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...