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Caithness Lochs

caithness fishing, north coast 500

 


troutquest map of wild brown trout lochs in caithness.

Trout Lochs of Caithness

The county of Caithness is located on the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland, and is home to over 100 trout lochs. Most of the county is low lying and relatively flat, but from a topographic and fishing perspective there are 2 very different environments. To the west and to the south is the ‘Flow Country’ a large expanse of flat blanket bog scattered with peatland lochs. To the east and north, separated by a line running roughly from the east side of Loch Calder through Loch Toftingall to Loch Hempriggs, lies fertile gently rolling farmland overlying soft limestone marls, rich in weed growth and invertebrates producing extremely productive and famous fisheries including Loch Watten, Toftingall and St John’s.

That does not mean that the peatland lochs should be ignored. The scenery and wildlife are unique, and although the average size of the fish is often smaller, the trout are there in great numbers, and there are also lochs with stocks of larger fish. The marl lochs are also prone to discolouration after periods of high winds, particularly the shallower lochs such as St John’s, Heilen, and Toftingall, so Loch Calder, the Ulbster lochs and the Thrumster lochs to the south of Wick are worth keeping in mind for these conditions. Many of these lochs also offer good bank fishing, a useful option in wild weather.

With so many lochs to choose from, Caithness makes a great excursion destination for the trout fisherman, though it can equally fill a week or a fortnight long fishing holiday. There are too many lochs in this area to do them justice on this site, so here are some brief descriptions of just a few. If you visit the area look out for ‘A Guide to Trout Fishing in Caithness’ by Neil MacDonald – an excellent little guide covering all of the Caithness lochs available at many outlets.

Loch Watten
Loch Watten is the second largest loch in Caithness, almost 3 miles (4.65 km) in length running north-east to south-west, with a surface area of approximately 370 ha (914 acres).

troutquest excursion - wild brown trout fishing on loch watten, caithness.

Loch Watten

troutquest excursion - wild brown trout from loch watten, caithness.Watten is a marl loch, lying just 17m above sea level with an average depth of 10-12 ft (2.5 – 3m), which means that the water tends to stay clearer after prolonged big winds than on some of the shallower lochs. Described by angler and author Bruce Sandison as 'one of the best Scottish wild trout fisheries' and by local angler and author Neil MacDonald as the 'Jewel in the Crown of Caithness lochs', this is loch fishing at its best, though sometimes a lot of perseverance is required until there’s a hatch and the fish magically ‘come on’. Traditional 'loch style' and modern dry fly and nymph tactics can be equally effective depending on the wind/wave state. The wild brown trout are beautifully marked averaging just under a pound, with plenty of fish in the 2 to 3 pounds class caught annually. The season is short, running from May 1st to September 30th only.

This is a loch where an outboard engine and drogue are essential. And don’t forget spare shear pins. There are occasional, shallow stony areas some distance from the shore, and I can say from personal experience, that it’s a very long row from the north-east end back to the moorings against a strong south-westerly!!!

Loch Calder
Lying at an altitude of 66m (217 ft) and slightly larger than Watten at approximately 384 ha (950 acres), Loch Calder is quite different, much deeper, up to 28m (85 ft) and bordered on the west side by moorland with large exposed flagstone beaches and shallow bays. There are large numbers of obliging trout in the ½ to ¾ lbs range, and some much larger trout. The loch also has Arctic char and hence ferox trout, and occasional fish of up to 6 lbs are caught on the fly. A beautiful loch, good accessible bank fishing, particularly on the east and north banks, and fishing is also permitted on Sundays, so this can be a useful option, particularly when blown off other lochs.

St John's Loch
St John's is a shallow marl loch, typically only 5-6 ft (1.5 to 2m) in depth, approximately 79 ha (193 acres) in size, lying at 25m (82 ft) above sea level. Because of its shallow nature and marl bottom, it can be affected by heavy weed growth in the summer and discolours easily in periods of high winds. The trout average 1 lb, with several fish of over 3 lbs caught annually. The prime fishing is in late May through until to the end of June when there can be prolific mayfly hatches. Bank fishing is allowed and can be productive, especially early on in the season which runs from early April through to September 30th.

troutquest excursion - wild brown trout fishing on st. john's loch, caithness.

St John's Moorings

Loch Heilen
Even shallower than St. John's at only 4-5 ft (less than 1.5 m), Loch Heilen is another sizeable marl loch of approximately 78 ha (191 acres). Plagued by prolific weed growth in the summer, discoloured water in periods of high winds, and generally dour, this loch is still worth a visit for the experienced angler as it is a renowned big fish water. Be prepared to blank, and you could be pleasantly surprised.

Loch Toftingall
Toftingall is another shallow marl loch of 50 ha (124 acres) in an interesting and secluded setting surrounded on all sides by forestry plantation. Beautifully marked and varied brownies averaging about ¾ lb. Excellent.

troutquest excursion - wild brown trout fishing on loch toftingall, caithness.

Loch Toftingall

Ulbster Lochs
A dozen or so small trout lochs lying in the peatlands, though often with adjacent forestry plantation, owned by the Ulbster Estate. Great wilderness, 180 degrees of sky, well worth visiting. Most of the trout will be ½ to ¾ lbs, but many of these lochs have stocks of larger fish.

Loch of Yarrows
A good loch to get your confidence back if the fishing's been tough elsewhere. A good head of trout in the ½ lb to 1 lb range, generally obliging. Excellent bank fishing and fishable in all conditions.

 

troutquest excursion - wild brown trout fishing on loch scarmclate, caithness.

Loch Scarmclate

 

Flow Country Brownie
Flow Country Brownie
Flow Country Brownie
Flow Country Brownie
Loch Toftingall
Loch Toftingall
Toftingall Trout
Toftingall Trout
Loch Watten
Loch Watten
Scarmclate Trout
Scarmclate Trout

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Permits & Boat Hire

Main Lochs
For expert and friendly advice, permits and boat hire for most of these lochs, contact

  • Hugo Ross (tackle shop) in Wick, Tel: 01955 604200
  • Harper's Fly Fishing Services (tackle shop) in Thurso, Tel: 01847 839179

Ulbster Lochs
Permits for the Ulbster lochs can be purchased from the Ulbster Arms Hotel in Halkirk. Tel: 01847 831641

Thrumster Lochs
Permits for the Thrumster lochs (Hempriggs, Yarrows and Sarclet) are also available from the Thrumster Filling Station, Thrumster.