Scottish fishing

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There is a wide range of fly fishing available in Scotland ranging from salmon and sea trout in large rivers to my particular interest: small wild brown trout in moorland lochs. I am going to start the ball rolling by describing my fishing and hopefully others will edit this page to add their experiences.

Fishing for Wild Trout on the Moorland.

Much as I enjoy my fishing I also enjoy a good walk and chasing after the little wild trout that are to be found in Scottish moorland lochs has the advantage of combining both walking and fishing into a good day out. Much of my Scottish fishing takes place on the Isle of Lewis off the north west coast of Scotland and this island is said to have 1200 lochs almost all of which hold wild brown trout. The fish are often small and in some lochs they can also be hard to catch but part of the fun is in exploring and attempting to find the best lochs and the biggest fish. That I can see there is no pattern visible to man to indicate which loch might be best, though I'm sure the trout know why they prefer one loch over another.

One of the key advantages of fishing in Lewis is that the trout fishing is, in most cases, free of charge. Now clearly this has an advantage in financial terms but the most significant advantage, considering that there are 1200 lochs, is that the angler isn't constantly running from one place to another attempting to purchase an appropriate permit for the loch he wishes to fish. This allows the angler to plan his day not according to the permit he holds, or can easily get access to, but according to his whim and, most importantly, with due reference to the weather forecast. Such freedom also allows the angler to fish several lochs in a day or, even, to nip out for half an hour on a nearby loch without concern for paperwork which blights other areas of the country.

Lewis presents a fairly bleak and barren image to the visitor with miles of windswept empty bog reaching to the horizon in all directions and, indeed, the many hundreds of lochs are often hidden from the eye of the casual observer as they commonly sit in little dips in the peat and may only be seen from a distance of a few hundred yards at most in many cases. This is, however, a unique and interesting landscape which exerts a strong pull on a very many who visit and who spend time crossing the moorland. For the visiting angler the most important considerations are suitable clothing and the need for care when crossing the bog, these points are trivial when set against the enjoyment which may be had from this wonderful landscape but it is best that the angler is prepared and so I may labour them just a little. This fantastic landscape is subject to the most extreme weather and the most notable weather feature is the wind which may be a constant feature for weeks on end and which can be savage in the extreme. Often this wind carries rain, or from November to June sleet, hail or more rarely snow, and the wandering angler should be prepared for this. It must also be considered that a walk of several miles out to a loch may be a trivial matter with the wind on your back but, on the return, may be almost impossible when fighting against the teeth of a gale.

As can be seen suitable clothing is important and stout walking boots are to be preferred over waders or other boots which may be more difficult to walk in, the choice of fishing rod is very much a secondary consideration to the choice of boots for the angler who wanders the moorlands in search of trout. Also of the greatest import is the ability to navigate on a bleak, empty and often featureless moorland. In 15 or more years of walking the Lewis bog I have never met anyone else out there, this moorland is not like the "mountain motorways" of the rest of Scotland where there may be paths and long strings of people engaging in "outdoor pursuits" and the angler who gets lost will find that he is very much on his own. Care must also be taken as to where the walker puts his feet as many areas of bog are dangerously soft and a mistake can result in disappearance without a trace. It is said that there is more solid content in milk than there is in a peat bog and while this is hard to believe it is a useful "fact" to keep in mind to ensure that the walker is aware that they are often stepping on a thin layer of vegetation covering a liquid.

Typical Lewis Moorland.jpg

Typical Lewis moorland.

Once the angler has gathered up suitable clothing, maps, compass and the other requirements necessary to survive on the moorland the next consideration is fishing equipment. As you may have to carry this for many miles my advice is to keep it simple and to carry the bare minimum. The angler will require a rod and something about 11 foot for a 7 weight line would be normal but rods casting a lighter line are not uncommon. While it is not impossible to fish with a shorter rod a long rod really is an advantage to work the bob fly in the wave and also to get a cast where the banks are high and covered with heather. Apart from the rod take a sensible reel, fly line, leader material, flies, some compound to sink the leader and a multipurpose tool with a good knife. Sunglasses and a hat may also be added to the list should the day be fine and it is worth taking a plastic bag should you intend to kill a few fish. This short list is all that is required for a day of fishing the wet fly but, as is always the case with anglers, most will add or subtract to satisfy personal taste and also to cater for the potential to vary methods and tactics.

