Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Bugs Life

Big Trout Food or Small Lobster?
There are bugs that scare the crap out of me. Sure there's that super large beetle that grasped onto my leg when I was fourteen and living for a summer in Montgomery, Alabama, but that's not the kind I'm talking about. Nor am I talking about some rare African stinging bug that can paralyze an elephant. I'm talking about trout food; scary as hell trout food.

Each year my chapter of Trout Unlimited samples a couple of streams in our area in support of the DEEP's* Rapid Bioassessment in Wadeable Streams & Rivers by Volunteer Monitors program or RBV** for short. The purpose of the RBV program is to monitor water quality (a key indicator of overall stream health) by sampling what sort of bugs live in the stream. Each type of bug is categorized as most desirable, moderately desirable or least desirable based upon the relative frequency that such bugs are found in high quality, moderate quality or low quality water. The better the bug life, the healthier the stream. And our trout friends, especially the natives, like high quality water.
Sam sorting

The bugs in the high quality waters are generally the stoneflies and a couple of different types of mayflies. Stoneflies are the Brook Trout of the macroinvertebrate world; they need clear, cold, well oxygenated water to live. Midges are the Bluegills; any sort of environment will do with a preference for warmer, still waters with muddy bottoms. Just the sort of place that would kill a Brook Trout. So, better bugs equals better water, and hopefully, more trout.

Some of these bugs scare the crap out of me. Sure the midges are harmless enough and the crayfish look like small lobsters so even though they pinch my hand when I pick them up they go into the "generally harmless" category. But have you ever seen a dobson fly? Well it's larva is no less terrifying. And they can pinch you like nobodies business. A pinch from a small lobster, no problem. A pinch from something that looks like it came straight out of the waiting room in the Men in Black spaceport, that's just freaky. And Large Black Stoneflies, those dudes just look like they've had a bad day and are out to mess with someone.

And just in case you think those ropy caddis fly larvae are harmless, I submit Exhibit 1: Bug Condo and Exhibit 2: Condo Carnage. Exhibit One appears to show a peaceful community of tiny, harmless bugs living in their condos; living and playing happily together. But one of those caddis flies is a voracious predator. Put him in a bin with anyone else and soon all you'll have left is nymph parts and a yellow goo swirling in the water. No need to call CSI, the guy who did it is the guy who isn't chewed into pieces.

Exhibit 1: Bug Condo
Exhibit 2: Condo Carnage

I love bringing the boys to do this work. In addition to the hard life lessons about condo living they get a whole new perspective on the things that link us to everything else. We like to fish. The fish need the bugs. The bugs need clean water. The water doesn't stay clean unless runoff is controlled. Anything you put on your lawn, put in the storm drain, or that leaks from your car eventually makes it to where the bugs live and the trout eat. It's all connected. It's all important.

For your viewing pleasure: I took a series of 2,000 pictures*** while Sam and I sampled a local small stream. This shows you how it's done.

One Minute RBV from Sipping Emergers on Vimeo.

* Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Or is it Department of Environment and Energy Protection? Who knows. But some genius in state government thought that putting energy and environment into a single organization made a lot of sense from a budget perspective. Probably for a lot of other reasons too.
** Thankfully the state has a law that limits acronyms to only three characters. Otherwise, the program would be called RBiWSRbVM.
*** Actually, the GoPro camera took the pictures, but I pressed the button to get it all started.