The annual Mason Dixon Outdoor Writers Association (M-DOWA) conference
held last fall in Thurmont ended on a cool, drizzly day. To the west, mist shrouded the Catoctin Mountains, and the warm sun of the previous day seemed a long way away.
At the Awards Banquet, Frank Smoot, renowned wildlife artist, conservationist, and M-DOWA's unofficial beloved curmudgeon, asked me if I had time to visit his pool with him on nearby Big Hunting Creek before we all separated for another year. "Absolutely, Frank," I answered. "I'd be honored."
His car packed and ready to go, Smoot, who is 93 years old and drives better than most folks half his age, strolled over and said to follow him; we'd be making three brief stops.
The first one was at a sculpture just up the road near where Big Hunting Creek entered Thurmont. The statue of man, boy, and trout honors the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock (BOJC), a service organization founded in 1940 to pass a love of fly fishing and the outdoors to youth. Smiling proudly, Smoot showed me his name on the bronze plaque listing the past presidents of the BOJC.
We continued our journey into the Catoctin until Route 77 paralleled the creek. We stopped again, this time at the Joe Brooks Memorial, a tasteful brick and bronze monument to this fine fly-fishing gentleman. The Brooks pool was nearby and I could see through the light rain and haze that it was really fishy-looking. Smoot and the legendary Brooks were friends, Brooks a founder of the Brotherhood and Smoot a charter member and constant supporter.
Just down the road, we made stop No. 3, Smoot's pool. In 1991, Smoot was honored by the Brotherhood and the Friends of Big Hunting Creek, a coalition of environmentalists and outdoors folks, for his untiring efforts to save the creek from the destruction of uncaring people. We stood at the creek's edge, Smoot holding on to my arm as the footing became more tenuous in the rain, and looked into the shadows to the far bank where a large boulder rested. On it was neatly carved "Frank Burt Smoot."
Smoot spoke of the creek in reverent tones, remembering those people, past and present, who helped make the stream a better place. He said he was getting on a bit and probably wouldn't fish his pool again, but hoped that I would visit it occasionally and think of him. As he straightened his thick glasses, I looked at his wrinkled face; his alert, dancing eyes reflected fond memories and an indomitable spirit. It is fitting that his efforts to protect Big Hunting Creek have been memorialized, and the rock is a perfect testimonial. It is something to appreciate, and reflects much to emulate.
* * *
I wrote the above in late 1999. Smoot’s mind was fine -- full of wit, mirth and concern for the environment -- but his shaking hands brought his days with pencil, crayon or brush to an end, at least from a commercial art perspective. His fishing days became limited too, but Smoot joked that his shaking hands helped his nymph fishing because they imparted a seductive action to sunken flies as they bounced along the bottom of a trout stream. He always made people laugh, often by poking fun at himself. Some years later, Smoot lost a leg to disease, but he persevered.
Lefty Kreh, a founding member of M-DOWA, still an active participant, tells me he spoke with Smoot after the amputation, and Smoot told Kreh to be on the lookout for someone who wanted to buy one hip boot! That was quintessential Smoot.
I remember the first M-DOWA meeting when I met Smoot. It was at Harrison’s Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island some 10 years or so ago. A guest speaker from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was discussing urban whitetail deer problems and possible controlled hunts to thin the burgeoning population. The speaker expressed concerns about residents, hunters, animal rights groups, and other issues related to deer management, and seemed not to know which way to turn. As the speaker seemed to waffle a bit on the issue, Smoot raised his hand and said:
"A man on a journey was riding his donkey when he came upon a group of people. They chastised him, a rather large man, for riding the poor, little overburdened donkey so he dismounted and walked the animal leading it with the rope. Another group of people down the road harangued the man for walking the legs off of the poor creature, so the man picked up the donkey and carried it on his back. Alas, while crossing a bridge over a raging stream the man slipped, lost his balance and the poor donkey fell into the water and drowned. The moral of the story is, if you try to be all things to all people, you’re going to lose your ass!"
After the raucous laughter died down, the chastised speaker thanked Smoot for his thoughtful insight.
Frank Burt Smoot -- renowned fishing artist, fly angler, writer, conservationist, teacher, humorist and friend -- passed away a few weeks ago at 99. And heaven is a better, funnier and more artistic place for it.
King Montgomery, our fishing editor, is the president of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association—www.mdowa.org.
Issue 1.17: August 17, 2006