Otter in small private lake
I have fished in a small private lake for approx 10 years now and have always caught lots of crappie, bass, perch and blugills.........last summer I saw a rather large otter swimming around. Made the first trip of the year last week and had the worst luck ever........only 2 small bass and 1 bluegill........no sign of the otter. I'm thinking the otter did some serious damage to the fish population and has since moved on.........curious to know if anyone else has had this issue. Thanks for any info.
yes river otters can eat a lot of fish especially over the winter months when the fish are less active and its possible that could be why you are not catching much now.
I had an awesome private pond in Gloucester that was always good for some nice fish, can't remember going there and not catching at least one or two 4/5lb fish and sometimes many of them. Landed a solid 8lber last spring while there filiming for a kayak fishing TV show! Unfortunately not long after that we started seeing THREE young otters showing up quite regularly and the fishing has dropped off dramatically ever since! It is a fairly small pond and 3-4 acres, so I have no doubt that these young otters have put a hurtin on the fish population!
you OTTER shoot em if ya think they OTTER not be there
On a site specific basis, otter depredation can potentially decimate fish populations. The smaller the body of water, the less cover available for hiding, and/or the more concentrated the seasonal distributions of fish, especially in winter, the worse the potential problem becomes. But, during much of the year, based on scat samples, otters here in Garrett County seem to forage preferentially upon crayfish. Trouble is that when crayfish burrow in for the winter, they become unavailable as forage... and an adult otter consumes three pounds of flesh per day. Multiply that by say a 100 day winter season and most poachers would become jealous. Then factor in the total otter population, and you'll know where your fish went.
OTTER JUST SHOOTEM,,,,nothing scientific bout a thinning process
Nothing exactly legal about off-ing otters, either. At least in Garrett and Allegheny counties, where they have enjoyed full protection since reintroduction.
For a number of years DNR/Wildlife extended quiet, verbal permission for me to eliminate any otter found around my pond, so serious were the fish losses there. I had, until the otters became established via reproduction, many a large trout there, some actually trained to perform 'tricks' for guests - no foolin'). Even a decade later, folks who stayed here as couples will return (as moms and dads) asking to show their children these wonders, but it became impossible to hold them over the winter. These beautiful specimens are long gone now, although I planted a lot of physical cover in addition to attempting unsuccessfully to stalk and perforate the mammals that in short order did them all in with Pb, delivered via 22 rifle.
Trouble was, they are not exactly stationary, exposed targets and I am not a marksman, so I never did get to exercise my authorized options of either burying the carcass whole or turning it over to DNR for their use and study. Also, rainbows seem instinctively inclined to run/swim away from trouble rather than to hide, and so during the winter its a simple and apparently fun matter for the otter(s) to chase down the fish to exhaustion, which doesn't take all that much longer than it does to wear out a fish with a hook and line. Don't get me wrong here. Otters are beautiful too, just imcompatible with fish in some settings.
In the pond there is no place else to go of course, and so interestingly enough the trout would envelop the otter and thereby at least be able to keep track of it - for a time. In the river, trout used to hole up for the winter in a very few best locations, and otters (up to a half dozen at once) have been observed in these places harassing fish, soon driving them out of the few suitable seasonal habitats offered by this reach. I have no tracking data to prove this, but would make an educated guess that the fish end up outmigrating downstream to the first place offering safe and suitable refuge... Yough River Reservoir (from which no return is possible due to the presence of major falls).
If so, this would explain why, post-otter reintroduction, the many fold higher fingerling stockings (up to 4x as many) as well as formerly unnecessary stockings of adult trout never seem able to take hold in the C&R reach, and why angler use and satisfaction has declined steadily despite much higher management inputs. DNR/Fisheries appears unwilling to officially even consider this hypothesis, strangely enough. I assume this is because the agency does not wish to implicate itself as the / a contributing cause of the problem.
Also consistent with this hypothesis, as individuals, the much thinned out trout can now both grow larger than they formerly did, and as a population now occupy only a relatively small portion of the river segment (time was when only a small portion could NOT yield several trout to anglers). Not only are far fewer trout being caught, far fewer are seen - even in the last best places that could be counted on for trout viewing almost anytime May through October. When food is very abundant and vulnerable, time was that pods of trout took advantage. For years now I have made a special effort to observe the best places at such times. It has been many years since I've seen a pod of trout, which is very telling I believe.
