Anglers were horrified at the thought of losing access to waters on the Border Esk and Liddle when the owners, Buccleuch Estates, said earlier this year that the beats were going out to tender.
The enthusiasts met hurriedly and put in a bid for the four local public beats, which was accepted.
Then they formed the new Border Esk and Liddle Angling Club and now have more than 70 people clamouring to be members.
Secretary Bill Frew, a lifelong fisherman, says the final agreement with the estate has to be worked out, but in principal the club’s bid of £24,000 a year has secured fishing for locals and visitors for 10 years.
Mr Frew welcomed the outcome: “There was a great deal of uncertainty – and some anger from local people who had always fished the river – that we might not have the fishing at all.
“We want to open the river up not just for fishermen but for visitors too and help improve the local economy. It won’t be just paying the fees and that’s it. We want people to be part of something wider than that.”
The bombshell came when the estates’ fisheries manager retired and the previous “grace and favour” arrangement with the Duke of Buccleuch, which allowed paid-for access to the Langholm, Cannonbie, Newcastleton and Lower Liddle beats, changed.
A local fisherman said: “These river beats had always been known as the local beats where a ticket could be purchased to fish for a season, a week or a day, by locals and visitors alike. But suddenly it was under threat as the estate put all beats, [three] private and [four] local, out to five-year leases, with a promise that local needs would be looked after.”
The new club has welcomed the 10-year option offered.
Roy Green, Buccleuch Estates sporting manager, said: “I am extremely pleased that local anglers have formed the Esk and Liddle Angling club. It was always the estate’s intention to ensure that local anglers had affordable access to their local fisheries. I wish them every success.”
Club chairman Iain Blackett said: “The Duke of Buccleuch has, in giving us this opportunity, renewed his commitment to ensure continuing public access to some of the best salmon and sea-trout waters in the country.
“Our challenge is to make sure that as many people as possible have the chance to experience the pleasure of fishing in such beautiful rivers while making sure we do everything we can to protect and enhance the biodiversity of the river and the surrounding countryside.”
The local beats cover about 18 of the rivers’ 26 miles. Members will pay a £50 joining fee plus £350 a season for all four beats: “That’s very reasonable. You could pay that for a moderate day on the Tweed, ” said Mr Frew.
The best of the sea trout season is from May to July or August, with a small run of salmon in the summer and main run from late August to October, said Mr Frew
And while other fisheries numbers are being hit, he said the Border Esk and Liddle are “holding steady”. “There’s been a national decline in sea trout and salmon. The reasons for it are still being argued about, whether it’s salmon farming or over-fishing, but the fishing locally is still good.
“For me, though, as a fisherman it’s the whole experience: the scenery here is as good as anywhere, the river, the bird life and otters you see just by being there, and the peace and quiet.”
The club is offering corporate membership to local accommodation providers so they can offer guests a day’s fishing.
Mr Frew said: “We’re also looking into a scheme where club members show people the river and visitors could borrow equipment if they needed it and we’re thinking of visiting schools to make sure young people are offered fishing experiences.”
The club’s AGM will be in February. For more information or to apply to join, contact Mr Frew on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01387 371209.