Answer to sudden halt on the River Wensum was right under our rod-tips

Andrew Field admires Anthony Butterworth’s superb, float-caught, river bream.

Andrew Field admires Anthony Butterworth’s superb, float-caught, river bream. - Credit: Archant

Just a couple of days ago, Reuben and I were fishing on the Wensum.

We were having a ball. For those who say the upper Wensum is devoid of fish, it might be an idea to come along with me sometime. Very decent roach, perch and dace were coming to the net in a steady stream and over two hours I guess Reuben had taken 30 to 40 super fish. Then, the switch flicked. The swim went completely, utterly and absolutely dead. One minute the float couldn't travel more than a couple of yards or so without ducking under and the next you could trot it all the way to Norwich.

Of course, you know what's coming. Twenty minutes after the switch-off, right by the rod tip, right under our noses, a young dog otter stuck out his head and looked at us with utter alarm and disbelief. I'm sure that's how we looked to him, too. There'd been no sign of him cavorting before and we saw no sign of him afterwards, either. Although we went off upstream and came back down again as the light faded, those fish had gone, completely melted.

Two things. This is why I am one of the most relaxed of Norfolk anglers when it comes to the presence of otters. Our sport was not helped by the presence of the furry critter, but we found no sign whatsoever of any ottered fish up and down the river that day.

And as I've said before, I'm finding fewer and fewer traces of dead fish anywhere as a result of otter attack. There's nothing surprising about this surely. Otters and fish have co-existed in a certain sort of harmony for millennia. The simple fact is that fish learn all about otters and the vast majority of them manage to evade them the vast majority of their lives. Some come unstuck, but increasingly otters eat wildfowl, rabbits, crayfish and could even start opening Tesco accounts you feel.

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But what's also interesting is the number of times that you fish a stillwater or a river especially and there is no evidence of fish whatsoever. It's tempting to put the lack of success down to the weather perhaps and poor water conditions. Or perhaps you've just got the swim wrong and your skills of location need honing. What I do wonder, though, is how many times an otter has passed through the swim before you arrive upon it?

As I pointed out, the presence of an otter can have a completely debilitating effect on any piece of water for hours after the animal has passed through. I thought about this recently when I put a couple of guys on a fabulous bit of chub water I have access to. They didn't get a bite and they didn't have a hint of a fish whatsoever. They're good anglers and it could simply have been that an otter or two had passed that way before as perhaps the light broke.

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I'll never say otters do not eat fish, but I've learnt to live with them and accept them as part of our wonderful wildlife heritage. Literally last night, I was fishing a quiet stretch of the river as the light faded to almost nothing. I was alarmed and then exhilarated by the sight of a barn owl drifting no more than two yards from my right shoulder. Its silent beauty will linger for months.

A bit of fishing nitty-gritty. It's no secret that though I love my lake fishing and even my shore fishing in the summer, it's rivers that turn me on. And, of course, that means float fishing as often as conditions allow. What I've found more and more is that the slower you can move a bait through the swim, then the bigger the fish that you will very probably catch. There's no golden rule in angling, but over the years I've learnt to hold floats back with ever-growing confidence. There are times when it's good to let a float bounce its way through a swim at the speed of the river. Dace and grayling often like baits presented this way, but chub and bigger roach especially do like to inspect a bait carefully before coming to any sort of decision. I think big roach actually like to pick a bait up from the bottom rather than intercept it in mid-water.

That's why I was so impressed with Anthony a short while back when I was fishing with him and champion float maker, Andrew Field. The fact that Anthony worked his float slow enough to pick up a big, river, winter bream spoke volumes. There is no way that fish would have moved up and down the water column in air temperatures of four degrees. It really needed a bait slow-moving, dragging bottom and brushing its lips. The way it fought for at least a minute made me and Anthony, too, think colossal, clonking roach, but after the initial sigh of disappointment, I think we were both thrilled by the fish. A river bream is a very fine bream indeed. It was a joy to catch and by catching it Anthony proved himself to be a very fine river angler indeed.

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