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Rivers in Scotland – The Ultimate Guide

Main Rivers in Scotland

Scotland is blessed with wonderful scenery and hundreds of rivers, crystal clear and free from pollution and an abundance fo fish. If you are fishing in Scotland, here is an overview of the the main river systems and the West Coast and Highland rivers on offer.

River Tay, Salmon Fishing, Spey Casting, Orvis Guide, Mackenzie Fly Rods, Salmon Fishing techniques, salmon flies, harling
Atlantic Salmon Fishing River Tay

All of the systems below contain migratory runs of salmon and sea trout and they also hold brown trout. Rivers like the Annan, Tweed and Clyde have superb stocks of wild grayling, which offers the option to fish in the winter months.

Which river to choose?

Choosing the best river depends on what time of year you plan to visit. The Dee can be superb in the early part of the season, with prolific spring salmon runs. They River Tay and main tributaries like the Earn peak in October, as does the River Tweed and Forth system.

Salmon Fishing on the River Spey
American couple salmon fishing on the River Spey

My advice would be to speak with your guiding company and trust the advice they give you. If you’d prefer a second opinion organisations like Fishpal or George Goldsmith Sporting Estates can also offer good advice.

The main rivers are (in order of longest first)

  1. River Tay 193 km (120 miles)
  2. River Spey 172 km (107 miles)
  3. River Clyde 171 km (106 miles)
  4. River Tweed 156 km (97 miles)
  5. River Dee 137 km (85 miles)
  6. River Don 132 km (82 miles)
  7. River Nith 112 km (71 miles)
  8. River Forth 105 km (65 miles)
  9. River Findhorn 101 km (63 miles)
  10. River Deveron 98 km (61 miles)
  11. River Annan 79 km (49 miles)
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Winter grayling fishing in the River Annan

Overview of the fishing seasons on Scottish Rivers

  1. River Tay – Salmon Fishing Season – 15th Jan – 15th October / Trout Season 15th Mar to 6th October.
  2. River Spey  – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th September.
  3. River Clyde – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th March until the 6th October.
  4. River Tweed – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th March until the 6th October.
  5. River Dee – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 6th October.
  6. River Don – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 6th October.
  7. River Nith – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th September.
  8. River Forth – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th September.
  9. River Findhorn – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th Sept.
  10. River Deveron – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th Sept.
  11. River Annan – Salmon Fishing Season – 11 Feb – 30th Sept / Trout Season 15th Mar to 30th September.
River Earn, Lochlane and Laggan, salmon fishing, Spey Casting, Atlantic Salmon, salmon flies, fishing, gleneagles, Scotland, Orvis fishing guides
River Earn At Lochlane and Laggan

The River Earn (above) is a river in its own right and flows into the the lower part of the Tay system. This is a superb back end of the season salmon water, and ideal conditions would be after high water as it settles back.

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Scottish salmon from the River Tay

The West Coast also offer a myriad of fantastic smaller river. We call these in Scotland Spate Rivers. As they generally tend to fish best after a spate (flood or rise in water).

The Gruinard, Dionard, Laxford, Rhiconich River, Inver and Ullapool river are good examples of West Coast Spate rivers. Fishing here can be very prolific and you can also enjoy some of the most majestic scenery in Scotland.

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Its 4 miles of wonderful fishing on the Gruinard from Loch Na Sealga to the sea

The Highland rivers also offer a worthy alternative to the main rivers in Scotland, and arguably they can be more productive. Again, its important to get the conditions right. There are no guarantees with salmon fishing in Scotland, indeed, even when the conditions are perfect, the fish can simply switch off and refuse to take.

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Fishing hut on the River Spey

A few of the notable rivers in the Highland region near Inverness are, the Alness, Conan, Cassley, Lochy, Oykell, Naver, Helmsdale and Brora. Some of these rivers are hard to get access to, what we call in Scotland, Dead Mans Shoes, in that you need to wait for someone to die to get next in line. However we have contacts with all the agents and estates and can help. Simply get in touch and be specific with dates and we can start to make enquiries. It always improves your chances if you are willing to take a week and include accommodation. Most estates offer accommodation that includes fishing, this is a great way to bypass the “dead mans shoes” problem.

River Spey, Dry Fly, Wild Brown Trout, Alba Game Fishing, Fly Fishing, Scotland
Most of the salmon rivers offer great wild trout fishing on the dry fly