My first trip out fly collecting with the Dipterist Forum experts started badly. We set off at an amble down a woodland track after having admired each other’s pooters, and I began looking for likely-looking flies. My normal technique is to spot a fly, get up close enough to see if it is worth catching, retreat to make room to swing the net, and the fly usually takes off just as I get into range with my short-sighted eyes. In contrast, the experts set off thrashing their way through the herbage with their wide-mouthed nets. With a side to side flick they kept the catch caught, and after a few minutes stuck their head right into the net to inspect the harvest and suck up a representative selection. After ten minutes they all had pooters bubbling over with interesting stuff and I had nothing.
We came to a bridge where an elder bush leaned over the parapet in full sunlight. Peering over to the stream below, I was gently moved aside by one of my companions in order to make room for a purposeful swipe of his net at the elder leaves just at my elbow. “Ha! Lonchaeidae – very nice.” Not only was my spot and catch technique less effective than their sweeping, but I hadn’t even managed to spot this desirable fly, a fly from a family that I had never seen before.
So I switched to their method and took off grumpily into the woods, sweeping relentlessly over mossy banks and puddles, rotting stumps and nettle patches. My technique needed a bit of honing, first to take my glasses off and get my head into the net, the net held pointing up towards the sun so that the flies would crawl or fly upwards away from head. Then, while still holding the net just so I had to get the right end of the pooter into my mouth and the pooter into the net and with my third hand maneuver the tip so as to suck up a chosen fly. There were many tantalising escapees, and I eventually reverted back to my old fly hunting method, turning up the cranefly Tipula maxima, the largest British fly by wing span, though possibly not by weight.
When I got back to the bridge it was still in sunlight, and waiting for the others to reappear and wondering if flies were also creatures of habit, I stood guard at the elder bush waiting for action. Sure enough, a few minutes later a hump-backed, black-bottomed fly arrived to sun itself on the very same leaf that the previous trophy fly had been taken from. I swiped and missed it, but back it came again and this time I got it, potted it and here it is, a very nice fly indeed.