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Two friends see a bear swimming while fishing at Liberty Reservoir.

Fishermen who cast their lines in Liberty Reservoir got a little more than they bargained for when they spotted a black bear swimming in the water Sunday morning.

Friends Mike Gates and Benjamin Orlando were fishing on Gates’ boat about three-quarters of a mile south of the Md. 32 bridge when they saw the bear just before 10 a.m., according to Gates.

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“We heard a whistle and we turned around and there’s another boater and he had pointed ... we turned around and saw the bear," said Gates, 51 . “I’ve been fishing Liberty Reservoir my whole life and it’s the first bear I’ve ever seen.”

Gates lives in his childhood home in Eldersburg, not far from the water, and has been fishing there for nearly 50 years, with Orlando, of Fells Point, joining him the last few years. Orlando said they fish three or four times a month, year-round. They’ve caught plenty of fish and even had a red-tailed hawk snarled in a line, but Gates said they never expected to see a bear in the familiar water.

Baltimore Environmental Police Chief Luke Brackett, who noted a black bear sighting at Prettyboy Reservoir in Baltimore County last week near the Carroll County line, said “it’s unusual but, not unheard of” to see black bears in Carroll County.

“That does happen when you have a lot of development adjacent to protected forest,” Brackett said Monday.

Posted by Benjamin Orlando on Sunday, October 13, 2019

Gates said he and Orlando powered the boat a little closer to the bear get a look, keeping a distance of about 100 yards.

“We looked at it and said, oh my gosh, that’s a bear,” Orlando said.

Orlando captured the sighting on video and shared it on Facebook in the Liberty Reservoir fishing group. He said it was the first bear he’s seen in the wild.

Benjamin Orlando, of Fells Point, caught a few fish and saw a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday.
Benjamin Orlando, of Fells Point, caught a few fish and saw a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday. (Benjamin Orlando)

Seemingly uninterested in the boaters, the bear swam past them and ambled up the bank into the woods, the video shows.

“As soon as he saw us he started to change the direction that he swam,” Orlando said.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), black bears are more likely to be found in the western part of the state. There are breeding populations in the counties of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Frederick, according to DNR’s website.

Black bears aren’t interested in eating people, but they do like food people discard, according to Brackett. He said people can liken black bears to raccoons in that they want to get into trash cans and find food as easily as possible. In an area like Eldersburg, where developments border woodland, black bears may be more common, Brackett said. Trash cans should be secure and food should not be kept outside, he said.

If someone does spot a black bear, Brackett recommends staying away.

“If they’re not startled they’ll typically disappear,” he said. “If you do see one, keep your distance.”

Mike Gates of Eldersburg caught a few fish and spotted a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday.
Mike Gates of Eldersburg caught a few fish and spotted a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday. (Benjamin Orlando)

Those who enjoy hiking would do well to make noise as they travel, Brackett said. If a black bear hears someone coming, they’ll likely keep away, he said. In the rare instance a person comes face to face with a black bear, he recommends the person stay still then slowly back up so as not to be perceived as a threat. Any time someone sees a black bear that isn’t an immediate threat, Brackett advises the person call the Baltimore Environmental Police’s 24-hour, non-emergency line at 410-517-3600, or 911 for emergencies.

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Brackett said it’s helpful for the environmental police to know where black bears are so they can keep track of their habitats and work to reduce the likelihood of humans encountering bears in the wild.

“Don’t interfere with what they’re doing and you will be OK,” Brackett said. Other tips for mitigating interaction with black bears are available online at DNR’s website under “Living with Black Bears.”

After Orlando and Gates watched their bear walk away, they sat and talked for a while then continued fishing. They caught a few largemouth bass, Orlando said. Gates says he’ll be back.

“I’ll be out there again Friday," he said, “with my GoPro on.”

Fishermen spotted a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday morning.
Fishermen spotted a black bear at Liberty Reservoir Sunday morning.
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