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Bill May: Campfire tales with the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Joe Bruce demonstrates his shoreline carp fishing setup at Blair Valley WMA Lake.
Joe Bruce demonstrates his shoreline carp fishing setup at Blair Valley WMA Lake. (photo courtesy of Bill May)

Last weekend was the first major outing of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

With the assistance of Hagerstown tourism officials and merchants, Executive Director Joe Byers organized the “Writers’ Rendezvous” weekend for two dozen members and guests at the 1100-acre Polecat Hollow Hunt Club north of Hagerstown.

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The MDOWA was founded in 1957 as a non-profit professional organization dedicated to improving member knowledge of effective communications in all fields of outdoors media to promote the wise use of our natural resources.

The program began with a lunch Friday at the club and then the group travelled to the lake at nearby Blair Valley Wildlife Management Area (WMA). It was there that Joe Bruce demonstrated techniques and equipment for carp fishing from the shore and from a kayak. Dan Neuland brought three types of kayaks and a rowable float tube for members to try and assess. This was followed by a presentation by Maryland DNR wildlife biologist, Donald Rohrback, on the 27-site WMA system throughout Maryland and particular features of the Blair Valley site.

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The 31-acre lake here is stocked with trout in the spring and fall and holds other species, and the 10-square mile WMA supports abundant wildlife including deer, bear, coyotes, wildcats and turkeys. (Our two members who fished the lake had success with bass and bluegills and observed some double-digit carp.)

The evening program included a steak dinner, beer tasting with Ed Brachley of Antietam Brewery, presentations by John Mullican of the Maryland DNR and A. J. Metcalf of Chesapeake Bay Foundation and “catching up by the campfire.”

Saturday’s day program included fishing at several sites, demonstrations of a food plot for wildlife, tree planting, a review of blinds and stands for deer hunting and a Chesapeake Bay tributary hike and assessment led by A.J. Metcalf. The evening program began with a steamed shrimp and fried chicken feast, an annual awards program and concluded with a raffle of outdoor equipment.

We wrapped up Sunday morning with a MDOWA Board Meeting and election of officers.

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Tyler Frantz tests a kayak by fishing at Blair Valley WMA Lake.
Tyler Frantz tests a kayak by fishing at Blair Valley WMA Lake. (photo courtesy of Bill May)

Campfire Tales

It was good to renew old friendships, welcome new members and share stories around evening campfires. Here are some of my favorites, all involving animals:

Smart Carp – I told the story (mentioned in this column before) of the Prettyboy carp. As I was standing at the launch ramp waiting for my buddy to arrive with the boat I could observe carp cruising a nearby shoreline with overhanging trees and feeding on cicadas as they dropped into the water. Then there was a lull in the cicada activity and subsequently the carp feeding.

A single carp swam up to a slim, bare branch hanging into the water, grabbed it and shook it. Cicadas rained down into the water, and a feeding frenzy ensued.

Smart geese – Fisherman and writer, Joe Bruce, reported a similar incident with geese at Liberty Reservoir this year. A parent goose led gosling over to a bush laden with cicadas, grabbed and shook the bush resulting in parent geese and gosling feasting on the dislodged bugs.

Smart stripers – Years ago retired guide, Dan Harrison, observed striped bass in the clear, stump-filled waters off Crisfield bumping stumps with their heads to drive out lurking bait and then pouncing on it. This same behavior has been reported at Liberty Reservoir as stripers flush crappie from stumps.

“Bambi” wasn’t a documentary – Despite the movie and their gentle appearance, deer are wild animals and can be aggressive. Hunter and videographer, Brian Kightlinger, related getting a call from a friend who owned a trophy deer farm to come help him with an ornery deer that was harassing other deer. When Brian and the owner drove an ATV to scout, the problem deer immediately attacked and kept raking their vehicle with its antlers. This went on for about five minutes until the deer was lured away with food, and Brian could dispatch it with a handgun.

The farm owner also told Brian of a spike buck that impaled and killed two much larger deer.

Clever Fox 1 – Outdoor writer, Harry Guyer related this story. He was deer hunting from a blind and things were slow, so he got out his turkey call and, just for fun, made a few “clucks.” He quickly got a few “clucks” in response. But what emerged from the shrubbery wasn’t a turkey, but a fox. Harry could clearly see its throat muscle working as the fox made the sounds.

Harry said he never mentioned this story for years, since he thought no one would believe it, until he heard a lecturer at a turkey hunting seminar relate the same behavior. Harry added his “Amen.”

Clever Fox 2 – Frederick columnist, Dan Neuland, related this story, admitting he got it second hand. A man still hunting near a pond observed a fox pick up a stick and wade into the water up to its snout. Then it held the stick overhead while fleas fled the fox’s coat and climbed up the stick. When satisfied the fox dropped the stick waded ashore.

So animals don’t use tools?

I believe most of the above stories. As for the last tale, as I sometimes say, “I always tell the truth most of the time.”

MDOWA is open to new, qualified members. Visit MDOWA.org to learn more and get an application. Hagerstown and Washington County are also well worth sampling.

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