The Fish Fly?

Monday, June 28, 2010
Posted in category Just Stuff

If you live in certain lakeside communities off of Lake St. Clair, as I do and always have, then you have experienced the hellish nightmare of fish fly season.

In season, they cover everything in sight in thick layers: doors, streets, lamp posts, buildings, houses, mailboxes, etc. It’s the 6th Great Lake – Lake St. Clair – that attracts them. The buildings along Lakeshore Drive will be littered with these things for days. The entire city of St. Clair Shores is a fish fly nest. If you stand in one place too long, they will cover you like a blanket. They’re gross, they smell like dead fish, and they pop (!) as you step on them or ride your bike down the street. Walking on a sheet of them is like walking on ice – you go flying! The typical fish fly season is 3-6 weeks long. A local, lakeside town – New Baltimore – even has a fish fly festival. The short and dirty:

The bugs spend up to two years skittering along the bottom of lakes and rivers before emerging onto land. This is why they’re a good indicator of water quality. Fish flies are very sensitive to oxygen levels near lake and riverbeds, Schloesser said. Polluted water has less oxygen, and thus fewer fish flies.

Once on land, fish flies only have about 30 hours. They spend the first 12 in trees or plants. The next evening, they mate, usually in swarms, Schloesser said, which explains the big clouds.

I am seeing the last few of them – I missed the worst of the season while on vacation. Shame … I kinda like that poppin’ sound. The funniest thing is seeing outsiders react to them ‘cuz they’ve never seen the things.

In the spirit of things, here’s a great YouTube spoof of the “Pure Michigan” marketing/travel campaigns.

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9 Responses to The Fish Fly?

  1. Dougflas Brown says:

    June 28th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Born and raised on the east side, and I’m now in the northern suburbs of Oakland County. Don’t miss the little critters a bit.

  2. Chris DeCoster Sickler says:

    June 28th, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    God I almost forgot about fish flies!! By moving to Minnesota, I guess I traded the fish fly for Minnesota’s enormous population of wood ticks!

  3. Iluvatar says:

    June 29th, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I told ya’ Michigan is like Minnesota! 10,000 lakes and full of the mosquito army/air force. Man – so full of bugs!

    I heard that Canada is even worse tho’ – they are really in force up there!


  4. clark says:

    June 29th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Did a 360 in a car once due to them.

    Down here some people call them mayflies.

    Ever see what the RV’ers have to do while driving on the Alcan down South? Mayflies aren’t so bad compared. They can ruin the fishing though.

  5. Mike says:

    June 29th, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    In ohio we call them mayflies. I remember a particularly heavy season a few years back, while living in Port Clinton, where SNOWPLOWS were brought out to keep Lakeshore Dr. passable…I’m not joking. Ick.

    By the way, as an aside on bureaucratic silliness on even the small city level, for a good thirty or forty years there were no mayfly hatches at all(at least around here) but people remembered that bugs are drawn to lights-so lakeshore businesses and houses turned out their lights. As I recall, sometime around mid-July the city reached the conclusion that this might be a good idea for the parking lot lights on the city beach…..

    We can, I do believe, thank that vile, evil, nasty, invasive, zebra mussel for filtering out enough toxins to bring back a “healthy” lake(how many billions were spent-to utterly no effect- locally to get rid of that beastie?).

    The downside, sadly, is that local catfish are no longer hallucinogenic.

  6. John Venlet says:

    July 1st, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Karen, Looks like a Hexagenia Limbata
    to me. Trout love ‘em.

  7. Ron Maniscalco says:

    July 4th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    They are the perfect metaphor for my life so I named my novel after them.

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  9. Jim Barber says:

    April 28th, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Fish Flies are also called May Flies. They are most abundant in July around Lake St. Clair and along the Canadian border of Lake Erie in Essex County. They live for about a day and the season lasts for about two weeks. They come out at night because they are attracted to light. As a kid, I remember that they would completely cover the screens on the porch at our cottage so that you could not see through the screen. They don’t usually cling to you unless you have a light source on your body but they do swarm around you. When you step on them they crunch. Some years they are so plentiful that they stack up under light posts in a pile of 2 to 3 feet after they die. Fish Flies are obnoxious but they are part of life around the southern Great Lakes.

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