Right now the year's best caddis hatches are coming off, and I know where to look for fish (having guided here formerly, back when it was quite productive for clients and visitors alike) feeding on the very abundant emerging pupae and the ovipositing adults. Yesterday was a fine, sunny day and with binoculars at the proper hour I went searching (as I have done for almost a decade now). Riseforms were very few and very far between, with none observed in any of the 'old reliable' spots that no longer afford fish enough room to attempt to evade this new, very skillful apex predator. The same thing (no rising trout in most places, and far fewer in a few others) applies during all windfall foraging ops throughout the growing season.
It is my understanding that DNR is of late considering opening a very limited trapping season for otters here in the westernmost two counties. But it would have been much wiser in this watershed to have recognized and avoided the potential problem of superimposing a winter-active apex predator, especially when annually deprived of its preferred forage (crayfish) upon a habitat-limited, non- self sustaining population of non- winter active trout! Call me crazy, but I've witnessed too many interactions and interviewed too many anglers. If otters are not the problem (of late eclipsed by warm water), then certainly something else has changed here.
Based on their assurances that otters and trout could co-exist quite nicely, I initially gave the agency the benefit of the doubt, even when I had misgivings based on my knowledge of the winter habits of both species. The problem extends beyond the pond and the river, as the much challenged Hoyes Run's unique populations of wild trout do not need but get additional ecological trouble on top of the physical impacts of various actions in its watershed.
Clearly there is nothing whatsoever in it for me as a lodging host and lesson instructor to go running down my home waters' reputations, of course (a fact lost upon the sensibilities of just about everyone in any position of authority or involvement). I don't even want to believe that this mechanism is at fault (because if it is, it ain't easy to cure... otters being too cute in the public eye). At first blush, a trapping season which might allow one animal per year doesn't appear to be a prescription that will generate a great deal of effective interest... only political cover.
Sorry if this reply smacks in places of too much scientific jargon. Trained as I am, this is just how I think about stuff. We can only do what we know how to do, and ecological impact assessments of flowing freshwaters is / was my professional specialty. The three S's (shoot, shovel, and shut up) is practiced by others out this way who are more practical, but is not really a viable option for me anymore. You know how it is with authority... shooting the messenger being the easiest way to deal with unwelcome news. Once upon a time I chaired a local committee to promote area coldwater fisheries and encourage related business development and tourism. I was naive to think that agency decisions would respect any sense of implied committments to entrepreneurs such as myself, and now find myself both stuck and unpopular with parties that should be natural allies.
Last edited by Don Hershfeld; 04-05-2012 at 10:53 AM.
Don, We have the same issue in my home waters of Montgomery county, they are everywhere. I've seen many of them and most of the stream banks are trampled with otter tracks. There are a few heavily stocked C&R streams that by mid summer are almost vacant of trout, at first I thought it was due to poachers but I'm pretty sure the bigger issue is the otters. Seems stupid for DNR to stock all those trout just to feed the otter they introduced, beautiful animals but I say kill them all. WB
In some settings (not all, certainly), stocked trout can become basically 'otter fodder' unfortunately. Even more insidious is one behavioral response we see here on the Yock, where the trout clearly concentrate in places such as above the reaeration weir directly below the hydro plant. For as long as can be remembered, large numbers of trout, including many impressive specimens, would overwinter there, safe from flooding, with attendant debris and ice chunks, winter warmed, food enriched, and safe from anglers - but no longer safe from these reintroduced four-footed fishers. The staff at the plant have for the last two early winters observed up to a half-dozen adult otters simultaneously working this tiny patch of prime seasonal habitat (in a river reach which offers precious little by way of any good alternatives during winter high water events due to the uniformity and shallowness of its channel). This harrassment is tolerated for a day or so, and then the trout effectively say "no mas" and depart for who knows where. The options are few; world famous whitewater segments both up and downstream may prove too turbulent at high water and thus unsuitable for overwintering trout attempting to conserve and not expend excess energy. No habitat can have any more permanent value than it does under the most extreme (challenging) conditions, and it has always been my notion that pre- or post- otter reintroduction, trout displaced into Yock River Reservoir a few miles downstream wouldn't and couldn't very well make a return trip if they wanted to, due to barrier falls as well as the large population of alewives in the lake quite possibly giving refugees a more attractive and safer option. A tagging/tracking study could answer this question, but I am not holding my breath as opinions, sans data, unfortunately appear entrenched.
