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Culicoides
(Black Gnats)

By Colston Newton, Heathsville, VA


John Gaidies never read anything Homer Circle wrote that he didn't believe.

If he believes the Bible half as much as he believes Circle, he has a reserved first-class seat on that old glory-bound train.

For 20 years now, Gaidies has been trying to convince me that the best bluegill, crappie and sometimes bass fly known to man is a sinking green spider described by Circle.

Well, if it's such a hot fly, how come you can't find anybody who sells it or the sinking sponge to make it with? Probably because if you could buy or make it, sales would fall off on a lot of other stuff. But, it's not the best bluegill, crappie and sometimes bass fly there is. I've been trying to tell Gaidies that just as long as he's been preaching the green spider gospel according to Uncle Homer.

The best is a black gnat.

And now I know why.

The first time I realized what a terrific fly the black gnat is, I was fishing bluegill beds in the Lonestar Lakes near Suffolk, Virginia. Until then, I was sure, just like most other folk, that only a "poppin' bug" was suitable for bluegill. That day Gaidies was taking two or three fish to every one I was tapping with my poppin' bug. Too proud to ask for a spare green spider if he had one, I tied on a black gnat. I do believe if I'd caught one more fish that day, my rod, good as it is, would have taken a permanent set. The gnat has been working for me ever since.

One time Ol' Jack Perkinson and I found time to go off pestering the fish in a small pond near my home. Jack was flinging everything from beetle-spins to plastic worms and I started out using a Calcascieu Pigboat. Neither one of us was doing diddley. Then I switched to a black gnat and the fish got downright communally. I started taking crappie, big old bull bream and even some bass so regularly it looked like they were trying to use my line as a shortcut to evoluting into land animals.

Then Jack hauled out his fly rod, bummed a gnat off me and started doing the same thing. After that, I started wondering what could have made the gnat so magical. The fly is nothing but black chenille wrapped on a number 12 hook with a narrow white wing and a black hackle - in other words, a chicken feather - wrapped at the front.

I couldn't recall seeing anything in or on the water that resembled it, but the fish sure treated it like the piscene equivalent of JuJubes in a movie house.

So I called Dave Shriver and asked him what the gnat could be imitating. Dave is an entomologist - a student of bugs - and I figured he might know. He said he'd do a little research and call me back.

Dave called back after a little while and said the fish were likely taking the gnats as culicoides.

"Say what?"

"Midges. They look like mosquitos with fuzzy antennae and hatch out of the mud around ponds." he said.

"How'd you figure that out so fast?"

"I looked black gnats up in George Herter's old book on trout flies to see what you were talking about and then remembered that I'd seen a lot of midges already this year. The wet weather has hatched them early."

Shriver explained that culicoides are the largest of three types of midge and aren't strong flyers.

"Probably 25 percent of them drown trying to hatch," he said. "Since they hatch from spring until fall, they are an important food for the fish."

There it was, scientific proof that I was right and Gaidies, for all his Uncle Homerology, should have been listening to me.

Sure, spiders do fall in the water - but not nearly as many of them drown as midges do.

Of course, Gaidies did catch a citation bluegill on a green spider, and I've never caught a citation 'gill period, but that just proves the old adage about blind hogs and acorns - I hope. ~ CN

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