Salt Lake Tribune • August 21, 2009
by Brett Prettyman
The Provo River is about to get a lot more crowded, and not with just any fishers: These guys are among the best in the world.
In keeping with the secretive nature of anglers, these newbies will rarely be seen. They are even more protective about their methods and do most of their fishing at night.
Starting in September, northern river otters will be caught in various rivers in Idaho and shipped to Utah where they will be released in the middle portion of the Provo River in the Heber Valley. The middle Provo could see as many as 30 of the carnivorous mammals by the end of 2010.
When I did a story in 2007 on the possibility of otters being released in the Provo, I found anglers generally supportive of the idea. Now that people may have to stand and watch an otter devour a trout in front of them at their favorite fishing hole, I wonder if anglers will feel the same.
The first time I saw an otter chewing on the head of a trout on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam, I didn't even think it may have been stealing fish from my daily take. I was so caught up in the fact that I was actually seeing an otter in Utah that I didn't flinch. Besides, there are plenty of fish in the Green.
That is also true on the Provo. Plenty of fish, however, is not always a good thing. Limited food resources due to a high concentration of fish means a limited possibility for growth for the general population. Fish tend to get stuck at lengths not conducive to the trophy fishery status tagged to the Provo.
Fly fishers have promised in recent years to try and break their catch-and-release habits and take some home, but creel surveys recently conducted by the Division of Wildlife Resources shows it hasn't been happening.
In 2003, the Wildlife Board changed the artificial-only regulation on the middle Provo and allowed bait anglers to use the stretch of the river just above Deer Creek Reservoir. The change was made, in part, to thin trout numbers. Data collected so far is inconclusive about whether that's happening, but the fact that many fly fishers are now targeting the lower part of the middle may hint that larger fish are being found there.
Wildlife and fisheries biologists are promoting the re-introduction of otters as merely a project to bring back a native species, but they also are quick to point out that the crafty creatures may end up producing larger trout for the end of your line.
And don't expect to just see otters on the middle Provo. Brock McMillan, a wildlife ecologist at Brigham Young University, will be doing a three-year study on the otters. McMillan, who has studied otters in Minnesota, expects that the animals will migrate to Jordanelle Reservoir above the middle Provo and to Deer Creek Reservoir below. Dams are not likely to stop them, particularly if they are successful. Otters may one day find their way down the lower Provo and all the way to Utah Lake. It will be an interesting challenge if they start feeding on endangered June suckers. Otters will also likely head up the Provo River and could end up in the Uinta Mountains.
So, when you notice what you think is a huge black trout headed upstream on the Provo in the coming years, appreciate the moment and be thankful you've witnessed one of the best anglers on the planet.
Besides, what's wrong with a little friendly competition?