Scotland is known famously for its superb salmon and trout fishing
Learn where are the best places to fish and who to book your fishing trip with
Understand the best fishing methods for salmon and trout
Scotland is known as the home of fly fishing for Atlantic salmon. While fly fishing for trout and grayling was common in England since the 13th century, it wasn’t until 1810 when fly fishermen first started swinging flies for salmon. Salmon fishing first started on Scotland’s River Tweed.
While salmon fishing is pretty much the heartbeat of fishing in Scotland, this stunning country has a lot more to offer.
Between the highland tarns, huge rivers, small streams, and more lochs than you can count, you’ll find that fishing in Scotland is quite diverse. Plus you had the added benefit of fishing alongside some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
With so many different angling opportunities, knowing where and when to go fishing in Scotland is no easy task and that’s what I’m here to help with.
Having fished in Scotland many times over the last few decades. I’ll be your guide to finding the right waters, where to book your fishing, and the best times of year to fish.
What Are The Top Fish To Catch In Scotland?
Scotland is home to more than just salmon and there are quite a few different species you can target between all the rivers and lochs.
Here are the top fish to catch in Scotland:
As you can see, salmon is just one of a list of awesome fish species you might find on the end of your line in Scotland, and in some cases, you can find four of the five species in a single stretch of water making for a day of very diverse fishing.
Where To Go Fishing In Scotland?
When it comes to going fishing anywhere in the world, the first step to success is finding a productive place to fish. If you were to do an online search for fishing spots in Scotland, you would get so many results that you’d end up overwhelmed.
Below you’ll find a list of my favourite fishing spots in Scotland so you can avoid unproductive waters and fish with confidence from your first cast.
Salmon & Sea Trout Rivers
Fishing The East Coast Of Scotland
On the east coast of Scotland is where you’ll find the most famous salmon rivers that you have most like heard of. These include the Spey, Tweed, Dee, and Tay rivers but there are lots more you can fish also.
The River Dee is probably one of the most beautiful and iconic salmon rivers in the world. While the fishing is excellent, the river also flows through ancient Scottish estates and past old castles. You couldn’t find yourself in a more Scottish salmon fishing setting than on the Dee.
The River Tweed, as I mentioned at the beginning, is the home of salmon fishing in Scotland and is one of the best salmon and sea trout rivers in the country. The Tay is the largest salmon river in Scotland and the River Tay is one of the few salmon rivers where spinning for salmon and trout is allowed as well as traditional fly fishing.
Tip: The largest Atlantic salmon caught in the UK was a 64lb specimen in 1922! This was caught on the River Tay at Glendelvine
The Spey is also beautiful and holds some great fishing and some of the other rivers worth fishing include Don, Teith, Findhorn, North Esk, South Esk, Deveron, and Earn.
If you’re looking to go salmon fishing on the big four, then you will need to book way in advance to get a slot as they are hugely popular.
Fishing The West Coast Of Scotland
The salmon and sea trout rivers on the west coast of Scotland tend to be a lot smaller than the rivers on the east coast. This means they are heavily reliant on rainfall for salmon and sea trout to run up into their higher reaches and are known as Spate rivers.
Tip: A spate river is usually a fast-flowing river fed by heavy rainwater. The water level rises and falls very fast.
Fishing these rivers successfully is all about timing as the salmon and sea trout will hold in the estuary until enough rain falls before running upstream. Some of the great west coast rivers to fish include the Stinchar, Morar, Bladnoch, Annan, Nith, Kirkaig, and Awe.
All the salmon and sea trout rivers mentioned above also have excellent brown trout and grayling fishing too but some are much better than others. If you want to do a few days of trout and grayling fishing mixed up with some salmon then these are the rivers to focus on.
The River Don is probably the best trout river in Scotland as it holds some giants. Along with the Don, should also consider the river Annan, Glass, Clyde, and Tummel.
Fishing Brown Trout Lochs
Brown trout are native to Scotland and therefore inhabit pretty much every loch in Scotland, and there are more than 30,000 lochs across the country.
Tip: The largest brown trout caught in the UK was a 31lb 12oz monster caught from Loch Awe.
The general rule when it comes to Scottish lochs and brown trout is – the higher in altitude or north the loch, the smaller and more aggressive the trout are. This is due to fewer insects and food for the fish making them smaller but far more feisty!
Lochs at lower altitudes have a lot more insect life and thus produce bigger trout, and these are the lochs we are going to focus on.
Here are the top brown trout lochs in Scotland:
The lochs of Orkney
Shetland and Uist
If catching a huge brown trout in a loch in Scotland is your dream, then you’ll want to focus on the limestone lochs of Scotland. Limestone lochs provide alkaline waters which in turn allow for an abundance of aquatic food for trout to eat, and thus they grow to sizes of 10lbs and above.
