The first casts of an eagerly-awaited 2019 season opening were made on the River North Esk at the dawn of a new era for the Angus sporting gem.
Against a backdrop of declining stocks across the whole of the North Atlantic, there is fresh optimism among anglers that 2019 will be a good year for salmon catches after the historic close season buyout of commercial nets.
For the first time, salmon returning to the Angus water will not have to run the gauntlet of coastal netting stations, allowing them free access to the river of their birth.
It follows the January announcement of the Esk District Salmon Fishery Board’s buyout of the last netting station at the Nab near the mouth of the river, in a move expected to increase annual numbers entering the North Esk by thousands of fish.
Allied to the Scottish Government’s moratorium on all coastal netting and the closure of the drift nets of the North East of England, board chiefs say salmon returning to the east coast of Scotland have never had a better chance of reaching their home waters to spawn the next generation.
While salmon netting stations kill all salmon they catch, more than four out of every five salmon caught by rod on the North Esk are returned to the water unharmed.
As they were wished “tight lines” for the start of the new season, anglers on the river for Saturday’s opening day were encouraged to continue the successful catch and release approach to boost the spawning figures further.
Neil Anderson, fishery manager of the Gallery Beat, a few miles inland and near to Logie Pert, said there was excitement around the 2019 season.
“There is always optimism at the start of a fishing season, but there is a real buzz on the river this year due to the absence of the salmon nets,” he said, as the sparkling waters were blessed with whisky in the traditional season start.
“We can’t wait to see what the season will bring, and are looking forward to some cracking fishing.”
Board chairman Hughie Campbell Adamson added: “The Esk Salmon Fishery Board has invested heavily to protect the salmon stocks of the North Esk.
“As well as halting the salmon netting at the mouth of the river, the board is strongly recommending that all salmon caught by rod are returned unharmed.
“In this way, we are ensuring the maximum number of salmon returning to the river are allowed to reach their spawning grounds.”
Data has shown the average number of salmon entering the river is close to the 12,000 mark.
The average number of salmon caught in the nets at the mouth of the river over the last 10 years is 2,900, with a rod caught figure of 2,000.