Salmon Fishing

There is a long history of fishing for Atlantic salmon and sea trout throughout the Northern Highlands, which boasts some of the very best salmon rivers in Scotland.

The larger rivers are to be found on the East and North Coasts where the catchments are generally larger, and the topography releases water more slowly. On the West Coast, the rivers systems are shorter, and large areas of the catchment can be steep bare rock, which means that the water run-off can be very fast. These types of rivers are known as spate rivers.

On these rivers water levels can rise very quickly, allowing salmon to migrate, before dropping again to low flow rates. The best opportunity to catch salmon is after the rain, and peak of the flow, as the spate recedes.

Thankfully (for anglers at least), the prevailing westerlies and coastal mountain ranges mean that rain is fairly frequent. It is for this reason that the best East Coast rivers tend to be the ones whose catchments extend furthest west and benefit most from this rainfall. The West Coast rivers are also more seasonal, with most of the fishing in the summer months.

Map of North Highlands Salmon Rivers Salmon Rivers of the Northern Highlands

The North Coast 500 route, a 500-mile touring loop north of Inverness, passes over more than 50 salmon and sea trout rivers some of which are part of larger systems that also offer lochs with fishing for migratory fish.

The salmon fishing described here is mainly focussed on that available to visiting anglers to the region. Most of the rivers and beats in the Northern Highlands are privately owned by estates, and salmon fishing is let as advanced bookings by the week, often with estate lodges or cottages. Individual anglers and larger sporting parties commonly return year after year to fish the same river and beat, so it can be very difficult to get on some rivers.

This type of fishing is therefore unlikely to be available to the visiting angler, particularly those touring who may just want a casual day's fishing here or there. There are a few estates and fisheries that operate flexible booking systems allowing for single-day lets, and for these salmon fisheries it is still advisable to book your fishing as much in advance as possible, but you may also be able to book 'last minute'.

Fresh Run Grilse Highland Silver

For those looking to buy a permit 'on the day', many angling clubs offer visitors ‘day tickets’ through local outlets. 

While you will find a description of most salmon rivers on this site, day ticket availability is the most important of the criteria considered when listing a beat. Many beats are therefore ignored if there is no realistic opportunity to fish them.

Licences, Permits & Methods
The legal season for salmon and sea trout fishing in Scotland varies from river to river. In some cases the legal opening date is earlier than fisheries choose to open, or when fresh salmon runs are expected, so in the fishery descriptions we have indicated the approximate dates of the main season rather than the statutory season opening & closing dates. In most cases, salmon runs will begin in April to June, and all rivers in the Northern Highlands are closed by the end of October.

There is no requirement in Scotland to have a rod licence to fish, however anglers must have written permission i.e. a fishing permit, and it is a criminal offence to fish for salmon without it. So please ensure that you buy a permit from the appropriate source before you start fishing. Salmon and sea trout fishing is not permitted on Sundays anywhere in Scotland.

On most salmon rivers, fly fishing is the traditional and only method permitted, as it is best suited to modern angling conservation practices. On a few of the larger rivers spinning is permitted in early season and/or in exceptionally high water. 

Salmon Fishing Excursions
There are over a dozen famous salmon rivers draining into the Moray Firth; most reachable within an hour's drive or so from Inverness.

Most of the beats on these rivers let their fishing by the week, often to guests returning year after year. On a few though, we can obtain single or multi-day permits for visiting anglers, subject to availability.

Our favourite rivers for guided salmon fishing excursions include the Alness, Conon, Shin and Cassley.