Southwest Montana – Beautiful but Buggy

It’s the beauty of the Big Hole that hits you first, this time of year. With late snows and June rains, the whole area is lush and green. Stream banks and riparian areas are a riot of colors: vivid reds, yellows, and purples, of wildflowers in bloom. The mountain peaks are still snow-capped, to better set off the green of the valleys.
If you’re looking for scenery, right now is a perfect time for a day outing along the Big Hole Valley. Be sure to get off on some mountain road to better see the wildflowers.
Still, if you leave your automobile, whether to take a walk or to wet a line in the river, don’t forget the insect repellant. The beauty of the Big Hole may strike you first, but the second thing will be the mosquitoes.
The Big Hole is a perennial producer of major mosquito hatches. That’s nothing new. Those irrigated hay meadows along the river are prime producers of mosquitoes. This year, however, we have a bumper crop of those annoying insects. It’s no surprise. When all those rains came in June there was standing water everywhere, and each puddle of water is a potential mosquito hatchery, and all it takes is a few days of warm weather for mosquito larvae to transform themselves into an adult, winged insect.
Naturally, it’s the female of the species that’s the troublemaker. Male mosquitoes are mild-mannered, inoffensive vegetarians, happy to sniff and sip from the wildflowers. Those female mosquitoes are the vicious bloodsuckers that torment all warm-blooded animals.
“Just ignore them,” is the advice a long-time reader once passed along. He recalled a long ago summer job when, then just a teenager, he worked at a northern Minnesota fishing camp and got that advice from his mentor, a weathered old Finlander. Probably not bad advice—if you’re able to stand it. My mosquito tolerance is fairly well developed from years of walking through boggy river bottoms in search of trout, or giving one of my Labrador retrievers some retrieving work in a wetland.  Nevertheless, there is a limit to tolerance.
There are, of course, bug repellants, and over the last 40 years, or so, DEET has been the chemical component in the more popular repellants. According to an on-line article on WebMD, repellants with 23.8 percent DEET are effective for about five hours.  Still, I remember our friend, Doug, who took my friend, Charley, and I under his wing in Michigan last year. He looked at our can of repellant with 25 percent DEET and chortled, “Haw, haw, haw. our mosquitoes think that’s candy!”
There are other repellants as well, with some of the old ones based on citronella, cedar, and peppermint, to name a few. Some people rely on Avon Skin So Soft. A few years ago at a conference I got some samples of a geranium-based repellant. It does work, though its effectiveness, in my mind, is measured in minutes rather than hours.
In the last few years some clothing companies have come out with apparel products that repel insects, though Santa Claus hasn’t brought any yet, so I can’t back up any claims.
Of course, another irritating part (pun intended) of the mosquito problem is that some people seem to attract skeeters more than others.  According to researchers, genetics account for 85 percent of susceptibility to mosquitoes. Also, people with high concentrations of steroids or cholesterol on their skin surface, and people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid attract mosquitoes, apparently because these substances trigger mosquitoes’ sense of smell.
People giving off large amounts of carbon dioxide also attract mosquitoes, so if you’ve been charging through the woods to get away from them, when you stop to catch your breath you’ve become a prime target.
If the mosquitoes are so bad right now, why don’t we just stay home? I’m glad you asked. In short, fishing right now is pretty darned good. Besides, ranchers are currently cutting hay, which means if we can survive a little longer, things will get better.
So, go fish.