Draining some 220 square miles the Shin was the largest river in Sutherland, at least in terms of the volume of water that it dispensed.
From Loch Shin (a vast sheet of water some 16 miles long) the river drops 270 feet in its short seven mile course; most of this descent is in the last mile or so, and it is this tumbling rock-strewn section that really established the Shin's legendary reputation as one of the most challenging of salmon rivers. Close to the top of this section is the Falls of Shin, or Big Falls, a daunting obstacle 12 foot high, which fish will generally not ascend before May.
Loch Shin was dammed in the late 1950s for hydro-electric purposes. Those anglers, who can remember pre-hydro days, speak of a very different river- at times a truly awesome sight, untamed as it raged down through Achany Glen to the Kyle below. There is however one major advantage to the hydro scheme- guaranteed water levels; the Shin keeps on flowing in good angling order even during the severest of droughts.
The river Shin.
The Oykel, which drains 137 square miles, rises on the southern slopes of Ben More Assynt in west Sutherland. It has a fairly sedate pace to Loch Ailsh; thereafter it flows down Glen Oykel for some 15 miles, through a great variety of wild terrain including several gorge sections, to its mouth at the head of the Kyle near Rosehall. It is an entirely natural system with none of its waters impounded or abstracted; it has a wealth of spawning tributaries.
The Oykel system is dominated by two sets of falls- one on the main river just above Oykel Bridge and the other a mile up the main tributary, the Einig. Both of these are temperature barriers and spring fishing is restricted to the waters downstream. Several 19th Century accounts mention the practice of using long-handled hoop-nets to scoop out running fish from the pots on the Oykel Falls.
The lower river fishes from February to September. Above the Falls, the Oykel is more confined and one would be hard-pushed, except in one or two pools, to put out a full salmon line. The upper beats are essentially a summer fishery, with excellent sport whenever good water levels coincide with the main grilse runs.
Although the Cassley, draining some 75 square miles, is by far the smallest of the four inner Kyle of Sutherland rivers, it has long enjoyed an elevated reputation in salmon fishing circles. Indeed it is probably true that no other Scottish river of comparable size has been so celebrated in print. From the late 19th century the Cassley attracted many illustrious guests and tenants, including Augustus Grimble, Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Major R Chrystal and Alexander McConnochie- all were copious in their praise for this dramatic salmon stream.
Its source is the chain of lochans known as the Gorm Lochs to the north of Ben More Assynt. The Cassley has a course of some 18 miles before it joins the Kyle near Rosehall, just downstream of the mouth of the Oykel. It is worth noting that spring salmon are held back in the bottom mile by the Cassley Falls, a temperature barrier, which they do not surmount until the water temperature reaches a little over 50F.
The Carron drains some 150 square miles, and is the southernmost of the Kyle rivers. Its source is only five miles from Loch Broom on the west coast. It then flows 14 miles, past Deanich Lodge (almost as remote as you can get in these islands), to the Falls at Glencalvie. A mile downstream its major tributary, the Blackwater, comes in from the west, before it descends seven miles through Strathcarron to its mouth in the lower Kyle opposite Bonar Bridge.
Anyone who tries to walk the eight miles between Carron Bridge and the Glencalvie Falls will find themselves passing through unusually varied scenery. Some stretches of the river meander through flat pastures, others are confined to rocky gorges, and pine and birch woodlands extend right down to the river in places. Salmon angling has been taken seriously on the Carron for more than a century, and over the years, access to the pools has been improved, and salmon lies have been enhanced, so even in low water the fishing is maximised.
The river at Glencalvie.