It is both relevant and noteworthy that in MS, the vanguard of otter reintoduction, their conservation agency receives over 500 complaints from irate fishers ANNUALLY. Also, the scientific literature on the subject of ecological impacts has evolved. Formerly the belief was held that because in many places otters demonstrate a preference for crawfish as primary forage, faster-swimming fish such as trout were effectively safe from serious depredation (at the population level). This seems rooted in an early MS food habits study, which covered only the growing season. Trouble is, these beautiful, skillful, but voracious flesh eaters need food year-round, and when crayfish go dormant they become effectively unavailable, compelling otters to take secondary sources of food. Adults require approximately three pounds of flesh per day as the ration supporting their very active and aggressive lifestyle; perhaps even somewhat more in winter (merely my speculation on that latter point). The literature indicates their diet is very broad indeed, including anything they can capture, including birds and land animals. What is underappreciated is that the evasive capabilities of trout are seriously compromised in very cold water, when any cold-blooded creature is in a lower gear and relatively easy to tire. When and where trout are also concentrated, this presents a windfall opportunity to hungry, crayfish-deprived otters, with predictable results.
Here, it is my contention that among other limiting factors that come and go (relating to water quality and quantity, occassional plant operational snafus and possibly the chronically altered hydrograph, although provided minimum flows are adequate, in many other tailwaters trout seem to compensate rather well to peaking power demand and jacked up and down discharges, possibly via additional food sources). One must accept that all fisheries wax and wane due to the vagaries of climate/weather during critical life stages, but the simple fact is that since otter reintroduction here, the fishery never 'bounces back' despite multiple-fold greater management inputs. This is very consistently reflected in the catches as well as the utilization of the river by local as well as visiting anglers; a number of in- and out of state guides who frequented this fishery on account of its generous former nature are tellingly absent, but instead working other rivers now. Tethered as I am to my lodging biz, I had to give up guiding here... too many near-fishless outings despite my knowing the river as well as anyone could (its my 'back yard' essentially). Even now, with numerous emerging and ovipositing caddis distributed everywhere, the numbers of observable riesforms are in no way comparable to pre-2002 levels, not even remotely. It takes a lot of faith to believe that fish in this shallow reach now refuse to take advantage of prime feeding ops. What's more, their distributions have radically changed, with fishable populations found only in the last, best segments... Not coincidentally those offering the greatest depth and cover options. Formerly it was possible to catch modest trout on top nearly everywhere, but this is no longer the case, and I'll stake my reputation on that as it would be GREAT news for me to learn that I was wrong and that all was well, or even fairly good. Sadly, it is not. Strangely, to date I have gotten no traction on this issue from either TU nor our DNR. The former see things as a fait accompli, a battle never fought that is forever lost, and their members (local and otherwise) rarely fish here anymore. The latter have electroshocking data to defend an 'all is well' position, and a strong bias to hold it, but the timing and locations of the sampling are scientifically indefensible (in terms of providing representative samples applicable throughout the management unit).
The greatest irony is that just as the Hoyes Run is soon getting its first chance to recover from watershed abuses of the last decade or so, hungry otters leave their tracks in the snow along its banks whenever winter fishing conditions in the river become difficult. They are not there for the scenery, and the populations of mature adult trout are in no position to sustain additional losses; this past year marks the first time I have not observed either wild rainbows or wild brown trout spawning, and mature fish have become like hen's teeth.
The up-shot is that you cannot have your cake and eat it too, even if the dining only takes place during part of the year, at least in those settings where all or most of the cake is stored in the same few places and can be over-exploited. The otter literature now reflects this, but it goes no further than that, due to political considerations most likely.
That is why you shoot and shut up. Don't go running youjr mouth that you killed an otter. Shoot his ass and keep on moving. Otters and beaver will destroy a lake or river faster than an oil spill!