet I have yet to find a repellent to keep black flies out of the hair, ears or nose.
The most effective method is to cover up. Light clothing is best; with calf-high tube socks to tuck in pant legs and a light turtleneck to cover the neck portion of a head net.
Headnets have become an essential piece of armor. Nets allow you to breathe, talk and listen, without a buzzing in your nose, ears or eye. Wearing a baseball hat under the headnet helps keep the netting away from your face, and adds to the comfort level.
When they are particularly thick, I wear light silk or cotton gardening gloves to cover my hands and tuck pant legs into my socks.
Bug jackets, with elastic cuffs and full hoods offer a good alternative, however, they are not as durable as regular clothing and will not stand up to mountain scrambles or crashing through a spruce thicket.
Remember, black flies cannot fly in winds of 10 mph or more, so this is a good season to be on the water or atop a windy mountain summit. Anglers should also note that while people don't like bugs, trout most certainly do.
And finally, it is important to realize the blackflies have a short lifespan, and they are only around for about a month. Upon their departure, it's only the mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies and the no-see-ums we have left to fear.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org