Friday, 19 October 2012

Am I ready to believe?

I have been and somehow still do, find myself sitting atop a fence. The whole contentious and controversial issue of the reintroduction of otters in the UK is something I have be torn over since it became a regular front page issue in the angling press.

On one hand as an angler I see how the smallest environmental change can effect a water and let's face it, we are not talking about a small change here. We are talking about the the sudden reintroduction of an apex predator, which has to have a dramatic effect somewhere along the line and most likely that effect will be less fish.

On the other hand as a rational nature lover I believe that this species was once natural to the whole of the UK therefore has the same rights as any species to be protected and rightfully they would still have been present if it weren't that in the bad old days the otter was persecuted to near extinction by humans.

Up until now and even with all the time I spend around water, I don't think I have really seen any first hand evidence that otters are actually make a huge amount of difference. I mean we have all see the horror pictures and videos used as ammunition by the media, where some huge fish lies half eaten on a bank. As horrific as these images are, I have to point out that the pages that inevitably follow are generally stuffed full  of anglers holding prize catches. The ratio of otter kills to catch pictures alone is a contradiction to the supposed wholesale slaughter going on, and along with my first hand experience, I find myself as yet undecided on where my allegiances lie on the matter.

Until this weekend just past that is... I have been fishing a section of the upper Avon for a few months which has in the past held a good reputation for angling. At this point I must say I was warned about this bit of water by at least two of my friends who said in no uncertain terms that the fishing had declined. But after a few months of poking around this section of river I can't deny that something has felt amiss. Even with days spent peering into the crystal clear waters not one single barbel has been spotted, and although I have seen some healthy stocks chub present they are without doubt very nervous.

Then on my Sunday morning session I ventured down to the river to find myself the only angler on the entire stretch. My monopoly of this bit of river was largely due to its still slightly flooded nature. Being in a very low lying area I had to wade a good amount of the path through knee deep water on a freezing morning. The effort though was worth it as the river looked perfect.
I baited a few spots on the way up stream with freebies, and headed right to the top of the stretch. The minnows and dace were murderous hungry, battering every bait that went in instantly  A golf ball size pinch of bread lasted little longer than a few minutes. So I turned to worms hoping to tempt a perch or hungry chub into action. Small perch did oblige, but nothing bigger showed. I worked my way down river peg by peg investigating all possible hidey holes in turn. Then as I approached a swim something moved quickly out of the reeds at the front of the swim. Not thinking anything of it I carried on but this area to seemed lifeless. Not even the minnows bothered my baits here.

My next move saw me heading to a swim renowned for chub and one which I had baited with three liberal handfuls of mashed bread as I passed it earlier. Coming through the bushes I could see something was making a fuss from the ripples all over the river, but when I saw what made them I was gob smacked.
Two otters were playing around in the centre of the river squeaking and splashing having the time of their lives. Crouching on the path I watched them disappear downstream. Then leaving my tackle, I nipped back through the undergrowth to track where they went.What I found down stream was even more shocking. I couldn't see the two playing otters, but directly opposite me on the bank was another different otter eating what looked like a chub.

This was amazing I have before now only had two other otter sightings and both were fleeting glances either in the dark or out the corner of my eye. And here I was face to face with one in the middle of the day. I had to get a shot  of it, so went back for my camera only to find on my return that the whole family had melted away, probably due to my disturbance.

Now although I won't blame this encounter for my lack on fish on this occasion, I will say that this is exactly  the reason I have been given by some very experienced anglers why they have not renewed memberships for this water. Not only that but given the amount of time I have been grubbing around on this bit of river, there does seem to be a general lacking in stocks and what fish are around are as I previously said very nervous. I now find myself wondering awful things for this stretch  Amongst which, is it worth me spending any of my valuable time fishing this bit of the Avon.

The thing is, I could live with it if otters had always been present, or if they had found their way back naturally, but I know for a fact that in this very area in question otters are being released, which I suppose was always going to happen. But as per normal the concern for what is warm and cuddly takes precedence over what is cold and slimy every time, and as is normal, the people responsible are so wrapped up in reintroducing one species that they are not concerned with any others which may be affected.

Now I seem to be seeing with my own eyes what I think I am seeing, do I now find myself ready to believe or will it take more evidence still...


  1. Dan.

    At the time when Otters were on the river in numbers, so were our coarse fish. As a kid in the 50/60 you could catch big bags of roach and dace. Today sadly they are in short supply.
    I'm not for putting otters back myself, but on occasion we see one on our river,and it's magic. Thanks for the post.

