black flies

Survive the Bugs

About 20 bites per square inch all over my arms and back during a day of trout fishing

About 20 bites per square inch all over my arms and back during a day of trout fishing

One of the best things about the changing seasons in the U.P. is reprieve from the bugs! I know we depend immensely on their existence, and in some way should be thankful for the pesky biting creatures. But that’s of little solace when an army of 1,000 mosquitos is buzzing about your face sucking the blood from your body!

It’s a fact that there are lots of bugs in the woods. So I try my best to live with (tolerate) them, rather than let them dictate my day.

Here are just some of the bugs I love, and some I hate.

Bugs I Love

Ones that live in the river. Fishing for trout is a favorite pastime. As far as I know, the bugs that trout like to eat don’t like to eat me. Grasshoppers, all kinds of nymphs, mayflies, and other big juicy bugs. 

The U.P. has tons of colorful butterflies and lots of bees. I don’t know if it’s because there aren’t as many pesticides per square mile up north than there are in the lower, but they seem to flourish. Chasing butterflies as a kid provided many hours of summer fun.

Bugs I Hate

Mosquitos can be as thick as a light fog, especially in swamps or wet drizzly days. They are at their best as warmth leads to summer up until the early days of fall.

Black flies are tiny pests that pack a punch. When they are done feeding blood oozes out and forms a raised scab. Because you don’t hear them like a mosquito, you might have twenty or more around the brim of your hat. You don’t even know you’ve been hit till you wipe your brow and see blood on your hand. 

Horse flies are huge beasts that actually feel like they have teeth. They land with a thud and sink their digs instantly. They are often around lakes. Sometimes your only escape is to dive headfirst into the water!

Ticks are creepy crawlers that can make even the toughest guys scream. The little deer ticks can carry lyme disease. As far as I know, I’ve never seen one or had one on me. Their larger cousin, the wood tick, I’ve had all over. In fact, during spring hikes when ticks are coming out in full force, I’ve had as many as 50 on me in a day. At that amount, there’s no point in getting freaked out. You just keep an eye out for them and pick them off one at a time.

Deer tick (also called black legged tick) on the left and wood tick on the right. Wood ticks are at least twice the size of a deer tick. I’ve never had a tick embedded in me. Mostly I see them crawling on my clothes or on my skin. I’ve had them begin to get into my skin, but a gentle pull has removed them quite easily. Click here for a link to the DNR State of Michigan site with information on ticks, diseases and proper removal. And click here for a PDF from the State of Michigan site on tick information.

Bug Repellents and Defense

Deet is the most widely known bug repellent, but it’s dangerous stuff. I sprayed so much around my face on one particularly bug infested fishing trip that I couldn’t feel my lips. 

Another day I got some in my eyes, and spent about a half hour trying to rinse it out. Thankfully there was no permanent damage, but my eyes were as red as a cherry and the eyeball itself was as puffy as a marshmallow.

Because of those experiences, I try not to use deetanymore than I have to. 

There are more “kid friendly” deet alternatives such as “Bull Frog”. We’ve used it often with great success.

The best bug defense is a strong breeze. There’s nothing better than a summer wind, trapping the bugs in the trees and away from me! 

When I’m at a cabin I’m sure to bring a fan for the porch. It makes a world of difference to sit outside and enjoy the day. Tall osculating fans work best as they clear the whole area.

For fast mosquito and other bug bite relief - try putting a wet tea bag on the spot. Just let it sit for a few minutes, or wipe slowly across a number of itchy spots. Hydrogen Peroxide also works wonder. For a more stubborn bee sting, try mixing water and baking soda into a paste, apply and let it soak the pain away.

I go to great lengths to keep my tent bug free. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep at night and having a few rogue mosquitos buzzing in your ear. Keep your tent zipped, open only to jump in or out. And its worth it each time you are in the tent to take a minute and look around for a flying insect.

ExOfficio (Orvis partnered with them and has a line of insect shield clothing) has a clothing product with insect repellent in the fabric which seems to work well. I don’t own any myself, but have friends that do and they say it helps keep bugs at bay.

There is a newer product called Thermacell. It’s a device that burns a repellent and builds a bug free perimeter around you. I’ve heard good reviews on calm days, but I actually returned one after reading the warning label. I’m a little apprehensive about breathing that stuff in myself.

When walking through tick infested woods I wear my socks over my pants. It keeps more ticks out than anything else I’ve tried.