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Otter encounter

Hidden by a cleft in the hills and visible only from above, the loch lay before me, its peaty waters fringed on all sides by birch and rowan. Narrow over its length, and with heather-covered slopes rising up from a sandy shoreline, this is a place where the cackle of the red grouse or roar of a rutting stag are more commonly heard than the human voice. Descending toward the loch through knee-deep ling, I threaded my way through the maze of shoreline birch, to emerge perspiring on to a broad, sandy beach.

A line of cloven spoor showed where a red stag, hooves splayed by weight and age, had passed by with his retinue of hinds. I set about choosing a team of three wet flies, which might tempt a wild brown trout to rise. My choice of flies with which to explore new water was a familiar one: the faithful Invicta, Black Pennell and Mallard & Claret are old allies that have seldom failed me. Flicking the No.6 floating line over the ruffled surface of the loch, I strode out into the waters, the soft sand beneath my feet moulding easily to the ridged sole of my waders.

I began to retrieve my third cast, when a swirl on the water?s surface indicated a take. I felt that familiar adrenalin-inducing thump, as a hard-fighting wild trout began a series of runs and acrobatic leaps. My cane rod twitched as, steadily tiring, a perfect wild brownie of about half a pound came to the shore. With a moment?s admiration I returned the speckled creature to its element, certain that a better prize lay in store.

Sure enough, the long-standing allies from my fly box were proving more than a match for these wild Highland trout, as in quick succession I landed half a dozen fish. None exceeded the half-pound mark. In the hope of fooling larger fish, I waded down the shoreline towards a bay sheltering in the lee of a brackenclad bank. Trout were rising freely here, so with a sense of expectation I cast my trio of flies upon the water.

The response was immediate, as with the flash of a white belly, a trout of well over a pound savagely took the Invicta fly from the surface film. Several deep runs caused the reel to whine madly, before, with a sense of relief, my leader began to rise from the depths.

Sure that the trout was a good one, even I was surprised to see just how big a disturbance the fish made as it was drawn in. The water seemed to boil every time the fish rose to the surface. Clearly, it was a far better specimen than I had at first imagined. Stepping into thigh-deep water, I dipped my landing net beneath the surface.

Exhausted, the fish slid quietly over the rim of the net, whereupon my fleeting sense of triumph was replaced by shock: a fully grown otter exploded from the depths at my feet.

I staggered backwards, narrowly succeeding in keeping my balance. The whiskered mammal gave a mesmerising display of aquatic acrobatics around my legs as it struggled to understand where its prey had gone. Twice I felt the animal brush against my legs, and knowing that the otter possesses teeth to match those of any terrier, I was beginning to wonder if this episode would end well.

Stumbling shoreward, I lifted the net into the air. Its captive lay motionless, with the size 14 Invicta clearly visible, hooked snugly between the scissors of the trout?s jaw. As the net rose from the water so did the otter, and at a distance of only a few feet, I stared directly into a pair of intelligent black eyes. So close was I to this magnificent creature that I could easily count its every whisker, and see the beads of water dripping from its fur-covered muzzle and ears.

For a handful of seconds the animal rose and fell in the water, as it gazed bewildered at the strange wader-clad beast before it. With a final roll and a swirl of a broad tail, it was gone. A few surface eddies were the only sign that it had ever been there.

Somewhat stunned by what had just happened, I scanned the surface of the loch for another glimpse of my whiskered visitor; but it had vanished. Clearly, a few seconds in the company of mankind had been more than enough!