  2. I'm afraid that what you experienced will come to a great many rivers that we currently enjoy. The demise of the section you mention was predicted by myself when Keith put a photo of two chub he had caught and both showed tail damage typical of otters - the rest as they say is history [so are the barbel and soon all the chub] then the otters will move on to pastures fresh and green to decimate there as well.
    Loverly creatures but there is no place for them in this different world where good intentioned people put them back in numbers that cannot be sustained. I'm glad I lived through the best of times since as sure as God made little apples we are going into the worse of times.

  3. Dan have a look on the clubs website (the farm machinery one)and look on the forum . Post dated 16th october 2012. Photo of a mangled chub with its abdomen eaten the left .

    Also on there its says 8 otters were introduced by the nature reserve that borders the river there !!!!! they are protecting the otters and have that big pool/reserve by the river for them .

    I wont be renewing my membership as the place you fish with the bridge is a better option in my humble .Phil and Keith are right and the evidence is there to see.....

    Good luck on the wye

    Bazal (piss head) Peck ;-)

  4. Out of your system now, Dan, but I've a strange feeling things are going to get a whole lot better!

    Around the 30th would be good what with that 'costume' n'all...

  5. This turned into more of a post than a comment for which I apologise in advance!...

    Otters have not been re-introduced to Warwickshire. They are an indigenous species all but wiped-out by human activity in the 1950’s to 1970’s and re-colonising large areas of the country through their own success after our watercourses were cleaned-up, habitat was restored & fish then returned, and with some ongoing support from Biodiversity Action Planning

    Although I haven’t yet been lucky enough to see one in England I know that they are now regularly spotted at Brandon Marsh, which, I assume, is the nature reserve referred to here as it adjoins the Avon at Ryton/Wolston, as well as other locations in Warks

    As with all these things, even illegal alien introductions such as mink, they reach a natural level over time, as we saw after sparrowhawks appeared to suddenly increase in number when they were initially resurgent after certain pesticides were banned, etc., and they have now fallen back to a natural level

    For my part I would be absolutely thrilled to see otters regularly as part of a balanced ecology but it will take time. It has taken forty years for them to recover to their current status and it will take many years yet. So we can expect fish numbers to suffer until such time as a new balance is reached and we’ll have to live with that

    I haven’t seen a mink for some time now whereas they used to be ‘ten a penny’ on venues I fished in the 1970’s and 80’s, so there may even be hope that one day we could see water voles back widely in Warwickshire (but they may well need some reintroductions to succeed and if they do then so be it, they shouldn’t have been lost in the first place...along with native crayfish)

    It’s a complex argument of course but the fact is if there weren’t enough fish otters wouldn’t have returned nor continued to survive, individuals have extensive ranges and in the fullness of time we would surely all hope that we could fish in as fully an ecologically reinstated countryside as possible with grebes, kingfishers, herons, bitterns, cormorants, ospreys, otters, pike, perch, etc., all playing their part in a balanced food web as they used to. Fishermen may have to rethink their habits, as we always are with fluctuations in fish/species populations in our natural watercourses and long-established quasi-natural canals, ponds and lakes, we just have to adjust with it and appreciate the change.

    I’ve heard some of us enjoy catching zander. In my lifetime frankly I have considered their presence an outrage but they are there now and I have come to accept that. I will accept it more when they have reached a balance everywhere but this too will take time. When were they first introduced, was it 1963?, and it hasn’t happened yet

  6. Dan,
    The stretch you talk of is well known to me. The door has swung 180 degrees over the past 5 years it seems, the Barbel were there and the silver fish were in decline some years ago, strangely enough now this season small silvers are being reported and the Barbel have gone into invisible mode. The above comment regarding Otters not being re-introduced I belieeve is off the mark, take an hour of your time and visit the Brandon wetlands visitors centre, it has been widely publicised that they have recently introduced 8 pairs of Otters into the marsh, also making sure that there are 2 'passes' installed directly into the river for access.....
    Going back to the Barbel, I havent caught one since 2010, now the amount of anglers fishing for them has declined since that date but the swims that used to hold them and swims that I have caught them from previously now seem barren, maybe the odd Chevin at home but no Barbel. I was slowly building up my knowledge of the Barbel in the river since I first fished it in 2008 but without finding any fish what do I have to build on~:? As Phil stated above we are approaching the bootom of a huge dip regarding Barbel in small rivers as they have nowhere to go when under pressure from furry predators, they can I my mind survive together in some rivers (Wye & Severn I have witnessed without any dip in numbers) but not in small rivers such as the Upper Avon.
    Do we do enough as anglers or are we just getting good at having a good old moan about not closing the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.......