A True Angling Story from Tennessee
by Robert A. Miller
It was only 12 or so years ago that a brief announcement appeared in our local newspaper, The Nashville Tennessean, stating that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was releasing two pairs of otters into the Harpeth River, a favorite Middle Tennessee smallmouth stream which was at that time no longer in its glory days but was, nevertheless, still an above average fishery and a delight to wade or to float for these great game fish. Until the past few years its easily waded tributaries were still outstanding smallmouth streams and it was not unreasonable to expect six-to ten-bass days with some in the 16” range and even larger. When I read that article I knew there would be trouble and I told my friends so. It arrived pretty much on schedule. These creatures did what Mother Nature taught them and multiplied in a generally uncontrolled manner with no checks or balances natural or otherwise. They had been extirpated from our region in the 18th century by trappers. Somehow we had gotten by without them reasonably well all these decades. Now we must learn not only how to live with them, but how to deal with them as well.
Several times in the past three years I have surprised entire families of these world class fishers while wading. My fishing was over for that day you can be assured. Not even the wily smallmouth can outwit them. They have not only advanced their territory far upstream on all the tributaries where they have drastically reduced the bass populations, they have, in frustration over difficulty catching the few remaining good fish, moved overland and invaded all nearby farm ponds and small lakes. I have talked with several of the owners of these formerly well-stocked ponds and have been advised that all their large catfish have been eaten by these over-metabolized rascals. They leave nothing but the heads strewn about on the shore. They have even moved into other nearby drainage systems. They have become a scourge to the local angler.
My purpose for telling of this problem is to express a concern that the re-introduction of long-extirpated species (even cute and furry creatures like otters) however well intended doesn’t always work out as planned. I admit to not being a wildlife naturalist by profession, but it was only common sense to me that otters and a declining bass population in a small river was a bad mix. The only logical approach to such a proposal would have been to have several hearings and to take into account the feelings of the anglers and landowners who might be impacted. To my knowledge this was not the case here. If your local wildlife officials are suggesting a similar move in your area, beware and take action. I can tell you from first hand experience that otters will do what is necessary to find a meal, and the meal cannot out swim them!
-- Bob Miller, Smallmouth Fly Fisherman Emeritus