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Marty Colbert, Charles City Whitewater, IA

If you’ve ever thought that a horse fly was out for vengeance, you may be right. They’ve been known to chase their victims if their first bite doesn’t get them the satisfying meal they were hoping for. A swat is not enough to deter these vicious flies either…Ahhh!! What to do?!!

First let’s start with identifying the Horsefly. This fly is large, agile in flight, and brown/black in color. They can be up to 1.25 inches long! The flies love warm, moist areas. Your local whitewater park with slalom gates is heaven! Males spend most of their days feeding on nectar, plant sap, and honey dew. Sounds rather lovely. In contrast, the females search for a blood meal from their victims as they need the protein for egg development.


The way a female horsefly bites you is more painful than most insect bites. She takes her knife like jaws and slices a cut into the flesh. She even comes prepared with hooks to help attach herself as she mops up the blood. Wow…awesome.

Horsefly Bites

These flies love hot weather, dark objects and movement. A rash guard or thin neoprene is not enough to stop their razor-sharp jaws. Throwing an underwater freestyle trick does not deter the massive fly either, she just waits for you to resurface in the feature!

Just beneath the water freestyle

Here’s some techniques I have found to be helpful in reducing the amount of bites.

1. Use the fly’s phobia against them. They are scared of the dark! Go paddling in the shade, if there is any, or at night under the lights. Dawn patrol is a good choice too, before the hottest part of the day.

Night Paddling

Dawn Patrol

2. They can bite right through a rash guard. Try wearing white or light-colored paddling gear so you can fly-under-the-radar. (ha! Pun intended.) Consider wearing that long sleeve dry top if the temperature and humidity won’t cause you to overheat. If wearing neoprene, 3mm seems to be minimum thickness needed to ward off their hungry jaws.

Carl Neubauer DD Wave

3. Those slalom gates are perfect nesting habitat for the females. Consider removing slalom gates until after horsefly season to help reduce their numbers.

Slalom Gates

4. Bring lots of friends and don’t tell them about the tips above! A bit sinister, but hey it helps.

5. Get better at face surfing!! It’s not a fool proof method but it helps some. Be sure your hands are not exposed to the air when face surfing for better results. Have I mentioned these flies are tenacious?! Throwing a quick loop or a flurry of cartwheels won’t shake these flies, they just follow along! Sounds like I need to work on my breath holding skills!

Dodging horseflies with loops

6. Embrace it, the flies are only here for a short time during the summer. Summon your inner spidey-sense for detecting the fly’s approach and put the smack down on it before she bites. Be sure to double tap for the full effect. While in the feature, try linking your moves with varying smacks as you throw down. Stephen Wright coined this maneuver the Charles City Twitch, after observing us wildly smacking and trying to perform freestyle moves at Charles City Whitewater. ¬

Happy Paddling!

Keep those horseflies at bay and paddle on!¬

-Hannah Ray J

Photo Credit – self / Marty Colbert