- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003


That couldn’t have been a wild turkey nibbling squashed insects from the bumper and grille of my pickup truck, could it? And what about a snapping turtle blocking the way on a field road that led to a farm pond where nearly every cast with a lightweight flyrod resulted in a vicious strike from fat bluegills? Was I dreaming?

I wasn’t.

It began during a recent western Maryland visit, driving along Route 220 toward the West Virginia border, when I noticed the sign. “Dan’s Mountain Wildlife Management Area” it said. It instantly evoked memories of a boy in his late teens and early 20s (me) and an older brother who hunted deer on Dan’s Mountain in sometimes nasty winter weather.

We slept in a Volkswagen camper, cooked potatoes and eggs, usually waiting in vain for the deer that back in the late 1950s and early 1960s numbered far fewer than now. Many a season went by on that mountain when we had to forego the onion-smothered, fried tenderloins that we’d hoped for. All the same, we always had a wonderful time.

So I decided to take the narrow, steep road into the wildlife area to reminisce. When I reached a locked gate and a small parking area, I slipped the truck onto a grassy spot and sat there thinking of my brother who died two years ago and how I would have loved having him with me.

In the late morning quiet, with eyes nearly shut, I suddenly heard a distinct tapping noise against my truck. I quietly opened the door and peeked around the side. There in full view was a young tom turkey and a hen pecking away at the dried, smashed carcasses of insects that had collected on the grille and front bumper of the vehicle.

I even was able to shoot a quick photo of the two before they ran. No, I had not been imbibing even though later on some of my friends suggested that I’d gotten into the bottled variety of Wild Turkey. One of my pals suggested that what I saw might have been a pair of domestic turkeys. But how likely is that in the highlands of Allegany County with nary a farm in sight?

On the return trip toward Cumberland and a stop at Brent Nelson’s cottage, the two of us drove to one of Nelson’s family properties that had a beautiful pond. Along the field road a fairly large snapping turtle blocked the way. Brent picked it up by its tail, the turtle fussing and fuming, fully capable of snapping a broom handle in half had it been allowed to fight on its terms. We discussed whether to turn the turtle into delicious pan-fried chunks, or a thick, meaty soup, but decided against it because the “Bobcat” was on his way to join us for some heavy-duty bluegill flyrodding and daylight was slowly diminishing.

The “Bobcat” is Mike Sawyers, the fine outdoors reporter and columnist for the Cumberland Times-News. The nickname was bestowed upon him by his hunt club partners after he reported seeing bobcats every time he went deer and turkey hunting some years ago.

“I’ve never seen any,” said his friend, Nelson, with a chuckle and a wink of the eye.

Sawyers soon joined me in unraveling several flyrods. He put a size 10 sinking fly to the end of his leader line while I chose a floating flyrod popper, a tiny chartreuse thing with rubber legs poking out from both sides.

It didn’t matter who used what — the bluegills attacked both offerings with equal fervor. However, Sawyers’ fly seemed to attract the fattest of the sunfish.

Nelson looked on, occasionally trying to drown a plastic worm, hooking some small bass, laughing and telling stories of the two men hunting together over the years. It was fun to watch old friends interacting, joking and laughing.

Talk about a tonic for the soul, a day in the mountains will do it for you.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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