There aren’t many limestone lochs in Scotland and the ones you’ll want to focus on are Cape Wrath lochs and Reay Lochs.
Fishing Rainbow Trout Commercial Waters
Rainbow trout are not native to Scotland but can be found all across the country. “Bows” have been stocked into Lochs (lakes) to create an extra sporting option. Most rainbow trout waters are fished from a boat.
Rainbow Trout fishing in Scotland is available all year round, there is no closed season.
The best lochs and lakes offer excellent fishing for good quantities of large, fierce fighting “bows”.
Here are the top rainbow trout lakes and lochs in Scotland:
There are many commercial rainbow stocked waters throughout Scotland. Aberdeenshire and the Central Belt area (near Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling) have the largest concentration.
Fishing Pike Lochs
If you’re looking to do some excellent pike fishing in Scotland then you’ll be pleased to hear that some of the lochs hold some giants over 20lbs.
The general rule when it comes to pike lochs in Scotland is the bigger the loch, the bigger the pike. However, where there are pike, the trout fishing isn’t as good in these lochs, as the pike tend to enjoy eating a good size trout!
Here are the top pike fishing lochs in Scotland you should focus your efforts on Loch Rutten, Loch Awe, Loch Ken, Loch Lomond, and Loch Tay.
When To Go Fishing In Scotland
Fishing in Scotland is highly regulated by the fisheries department and therefore the fishing seasons for each species are well-defined. This is to protect the fish and ensure they are not under any fishing pressure at times when they might be venerable.
Salmon and sea trout seasons on Scottish rivers vary from river to river. Generally, fishing opens in either January or February and runs until September or October.
The choice of which river and the right season to go to can be very complicated. To make this easier here is a link to the rivers and the times they are open. Check out the Scotia fishing website, “Scottish Salmon Fishing Seasons” here.
Trout fishing in Scotland runs from March through to October with some rivers such as the Tay opening their fishing in April and closing it in September.
Grayling fishing seasons also differ from river to river, some are open all year round, and others only open over winter from November to February.
There are no regulations on pike fishing in the lochs, so you can fish all year round. However, the best times are between October and April during the colder winter months.
Best Ways Of Catching Fish In Scotland
Most of the fishing in Scotland for salmon, sea trout, trout, and grayling is fly fishing only but this depends on the river or loch you’re fishing in. The River Tay, for example, also allows anglers to use spinning rods to catch salmon but there aren’t many other places that do.
When fly fishing for salmon on the big rivers of Scotland, you’ll need a double-handed spey rod of 13 to 15ft long to cast the distances required. For most scenarios, anglers should use, 8-10 weight fly lines (floating, sink tip or intermediate, and fast sinking line)
In lower water conditions lighter rods such as a single-handed, 10ft 6in long, 8-9 weight rod, is perfect for fishing for grilse and sea trout. For brown trout, 5-7 weight, 8-10ft single-handed rods are the best choice.
On the smaller rivers, switch or single-handed rods will do the trick.
If your pike fishing on the lochs, casting big lures and using dead baits on spinning rods is the norm and it is very effective. Fishing from a boat or from the shore both yield pike.
Tip: The use of any live bait is illegal in Scotland.
Another option that is proving more and more popular is fly-fishing for pike.
How To Book Your Fishing Trip To Scotland
You have two choices when it comes to booking your fishing trip to Scotland. You can either do a DIY fishing trip by hiring a car and booking your spots on the rivers using FishPal.
I love DIY fishing as it’s more of an adventure but it can lead to being in the wrong places at the wrong time if you don’t understand the area.
Scotland has many options for guided fishing trips. With Scotia Fishing, they provide a first-class experience and with more personal touch hands-on guide in Scotland. Other than salmon and trout they offer pike, grayling and sea pollock fishing.
They also offer fly fishing casting tuition and also a whiskey and fishing experience which is a very unique and pleasurable experience. I highly recommend choosing to go with the team from Scotia Fishing, I can assure you it will be a valuable and memorable fishing experience.
If you want more of a guide experience and need someone to manage accommodation and transport, then you should talk to either Aardvark McLeod or River & Green. Both are large reliable companies that can deal with any unique requests that you may have.
Fishing Regulations In Scotland
You will need a fishing license to cast a line in Scottish waters and you can either buy one for all species including salmon and sea trout or one that covers just trout, grayling, and pike. You can buy your license online here.
Along with your fishing license, you will need to book and pay for the beat or area you’re fishing on. If you have booked with either of the fishing companies mentioned above, they will have already arranged the license for you. If you’re doing DIY, then FishPal is the way to go.
Tip: Fishing for salmon and sea trout on a Sunday is strictly prohibited. Fishing for brown trout on Sundays is legal but is not seen as the right thing to do on some rivers.
Thanks very much for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and are now ready to go fishing in Scotland. It’s one of the most beautiful places to go fishing in the world, especially if you love fly fishing.
Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.