I dragged myself out of bed at 0530, wolfed down a quick breakfast while the kettle boiled, filled the flask and went off to the lake. I arrived to find I had the place to myself so dropped into my first choice swim and had two rods out by 0600. A helicopter rig was cast to the reedbed and landed right on the second attempt. This was topped up with 20 or so freebies scattered over the area. The nesting Grebe was a bit miffed by the disturbance but tried to ignore me. My second rod was a chod rig and a longer, more difficult cast which I managed to land spot on first time. This area was well out of range of the catapult but I was happy to leave it like this, just a single hookbait on its own. Experience has taught me that fish often feed along this bank in the early morning period, hopefully one would find my bait.
It was a cool morning with a clear sky and a flat calm lake, the scene before me was familiar yet still beautiful. The hedgerows are full of blossom and trees are showing the first green leaves. In the swampy areas Marsh Marigold is pushing through with its yellow flowers in places, all around me the first signs of spring are a good two weeks earlier than the horrible cold season we had last year. The lake looked good too, the calm surface had frothy patches of burst bubbles where fish had been grubbing around overnight, hopefully they would still be around?
I like to travel light when fishing and sit still and quiet so the wildlife often comes close, the Grass Snake from last time being a prime example. This morning’s visitor was not as welcome. I know I should feel privileged to see an Otter at close quarters but the novelty has worn off. This one swam towards me without a care in the world, it didn’t know I was there until I deliberately moved to scare it off. Seconds later there was a commotion by the Grebes nest, the bird was squawking madly and flapped away from the nest in obvious distress. I stood up knowing what I would see, sure enough the Otter was swimming away from the nest with something in its mouth. I’m not sure whether it was an egg or a chick but it was pale in colour and there will be one less Grebe on the water this year. Actually I doubt I’ll see any young Grebes at all here this spring.
Half an hour after starting a good sized Carp leapt twice in the open water in front of me so I quickly rigged another chod up and dropped it on the spot first time. Once again this spot was out of catapult range but I wasn’t bothered by this at all. I’ve learnt that fish can find a single hookbait and I’m confident fishing this way, maybe because so many others don’t?
The morning wore on and by 0800 a breeze had sprung up. A few bubble patches had risen up and I’d seen a Tench roll off the snags but no sound from the indicators, the signs were still good. I fished on for another hour but the fishy activity decreased. I’d begun the morning with optimism but by the time this short session had finished I’d had a reminder that this is a difficult water, the residents make the angler work hard for any success. I must stick to the plan and keep trying!!
So Otters… What can I say that I haven’t said already? Very little. There was a thread on the ‘Pikers pit’ forum recently (see link on the right) which questioned anglers experiences of Otters in Scotland and Ireland where populations have remained constant over the last fifty years or so. It seems that in these areas Otter sightings are rare and there is no great problem, nature has found a balance. In southern England where Otters were virtually extinct we now have an unexplainable growth in numbers. We are told that no Otters have been bred for release in the wild since 1999 yet how do we explain the numbers of them around now if man has not intervened? The source for this data is Natural England/English Nature (there was a name change and I can’t remember which one is current), an organisation that I am suspicious of at the best of times. With the evidence presented it seems there must have been more Otters bred and released in the past fifteen years, I can think of no other explanation. Either Natural England/English Nature are lying or Otters are being reared and released without their knowledge.
In my neck of the woods I’m sure there were Otters present in the mid-nineties but they remained elusive, the evidence was there without actual sightings to back it up. Now I know the signs I can recall experiences back then that I could not explain at the time. I once had a deadbait picked up with line ripped from the spool. By the time I wound down my line had gone through a tree, above the water and my tackle was on the bank! I suppose it could have been a diving bird but moving at that speed? I seriously doubt it. Otter numbers have boomed over the last five years and there has been a dramatic change in the freshwater ecology. This is obvious because we have an apex predator at large that is protected by law and itself has no natural predator. A decade ago we had excellent Tench fishing in the Gipping valley and almost all the stillwaters held Pike of over twenty pounds in weight. Nowadays big Pike are rare as rocking horse shit in this part of Suffolk and anyone who reads this blog will know how scarce Tench have become. I’m not that bad at catching them honest!
In 1980 Chris Yates caught the first ever British fifty pound plus Carp and this began an era when all the records for major freshwater species climbed substantially. By 2005 the Carp record had risen to over 60lbs. In the 30 years since Yates’ fish the record for Tench went from around ten pound to over fifteen, Barbel from 13+ pounds to over twenty, Bream from 13+ to nearly twenty pounds. These big fish are not just ‘one offs’ either. Fifty pound Carp, double figure Tench, Fifteen plus Bream and Barbel are all reported regularly in the angling press, from a variety of waters too. In 1980 there had been only one fully authenticated Pike of over forty pounds but in the quarter of a century that followed there were over twenty.
Is it a coincidence that this period of rising records was a time when Otter numbers were very low? Does the “success” of the Otter in recent years mean the end of a golden period of specialist angling in the UK?