Mr. Dobson Goes to Indiana

The Dobsonfly is scary! They can be up to 3 inches long with a seven inch wingspan. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the male has one inch long pincers that rival any in the insect world or in last night’s nightmare.

Discretion is the better part of valor.

When he takes flight, you can hear the wing beats and you rush to cover neck, arms, and any other vulnerable spot to keep the monster from landing and snipping skin, blood and muscle. Actually, the adult Dobsonfly is harmless and the male lives but three days and the smaller female lives perhaps a week until she deposits a thousand eggs on leaves overlooking a swift gravelly stream.

The female Dobsonfly with smaller pincers will pinch you!
A Dobsonfly egg mass on a leaf over the stream.

They hatch in due time, and the larvae find their way to the water where they live for three years and become the worst of nightmares for other aquatic insect larvae, baby crayfish, and small minnows. The hellgrammites as the larvae of Dobsonflys are called have a strong set of pincers fore and aft. The rear ones latch on to a rock and the front ones latch on to the next meal.


They are black, very active, and will pinch if you touch them. As a 13 year old, I hunted hellgrammites by turning over rocks in stream riffles in Southern Indiana. When I found one I pinned the three inch long creature with a stick or small rock and then cautiously slipped a fish hook under its hard collar and immediately flipped the once predator – now bait – into a nearby pool where almost immediately a smallmouth bass or rock bass would grab it and run the length of the pool.

A smallmouth bass caught with an artificial hellgrammite lure – safest way to fish with the critters!

In a day’s fishing, I would only find a few hellgrammites but many other insect larvae under rocks and pebbles. The others were gray, small, and virtually harmless compared to the immature Mr. Dobson. In the spring, I would uncover many a small crayfish or crawdad which as bait would also add to my fishing larder. Nothing, however, compared to the success rate of using a hellgrammite.

A southern Indiana stream – home to bass and hellgrammite. Dobsonfly larvae in ripples – bass in pools at top.
Baby crayfish or crawdad – an excellent alternative bait for bass.

One last look at the hellgrammite.

“Go ahead – pick me up! I dare you!”

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