I’m going to stretch my “East Coast” blog boundaries today–to Florida. Last week, my wife Ruthann flew to Orlando to spend some time with her family. I needed to stay home to work at the fly shop and to feed our 100+ pound English Mastiff, Midge (yes, she eats a lot of food). Ruthann and I have been married for 17 years, 13 of which have occurred during my career as a fly fishing professional; I’m not really a professional fly fisherman–no one pays me to fish. But if you know someone who would, please call me as soon as possible.
Ruthann is a fly fisher, but she doesn’t love it. We used to fish together more than we do these days; she keeps saying something about being burned-out. Who knew that could happen? But her last night in Florida proved that there’s something about our sport that seeps into the subconscious, taking a deep hold on a person. Or maybe she just realizes that I’m a lost cause, so she might as well swim with the current rather than fight it.
She was obviously excited when she called and even a little out of breath. “You won’t believe this,” she said. “There are mayflies covering mom and dad’s house. They’re huge.” I could hear her mother speaking in the background. It was clear that she was wondering what I had done to her daughter and why this was such big news. Ruthann’s parents live in a small community across a road from a lake. I had studied the lake the last time I was visiting, wondering mostly if it had alligators in it. But I thought about fishing it too. Isn’t that what we always do when we see new water for the first time?
Ruthann tried to photograph the flies with her small point and shoot camera. She shot video of them buzzing around the outside lights. If I’d ever needed reminding, I knew in that moment that I’d married the right girl. But she was unhappy with her results. Then I had an idea: I asked her to put some of the flies in her parents pill bottles, and to put the bottles in the refrigerator. This is a trick that I often use to photograph aquatic insects. The cold air slows their transformation from dun to spinner and even extends their life. It also helps them keep still while you’re trying to take their picture, but I wasn’t worried about that yet. She was flying home the next day, and I began wondering if she could get the specimens back to me to photograph. After all, when would I get another chance to photograph Floridian mayflies?
We decided that the best course was to wrap the insect-filled pill bottles in plastic bags and then fill more bags with ice and place them around the pill bottles, burying this whole mess deep in her luggage. That’s what she did. In hind sight, I guess I should have worried a little more about the embarrassing situation Ruthann could have found herself in if her bug collection had caught the attention of airport security. But they didn’t notice so no harm, no foul.
The best part of this story is that it worked. I picked Ruthann up at the airport, drove quickly home, tore apart her luggage and found that the bugs were still alive. That’s how these pictures of a male Hexagenia orlando spinner and female dun, photographed on my front porch in Central Pennsylvania, come to you today. I apologize if the bugs look a little tired–they were obviously jet-lagged.
Oh yeah, I asked Ruthann if she saw any fish rising in the lake, and she forgot to even look. I guess you can’t have everything. But I now have a reason to go to her parents house that doesn’t involve a yearly visit. I just know that the bass in that lake are feverishly eating these giant mayflies off the surface; I can feel it. And who knows, maybe I can even hook an alligator.