Aerial assaults from mosquitoes, gnats, and other biting insects can ruin a fishing trip fast. No matter how hot the bite, it's easy to lose your composure, if not your mind, when a bloodthirsty swarm calls an air strike.
Worse, some of these pests — along with their crawling counterparts, such as deer, dog, and Lone Star ticks — carry nasty diseases including West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and St. Louis encephalitis, to name a few.
To protect your health and save your sanity, banish bugs with insect repellants that fit your style of fishing. Given the countless options on the market, we leaned on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other state, federal and medical sources to round up 10 key considerations to keep in mind when choosing your lines of defense.
Ease Of Use
Sprays and lotions go on quickly, which is handy. But they can be messy, too, and if you forget the dope at home, you're defenseless.
Clip-on fans are also easy to use. But they work best when you're motionless, and their effectiveness tends to crumble under overwhelming air power. ThermaCell devices are relatively easy to operate, but require 15 minutes to get cooking, and many don't work well, if at all, at elevations above 4,500 feet.
Clothing is a study in simplicity, since it just slips on and requires no reapplication. However, the EPA cautions that even with doped duds, you still need to treat exposed skin with a lotion or spray for full protection.
Synthetic chemicals get a bad rap for carcinogenic and environmental fallout, and indeed the EPA cautions that most pesticides carry some risk of harm. However, the department approves the use of DEET, permethrin and other pesticides found in many repellants — provided that you follow label directions, and don't apply repellants to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin. Biologically-based compounds are often safer, though not as effective or long-lasting as traditional chemicals.
Fans and ThermaCell-type devices also use pesticides. In the case of ThermaCell, we're talking allethrin — a powerful knock-down pyrethroid pesticide.
Clothing contains chemicals such as permethrin, which the EPA approves uses in clothing as long as label instructions are followed, and treated clothing is washed separately from other laundry.
In the end, the EPA (epa.gov/pesticides
) is a great source of information, as are many state health department websites. Everyone has different tolerances and risk factors, so when in doubt, consult your family physician.
Bug juice with fleeting effectiveness leaves you open to attack, so beware of products that can't go the distance. For starters, look for EPA-approved products that list protection time information. Also, the CDC says repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection than other options.
With any spray or lotion, keep in mind, length of protection varies with the amount of active ingredient, air temperature, amount of physical activity and perspiration, water exposure, and other factors.
In the device department, the Off! Clip-on fan lasts 12 hours per charge, while ThermaCell cartridges last nine to 12 hours. Still, mini-foggers can falter if a stiff breeze makes their repellants gone with the wind.
Clothing is extremely handy in that it need not be reapplied, but you may need to retreat it after extended use. Check the care tag for details.
There's no denying that some sprays and lotions can be oily — and carry an unpleasant odor. They're also slippery on the hand, which is a huge deal when you're holding a fishing rod or gunning a tiller. Wearing a fan or ThermaCell is a hands-free proposition, but such devices can be bulky.
Score another win for treated clothing, which is tops the comfort contest — provided you find a good fit that's tailored to the conditions you're fishing. For example, a light, moisture-wicking shirt is perfect for hot, steamy weather.
Once sprays or lotions are on, they're on. The only way to turn them off is to wash the treated skin — which is also a smart idea at the end of the day. Devices can be switched on and off, although you may need to allow up to 15 minutes for them to warm up, or to saturate the area of protection. Bug-fighting clothing is extremely versatile, since you can take it on or off as needed.
Other than simply playing the wind and avoiding insects all together, clothing gets the nod as the least likely to interfere with your success. Outside of the washing machine, there's little chance protective repellants will transfer onto other items.
In contrast, sprays and lotions always find a way onto rods, reels, lures, line, and other key tackle components — which is is self-defeating, since DEET and other repellants on hands or gear can repel fish like bass. Worse, chemicals can ruin plastics, not to mention finishes on rods, sunglasses, and other important items.
Fans and ThermaCell devices feel like an upgrade from oils and sprays, but keep in mind they're filling the air with repellants, and we don't fully understand how well fish may detect such compounds.
Sometimes insects arrive in such overwhelming numbers, or the conditions are so harsh, that ordinary protection is simply outgunned. Think apocalyptic swarms of no-see-ums or mosquitoes capable of carrying you away. Under such duress, extreme gear such as headnets or full-coverage, treated clothing is your best friend. Look for tight weaves and a stout repellant, such as permethrin, to keep your assailants at bay.
After Hours Protection
Unless you like to lather in lotion for the evening, there are few better ways to sleep in peace at a bug-friendly campsite or drafty old cabin than some type of netting. Tightly-woven nylon mesh helps keep even the smallest insects from invading your space, but material treated with a repellant bars the door tighter.
No surprise here, a good defense doesn't come cheap. But some options are more cost effective than others. You can easily spend $7 for a fan, $8 for a 6-ounce spray, or $20 for a small ThermaCell, and all of these are revolving expenses.
Clothing is a great cost-conscious choice, since, well, you need clothes, anyway. Plus, a variety of reasonably priced shirts, pants, and jackets we've found provide repellant protection lasting the life of the garment. Here, too, check the care tag for specific details.
Some products raise the bar by offering dual protection — simultaneously warding off harmful UV radiation and bugs. While this sounds like a win-win, lotions and sprays offering repellents mixed with sunscreen carry some baggage.
For example, the EPA generally cautions against using a single product that combines DEET and sunscreen. This is largely because repellant does not need to be reapplied as often as sunblock, but studies have shown that blending DEET with sunscreen cause DEET to be absorbed by the skin far faster than when used by itself.
DEET-free combos are an option, but find out what type of chemical they contain, and be forewarned, some manufacturers are pretty agile at side-stepping even the most direct questions.
We've found that the best option in the double-duty department is insect-repelling clothing that is also UPF rated, which means you can ban bugs and block the sun from areas covered by the clothing, without lotions or spray.