It may surprise salmon fishers to observe the capriciousness of trout fishing. On a salmon river the defining factor of the weather is the rainfall. For trout one would suppose it to be ambient air temperature, which governs water temperature, which governs the supply of insect life.

But it turns out that a good year for Loch Watten doesn’t have to be a good year for Loch Calder even though they have the same air temperature and only a few miles apart. The year of Loch Watten’s lowest return (78 fish in 1978) was the year of Loch Calder’s ninth highest (339 fish). Disraeli’s famous remark about lies, damned lies and statistics should be enlarged to include the word “fish” at some point.

The DFFA organises a number of competitions every year, from both bank and boat. It has in fact no less than fourteen trophies of one sort and another, including the Bloody Foreigner Trophy, donated by Pieter Hovig. There is also an annual competition between the DFFA and the Shetland Angling Association.

As soon as the railway system got to the north of Scotland (Wick was reached in 1874), the fishermen began to arrive. The trout of the Flow Country quickly achieved fame on account of their plentiful number and their good average weights, a pound being common. Hotels were built specifically to accommodate this seasonal trade – Melvich, Altnaharra, Forsinard, and the Brown Trout Hotel in Watten, for example. Such hotels even kept their own boats on nearby lochs. The Ulbster Arms printed its own guide to the trout fishing.

Another attraction of the fishing lay in the variety of the lochs. In Loch Heilen you might, if you succeeded in overcoming its shyness, land a six pounder. On the other hand an angler who didn’t want to sit in a boat all day could make for the innumerable hill lochs right out in the Flows. In one there might be nothing but in its neighbour, maybe only quarter of a mile away, an angler might catch a couple of really fine trout just because that particular lochan was sitting on a patch of limestone. A good walk for man and dog, a good bag for his breakfast the next morning and, if he were lucky, a clear day among the extraordinary scenery of the flow country; for many the northland was an angler’s paradise, a fact that’s reflected in the number of fishing guides published at the time and the fantastically detailed Survey of the Freshwater Lochs of Scotland 1897 - 1909.

In 1955 the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station was established. With the “atomics” came new blood and new energy. In due course the Dounreay Fly Fishing Association (DFFA) was set up. How else were the angling atomics to pass the long light evenings of the summer? Boats were purchased and trout fishing rights secured. For a most characterful account of the DFFA’s history and a description of the principal Caithness trout locks click here.


It may be noted as a historical tailpiece that some of the ova used to populate the rivers of the British Empire with brown trout was taken from St Johns Loch. India (1863), Tasmania (1864), Australia and New Zealand (1867) and South Africa (1876), all were populated with Scottish ova. Loch Leven (via Howietoun in many instances) was the principal source.

The all-night fishing competition on Loch Watten

Photo Ken Macleod

The secretaries of the DFFA have kept meticulous records of the catch on its lochs and the effort that’s gone into making those catches. This type of information is priceless. If something is going wrong beneath the water we need to know about it now, not in ten years time. It is discouraging therefore to club secretaries when many, in some years even a majority, of those who book their boats can’t be bothered to send in a catch return. Even the word “NIL” is useful. On the St Johns loch website the secretary gives a figure of 75% for the non-responders. As a result he’s given up keeping records.

Photo Ken Macleod

Photo Iain Ogilvie

 Three men in a new boat, Loch Watten in May. Photo Ken Macleod.

 Three men in an old boat, Loch More, Morven in the background.

Among the many general websites offering trout fishing in Scotland are a number of Flow Country interest:

Forsinard Fly Fishers’ Club

Dounreay Fly Fishing Association

Thrumster Estates

Lochs In Caithness

Hugo Ross

St Johns Loch

The British Legion

Tongue Angling Association


Those wanting to fish in the Bettyhill area and seeking information and permits should contact:

The Bettyhill Hotel – 01641 521202

The Bettyhill Store (Ray Cooper) – 01641 521207


Paul Butterworth (Bettyhill Angling Club

secretary) on 01641 521317