Lewis loch.jpg

Lewis loch on a September day.

The most common method of fly fishing moorland lochs, such as those found on Lewis, is with the wet fly. Fish are only rarely seen to rise and the angler who wishes to cast over rising fish might only cast a few times per year depending upon the lochs he might visit and the conditions. Dry fly fishing is a method that is not much used but there are certain lochs and certain days when it can come into its own, however in generaly the angler could save weight and space by not carrying a selection of dry flies and be at no real disadvantage. Traditionally fishing the wet fly involved fishing 3 flies on a cast, a point fly tied to the end of the leader and two other flies attached to droppers spaced between the connection to the fly line and the point. This method of fishing is still very common but in recent years I have tended to fish only 2, rather than 3, flies and have not noticed any great reduction in my catch as a result. Casting 2 flies is, I suspect, less likely to result in tangles especially when longer casts are being made.

Wet fly fishing is very much a technique of fishing the water rather than fishing over rising fish and so the angler is well advised to keep on the move in practise I tend to operate in two ways. In one situation where all of the bank looks equally attractive for fishing I would tend to make several casts from one position and then move a few steps along the bank however where the bank has a number of "points" or other features then I would tend to fish each point, covering all the water I could, for a period before moving to the next point.

I hope that this little summary gives someone the motivation to get out there and chase a few wild fish on the moorland of Scotland, while I use the Isle of Lewis as a specific example there are many other areas in the Highlands where similar opportunities present themselves to the angler who enjoys both walking and fishing.


[1] Fish Hebrides web site with lots of useful info for the angler heading to the Hebrides.

[2] Amhuinnsuidhe Castle holds some wonderful salmon, sea trout and trout fishing on North Harris.

[3] Scaliscro Estate offering accommodation, fishing and more.

[4] Soval Estate just south of Stornoway.

The Cost of Scottish Fishing.

Many anglers, especially those who believe they pay little or nothing for their fishing, have concerns about the cost of Scottish fishing. There is no question that you can, and people do, pay considerable sums for a day or week of fishing but it is also the case that there is a lot of great fishing available at little or no cost. In general terms salmon fishing must be paid for and can be extremely expensive indeed depending upon the time of year and the location, the same also applies to sea trout fishing. Brown trout fishing is generally less expensive and more readily available and it may actually be free in some areas. As a rule you need permission to fish no matter where you are fishing and even if the fishing is free though in some areas, the Isle of Lewis is one example previously discussed, permission to fish for brown trout is taken for granted on the majority of the lochs. The angler must always be aware that almost all of the land will be privately owned and the same will apply to the fishing.

It is possible to book your fishing through agents and estate offices and, for the most part, when doing so you will pay the full rate. When booking in such a way you will have the advantages of being able to select the dates you wish to fish and you may also be able to arrange ghillies and boatmen to assist you. It is also often possible to get access to fishing by paying a visit to the keeper or head ghillie on any particular estate and enquiring if any fishing is available. This approach can often prove less expensive than going through the more "official" channels but has the disadvantage that there may be no fishing available, you may have no choice over dates or beats offered and you may not be able to book a ghillie. On the other hand most keepers are keen to see their fishing used by suitable anglers and so a polite approach in the right quarter may put you onto some top quality fishing at a reasonable cost.

There are quite a number of hotels in Scotland which hold fishing and make it available to guests either at no extra charge or for a premium over and above the accommodation charge. Such fishing is often reasonably priced and gives anglers the opportunity to meet others who are like minded and who may even have considerable experience of fishing the water available. Many such hotels have regular customers who return for the same week every year and have been doing so for a very many years, getting access to one of these weeks may literally mean waiting to step into dead man's shoes. These hotels may also make beats available to non-residents but, as would be expected, the requirements of residents are met before those of non-residents.

