IT IS DAYLIGHT in the swamp.
You notice a faint buzzing sound as the insects of the forest awaken.
The first of your tormentors is the smallest, the no-see-um.
You might not think a bug that small could be a bother, but you are wrong.
These almost invisible insects can occur in swarms so thick they make breathing difficult.
They get in your eyes and ears while biting you, sucking your blood and leaving patches of itchy welts all over your hide.
As your eyes swell shut from the effects of the no-see-ums, the sun warms the forest floor, and you don’t worry about them anymore.
Larger insects awaken.
Maybe it’s a product of our unusually wet spring, but mosquitoes seem to be larger than normal.
Perhaps they are evolving into a new species of bloodsucking bird.
Some of this year’s mosquito crop are big enough to shoot with a shotgun, but that is a desperate and expensive measure that could be risky in a crowded campground.
It would be futile, anyway, since you’d run out of shells before you ran out of mosquitoes.
In the heat of the noonday sun, you forget all about the mosquitoes once the black flies hit.
They are a little black bug about the size of a housefly with one big difference: Black flies attack in biting swarms so thick, it is impossible to swat all of them.
Still, none of our insect pests can match the deerfly for sheer evil genius.
Though a deerfly is larger than the biggest housefly, it can fly silently, land lightly and start feeding immediately, leaving an itchy welt that has the potential to suppurate into a disgusting souvenir of your outdoor adventure.
Once a deerfly gets you in its sights, your little outdoor outing takes a turn for the worse.
That’s because there is seldom just one of these little flying devils.
Deerflies hunt in teams that can wear down the victim.
When you take off your hat to swat a deerfly, chances are another one will bite you on your bare head.
You try to hit yourself in the head with your hat, but deerflies can take a punch, and the first bug you swatted is back in the air mounting another attack from where you least expect it.
The deerflies circle until they are able to approach from behind.
That’s when you need the buddy system — someone to watch your back and swat you while you swat them in return.
I once saw some cranky campers who were swatting each other with tree branches to keep the deerflies off each other.
The bugs were fierce.
The tree branches kept getting bigger until the booze hit.
One thing led to another until the campers were beating each other with clubs.
Between the bug bites and the bruises, it must have been a tough Monday morning somewhere.
Deerflies have a particular affinity for swimmers, whose exposed skin offers a larger target.
Attempts to avoid the deerflies by staying underwater ultimately fail when you run out of air.
Returning to the surface, you find the deerflies patiently circling above the water just waiting to attack the first piece of exposed hide they see.
Squashing one of these engorged bloodsuckers is a disgusting experience that is not for the faint-hearted.
Each little carcass exudes a tiny pool of blood that they probably just sucked out of you.
Just remember: It’s you or the bug.
As the sun lowers and shadows creep forward, the larger insects seek shelter, and the no-see-ums return with a vengeance.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]