The Freshwater Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976


As a lad I enjoyed what was seen as a right to fish anywhere in Scotland for wild brown trout without a permit unless someone or an organisation such as an angling club had the fishing rights and issued permits or the water was stocked or only had rainbow trout, was a stank or was a salmon fishery with tough ghillies who chased trout anglers the hell of their lord and masters land. It was a loose way to define whether you could or could not fish a particular location, being hounded was a little stressful too!

Lets look at some examples. If I wanted to fish the Tay around Dunkeld I needed a permit but up at Logierait I could fish for free as long as I moved off when a salmon angler wanted to fish a pool. No one would dare fish the Dee for trout and much of the Don was closed to plebs like me, very few parts of the Tweed were available.

On the river Shin I shared glorious pools with the Admiral who had the upper beat every July, I even hooked, played out and lost my first salmon on his water. You knew when he was about as he motored up and down the river in his Rolls Royce, he never objected to a lad pursuing wild brownies on his water, a real gent. In fact I cast a line on many a ”posh beat” without fear of prosecution, still, it was a bit of a lottery when some grump could spoil your day.

There are many who believe this common right should prevail today, so what changed?

In 1963 Lord Hunter produced a report for the Departmental Committee on Scottish Salmon and Trout Fisheries which was intended to revolutionise the way we managed and accessed angling in Scotland. Many thought the proposals to be too revolutionary and the report faded into obscurity.

In 1976 the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 came into effect and as a consequence river systems and catchments were able to apply for Protection Orders. As a result of this Act the legal position was set out as:

Fishing without right or written permission is a civil offence except:

  • Where the fishery is a stank (a fishery without an inlet or outlet of any substance)
  • On the Solway system (except for the river Annan)
  • Where a Protection Order exists


“Where a Protection Order has been made under the provision of the 1976 Act fishing for trout or other freshwater fish without the right or written permission is a criminal offence” (1)

In return for this legally caveat it was intended that where a Protection Order was in place, reasonable access would be allowed for trout angling. This seemed like a good deal, or was it? The Aberdeenshire Don was opened up giving access to some of the best trout fishing you can dream of. The Tweed is open even on the famous Roxburgh waters at Kelso. You can fish anywhere on the Tay and it’s tributaries (check out www.tayfishing/permits.html), big water big trout and grayling. Good news eh?

One thing was wrong, setting the price or the type of permit doesn’t seem to have been specified. On certain salmon rivers the only way you can get a permit to fish for trout is to buy a salmon fishing permit. As a result, for example, you cannot buy a permit for trout fishing on the Spey from just below Aviemore, even association waters charge for salmon fishing. Effectively, for a day trout fishing, you can pay £10, £20 or hundreds of pounds. The lower end price is fine but most salmon fisheries cost a heck of a lot more and some do not even offer day tickets.

Fisheries that now enjoy the legal right to prosecute anglers who fish without right or written permission enjoy this right without playing the game. Should they not be obliged to allow fishing for trout? The Spey holds some of the best trout I have ever had the pleasure to catch, 3lb plus wild fighting trout on the dry fly off the Granton Association water, a much fished bit of the river. What would Castle Grant hold, or Tulchan or any beat right down to the sea where the trout are seen as a pest and no one fishes for them? I’m not having a pop at the Spey, well not just. There are many more rivers that enjoy the protection, the right to criminalise anglers. Isn’t it right that they should allow access to their water at a reasonable price. It works on the Tweed, probably the costliest stretch of salmon water in the UK, it works on the Tay. These rivers have pools perfect for trouting where salmon anglers never or rarely go.

Lets hope something can be done. Hey trout fisherman taking a brace of good trout is a better destiny for the fish than killing them off by electro-fishing them out of the spawning grounds and dumping the carcasses then wondering what ever has happened to the sea trout.

Appendix 1;