In summary there is a lot of great fishing available in Scotland at little or no cost but it is also possible to pay considerable sums to gain access to salmon fishing. However, no matter how wealthy you are you may find it impossible to gain access to some beats which are booked out well in advance. Under such circumstances a tactful and polite approach to the keeper might net you the offer of a day or an evening at very little cost or perhaps even the offer of other fishing nearby and in most areas there are a range of alternatives.


The River Tay at Dunkeld.

Scottish Salmon Fishing.

It is for the salmon fishing that Scotland is perhaps best known with rivers such as the Tweed, Tay, or Spey being recognised by anglers across the world. Indeed anglers from around the globe travel to Scotland to cast a fly for Atlantic Salmon and it is estimated that each salmon caught in Scotland puts about £7,000 into the economy so salmon fishing is important for many rural communities. The catch with salmon fishing is that salmon don't feed in freshwater and so no one appears to be really sure why they take the angler's fly, for some anglers this challenge and the possibility of a titanic struggle with a large fish have a strange appeal which drives them to fish for salmon. Even when a very large number of fish are in the water the angler may fish for days without a take while on other occasions the fish may take quite freely, the Scottish record catch for a week came from Grimersta No. 1 where 333 fish were taken for one rod week.


Loch Faoghail Charrasen on the Grimersta system.

The eagle eyed among you will note that, despite the discussion of rivers, the Grimersta system illustrated above consists of a string of lochs and it is true that salmon fishing also takes place in the still water lochs despite the river fishing being what Scotland is famous for. The angler wishing to fish for Scottish salmon has, therefore, the choice of fishing in a river or a loch.

Perhaps the majority of Scottish rivers are small "spate" rivers which decline to little more than a trickle when the weather is dry and the sun beats upon the stones. Given rain these little rivers rise quickly and the salmon start moving upstream. The run of salmon will continue while there is sufficient water in the river but as the level falls back the salmon will stop moving and the river will once more return to its low water level rendering fishing useless or impossible. It is important to bear these points in mind as a visitor booking a week of fishing on a spate river such as this may find that for the whole duration of their visit there is insufficient water in the river to make it worthwhile fishing, no refunds are given under such circumstances.

The larger Scottish rivers, such as the Tay shown above, are sufficiently large to almost always have enough flow to make fishing possible but, as with any river, they do depend upon the salmon being in the river and being willing to take and so weather and water levels can still be important factors. Many of these larger waters have private beats, which may be booked through estates, agents or hotels, and also a selection of public fishings which may be accessed through the purchase of a permit. It is likely, therefore, that the visiting angler will be able to gain access to such a water should he so wish and it may even be possible to just turn up, buy a day permit and start fishing.

Due to the diversity of fishing available to the angler it would be impossible to suggest specific requirements in terms of tackle. In spring or autumn on the larger rivers anglers will often be fishing 15 foot double handed rods with sinking lines and heavy flies while on the smaller spate rivers in summer a single handed rod of about 11 feet with a floating line and small flies tied on a double hook would be more than up to the job. In general the single handed setup is also suitable for fishing for salmon, either from the bank or from a boat, in the lochs.


A Scottish spate river: the River Nairn at Clava near Inverness.


[5] River Spey Anglers Association.

[[6]] Fishspey web site allows online booking of fishing on the Spey.

[7] Aberlour Angling Association - day and weekly permits on the Spey.

[8] Clava Lodge which holds the fishing on the River Nairn pictured above.

[9] Angling on Tayside - lots of links to fishing available to visitors.

[10] Stormont Angling Club - Small membership fee gives access to some excellent angling on the Tay and Almond

[11] Fishing on the River Tweed.

[12] River Findhorn information.

[13] Inverness Angling Club waters with permits available to fish right in the centre of town.

[14] Beauly Angling Club - permits for visitors on the Beauly.