Anglers need to be wary of wild waters

The North Esk and West Water last week served up a warning to all anglers and indeed to other river users - never take wild waters for granted!

The rain in the lower hills of the Grampians was horrendous and it swiftly turned the rivers, burns and streams into raging torrents and where they all merged we had a flood near to that of November 11, 2002.

When the outflow of Loch Lee met the River Mark was the start and by the time it reached Tarfside, the already swollen stream met the River Tarf and we had a considerable flood being further swollen by the raging burns from both side of the Glen.

A friend from the glen described the low haughs of Craigoshena as “a sea” and this was heading for the narrow gorge above the Rocks of Solitude. As the river narrowed in the gorge Bill Paton (the Burn House Ghillie) had just placed two doctors from England on pools but he was concerned at the water rising steadily, he called them to a more favourable position but became aware of a loud roar.

Taking his guest to a higher bank they turned to look upstream and were shocked to see a 12 foot high flash flood approaching at high speed, carrying whole trees and all manner of debris along with it. By this time the water filled nearly half the gorge.

With nothing else to do they drove downstream in time to witness the angler trapped by rising water at Marykirk and then the three trapped anglers rescued at Kinnaber.

During their drive the North Esk was joined by the West Water at Stracathro and this is where the river becomes a giant, the Westie can rise in a very short time.

I was heading towards Fettercairn the following morning and was passed by a trio of fire tenders at high speed and they went left into the Dalbog road. In a further two minutes three support tenders came toward me from the north and before long a helicopter followed.

My thoughts were: “It cannot be an angler. It must be something else, a canoe or someone has fallen in (recalling Christmas day 2012 when I did just that). No the river is too big for fishing.”

But it was an angler.

Back to the West Water, I have fished this river for over 50 years and have learned to respect it. I am far from alone in experiencing flash floods on this spate river.

Many years ago, the then Brechin Angling Club secretary was nearly killed by a flash floods 50 yards above Pirners brig, he estimated the wall of water as around 12 feet high it being in a very narrow gorge, it hit him waist high as he scaled the bank at high speed and he managed to haul himself out.

I have witnessed this three times over the years, the last at Clochie farm and not in a gorge.

I too heard the roar behind me as I fished in ankle deep water and turning around to look upstream I was faced with a wall of water around six feet tall and coming at me at great speed.

I have never moved so fast and the water hit me only as I got to the top of bank and on to an open field.

The upper area of the Westie is likened to a giant saucer and many burns join the river in just over a mile causing the river to rise so quickly.

We anglers, and I include myself, must be more aware of what we are doing and most importantly be aware of the rivers in very wet weather.

We risk putting others in jeopardy and huge expense by taking unnecessary risks. We really must stand back and have a good think before taking to the riverbank.

It might also be a good idea for all fishing lodges to post a warning notice, but it really is us the anglers who must be more alert.