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The Great Survival Race

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And in the blue corner... And in the blue corner...

For Simon Cooper the great survival race is on - in the red corner, 70 to 100 trout and in the blue corner, otters.







Here at Nether Wallop Mill the teaching lake is stuffed with fish April to October; you could almost walk across the lake on their backs there are so many. They are mostly rainbows but there are a few blues, plus some browns that sneak in from the river for an easy life.  Each morning now the season is over I feed them with a scoop of fish pellets and the moment they see my shadow, with Pavlovian response, they leap and pivot. In early November the lake positively boiled; today the feed recipients are fewer, the response muted, and every few days I see the reason - fish corpses.

Otters are ever-present in the Wallops valley, but it is only when winter starts to bite that the lake becomes a living larder. They don't visit every night; I'd say maybe one in every three.  In the darkness I can hear them, sometimes two, other times three, as they hunt. It is a noisy process, not least because they announce their arrival with high pitched ‘chirrups’ between themselves. It is almost as if they are genuinely excited to be here. I suspect they have good reason for that.

Stealth does not appear to be essential to the otter hunting lexicon. They flop into the water with a resounding splash.   Once in the lake they swim with practised ease. If I shine a torch it is simple to track their progress back and forth across the surface as the eyes shine back at me and I’m just about able to make out the flat, domed head. At first sight of the beam of light they will turn their head in my direction. No panic, just idle curiosity and thenceforth they go about the business of fish hunting, regardless of me.

By this point I shudder to think what panic is occurring in the trout community. The otters dive and surface with increasing rapidity. Otters are naturally buoyant so they put huge effort into diving, arching their backs and half leaping out of the water before plunging beneath. It is clearly a fairly hit or miss affair, with more misses than hits until each comes up with a fish clamped in their jaws. They eat with unrestrained savagery. On a still night you can hear the tearing of flesh from fifty yards. The head and the top half of the body is the favoured feast, eating out the innards to leave the skin, back end and tail like a discarded sock.

This morning the count was two dead on the bank, which brings us up to about ten in the past week. By Christmas the population will have halved with the end game sometime in February. In this particular survival race my money is on the otters…


Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to bring you Simon’s feature, which was first published in his ‘Fishing Breaks’ Newsletter.

Simon’s company, Fishing Breaks, based in the heart of the River Test Valley, offers some of the finest chalk stream fly fishing available in the UK – and a whole lot more. Check out their website HERE

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otters, Simon Cooper

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