Beat Profile: STRACATHRO, River North Esk

Jun 13, 2024 | Blog, Locations, Where To Fish

FishPal’s Sam Carlisle heads to this picturesque beat on the North Esk in Angus, which offers superb fishing throughout the season against the most spectacular backdrops.

The junction of a salmon river, where a tributary intersects with the main flow, attracts anglers like a pot of honey on a summer’s day attracts wasps – it is irresistible. We imagine legions of salmon pausing, wondering which branch to take. In this mass of fish, surely there is at least one willing to take our humble offering? Salmon anglers in particular, need little encouragement to believe a take is forthcoming. The whole exercise of fishing for Atlantic salmon is, more often than not, a triumph of hope over experience.

Perhaps one of the most hopeful pools in all of Scotland is the Junction Pool at Stracathro, where the West Water, having wound its way through the moorland of Glen Lethnot, finally meets the North Esk. Overlooked by the hut, many a lunch here is accompanied by the soundtrack of splashing salmon. The Upper Junction is a perfect riffle, exactly where a fish might stop momentarily and have a chance meeting with your fly. The river here is narrow and fishing it requires some stealth. You’d be best not to simply stroll straight out from the hut, but instead head upstream, far from the bank, and work down to the pool – avoiding showing your silhouette over the main lie. But it is a little further down, at Lower Junction, where the majority of fish are caught. The river deepens, slows slightly and provides a textbook holding pool. I once fished here with a friend in October. In the morning he followed me down Lower Junction and extracted a 12lber. In the afternoon he did it again, this time landing a 14lber. I try to be charitable towards my fishing friends, but to have one’s pocket picked twice in a day, while I remained blank, brings home Gore Vidal’s maxim that “every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little piece of me dies”.

Stratcathro is much more than just the Junction pools though. A wooded stretch of river with fast flowing pools for high water and holding pools in between, it is mightily productive for its three rods. Another favourite of mine is the Dam, a long and lugubrious pool that offers one of the best chances of a Springer in all of Scotland. Indeed, the North Esk has historically been one of the best spring rivers in the country, with huge catches in the early part of the season on the lower river. However, since the breach of the Morphie Dyke in 2012, fish now have easier access to the beats above, and Stracathro is one of the beats they seem to like the best in March and April – which in the last two years have produced some of the highest catches for the season. Whether spring or autumn, I find myself drawn to that meeting of the West Water and the North Esk. Even if I haven’t heard the almost inevitable crash of a leaping salmon while setting up my rod and selecting a fly, it just feels so fishy that I cannot help but cast with hope.

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