Thursday, 12 January 2017

My otter friends are back

My otters are back and it is not a good time to be an overwintering rainbow trout in the lake here at Nether Wallop Mill.

Usually from November to March they have a blessed life. No pesky anglers turning the water to foam. No strange coloured, sharp things interrupting the daily routine. Just the fast, clear waters of winter, with enough nymphs to snack on during daylight hours, plus a shadow that arrives twice daily dispensing tasty pellet treats.

But come nightfall chaos reigns. If I don't first hear the otters I will hear the fish. Glooping swirls as they twist beneath the surface to escape hungry jaws. Desperate splashes as they leap from the water. They retreat to the darkest, deepest sections of the lake for safety. The morning after the night before is always evident to me; it takes a brave trout to abandon his hidey hole even when tempted by the lure of pellets. For a while the food will lie untouched on the surface instead of the usual instantaneous feeding frenzy. But eventually hunger gets the better of the night time survivors as they poke their noses over the parapet in dribs and drabs.

Despite the carnage, it is good to have the otters back. They don't appear every night, I'd say two out of three nights, arriving with a chorus of highly voluble 'eeks' soon after dark. You don't need a still, windless night to hear they have arrived. At this time of year I'll be able to hear the calls over the sound of the early evening news as they keep tabs on each other.

This time around I am fairly sure the family is the mother and two cubs; two years ago it was mother plus four, though one pup died early on. They are, I guess, around 3-4 months old so still firmly hanging on to the apron strings. Otter pups, especially the females, will stay with the mother until they are 12 months old. They need to be taught how to hunt, a laborious process, and should the mother die before they reach that first anniversary the pups will, in all likelihood, die of starvation. Such is the scale of maternal dependence that infant otters even have to be taught to swim. In case you are wondering where the father is, don't. His contribution began and ended at the conception.

So, as the countdown to a new season continues, I suspect I am losing five good trout a week though the attrition rate will increase as the pups grow bigger. At that rate I estimate we will have around thirty fish left in the lake, which will be close to being the fittest, most wily and turbo-charged rainbows on the planet.

And do I mind the attrition? Well, I used to but I don't any longer. There is something magical about otters, for so long extinct from this part of the world. The other night the mother left one of the pups on the island for most of the night as she patrolled her territory. Every so often the pup let out a tentative eek that echoed across the dark, a sort I'm-here-don't-forget-me call. For hours it went unanswered until a distant reply came, the chattering increasing exponentially as the distance between the two narrowed until combined they splashed down the lake and off to find a holt ahead of the upcoming dawn.


I don't know about you but I always think of insects as very local, barely straying more than a few hundred yards between the place of birth and death. But apparently not.

Painted Lady butterly - one of our 'immigrants'
A recent study from Exeter University makes this view look very parochial. Apparently somewhere up there in the skies above us a staggering 3.5 trillion insects are arriving to the United Kingdom on a northwards migration as summer approaches, returning southwards before autumn takes a hold. It is truly a massive number, 3,500,000,000,000 in good old longhand, making the migration of songbirds at 30 million pale into insignificance. 

The data, built up over ten years, measured insects flying in at heights from a few hundred to thousands of feet in the air, where they sometimes reach speeds of 30-45mph, presumably carried on winds or thermals. The recordings don't tell us the origin of the insects but we do know that they arrived (and departed) over either the North Sea or the English Channel.

Who were these intrepid invertebrate travellers? Well, it wasn't just confined to larger and apparently hardier species such as butterflies, ladybeetles or moths. The vast majority of the insects were tiny creatures like cereal crop aphids, flies and midges.

What is actually quite fascinating is how they find their way here. At first glance you'd think it is a random get-yourself-up-in-the-air and hope for the best, but that is no way for any species to survive thousands of years of evolution. No, believe it or not, the medium and larger insects do have a compass mechanism that allow them to take flight, assess the wind direction before catching the breeze or returning to ground to await more favourable conditions.

I'm going to show our insect pals just a little more respect from now on.


This is not the best video clip in the world (note to self: buy iPhone 8 with enhanced zoom) but it gives you some idea of the spawning activity currently happening on the headwaters of the Test.

I've seen this fish for a few days. He lies inert over the redd for long minutes at a time before, as if electrified, flipping on his flank to power down as if attacking the gravel indentation before returning to rest.

Hope a mate arrives soon!

No theme this time around, just three random teasers. It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page
1)    What would you be scared of if you suffered from paraskevidekatriaphobia?

2)    How heavy is a fully grown male otter?

3)    How many eggs would a 1lb brown trout lay?  200, 800, 1600, or 2,400


Diane keeps a low profile
It is strange how marketing has changed with the advances of technology. When I first started Fishing Breaks the new brochure was the marketing 'event' of the year, firing the starting gun for bookings.

Months of preparation and creative energy went into each annual edition. The office would be piled high with boxes and mailing labels, the drudgery of stuffing envelopes sparking many a weird conversation into the late hours. Then there was the heated discussion as to posting date and the optimum day for it to drop through your letter box.

Today it is all very different. Yes, we do produce a brochure but it is not the critical thing it once was and we don't do a mass mailing. However, it is sometimes helpful to have something in your hand as a point of reference so if you would like a copy of the 2017 Edition please ping me an email confirming your address.

Enjoy the snow!

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Friday 13th   2) 22-26lbs so just a little less that a female Cocker Spaniel.  3) 800

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