My friend Brett Prettyman, outdoor writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, posted a blog today about the fervor over otter reintroduction on the Provo River--one of the West's best trout fisheries (my humble apologies to Brett for not even giving Utah a nod when it comes to the real Top 10 places to cast a fly in a recent blog--the Middle Provo belongs on that list, as does the Green).
Otters eat fish, so it's not surprising that a vocal minority in Utah are threatening deadly action against the native critter, even though the fish they'll be dining on are actually non-native. What the foam-at-the-mouth crowd is missing is that introducing otters to the Middle Provo will likely improve the overall habitat for trout, native or otherwise.
Otters will take a bit out of trout numbers. Literally. But, like any predator, they're opportunistic. They'll feed on the fish they're able to catch, and weed out the weakest and sick. By trimming the numbers of fish from the river (something the catch-and-release ethic has made almost non-existant--and, largely, that's a good thing), otters will improve fish growth rates, meaning those who fish the Provo will likely see bigger fish... and more bigger fish.
And let's a bit wholistic about this. Anything we as humans can do to make the ecoystems we fish less ... um ... human, is probably worth doing. Yesterday, for instance, I visited my favorite fall fishing haunt on the South Fork of the Snake, where I knew I'd see lots of rising fish and that I'd probably hook into at least one trophy cutthroat or brown trout while I was there. Predictably, the fishing was excellent--nice trout on top virtually all day long. It was amazing.
The highlight of the trip, though, wasn't the fishing. In early afternoon, as I was casting to a pod of working trout, I heard a noisy splash behind me. I turned around only to see a massive bull moose stepping into the river. I was downwind of the big animal, so it didn't know I was in the water, a scant 20 yards away, until it stepped out of the willows and into the river.
The moose stopped and toook a good look at me. I turned, and kept my eyes on him, just to be certain he wouldn't do something unpredictable. Apparently, deciding I was no threat, he slowly worked his way across the river channel and up to the opposite bank. I watched his antlers disappear into the fall foliage.
I can imagine that seeing a rare northern river otter while casting to a pod of rising trout on the Middle Provo would be just as exhilerating, if not moreso. Maybe the message is this: For most of us, fishing truly isn't about the fish. Keep that in mind before you poopoo the idea of bringing otters back to their rightful place on the foodchain.