Ward of the Flies

No Escape from the Bloodlust

Story and Photos by Ray Brooks

My most traumatic horsefly experience came at the tender age of twenty-two, as I maneuvered a raft through a small but very rocky rapid on the Middle Fork Salmon. I was rowing without a shirt or lifejacket. Three teenaged girls were seated behind me, their parents in front. After starting into the rapid, I felt a slight tickling sensation in the middle of my back, which signaled a horsefly’s presence. I tucked one oar handle under my knee and made a quick but ineffective slap, just as the pain of the bite began. I had to grab the oar again to avoid hitting a rock. In a slightly alarmed tone, I said, “Please swat the fly on my back.” The only response of the teenagers was to giggle and hang onto the raft. Rather than being quickly slapped or shooed away, the horsefly was allowed to continue its painful bite throughout the rapid as it drank its fill of my blood before contentedly buzzing away.

Where I grew up in central Idaho, the annual July plague of biting flies and mosquitoes was a fact of life. My hometown of Ketchum was protected by surrounding dry terrain from biting insects, but hiking or camping was another situation, and the potential presence of the pests affected decisions concerning where or when to go.

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