Where to fish
The River Cassley
Sit back, shut your eyes and indulge in a little daydreaming. Think of a gorgeous spate river that lies in the heart of the northern highlands with its source near Scotland’s north-west coast at the foot of a famous mountain, a course that offers all the variety of fly water you could wish for and its mouth at the tidal limit of a long east coast estuary where other rivers join it in that kyle, then the Cassley would fit that description perfectly.
This is a river with some interesting history attached. The Lower Cassley was owned for a while in the early part of the 20th Century by the Duke of Westminster. Sir Edward Grey (British Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the 1st World War) was a regular visitor: those lucky enough to have a later edition of his famous book ‘Fly Fishing’ may know that it has a chapter based on his experiences on the Cassley. Later in the 20th Century the Lower Cassley and the Rosehall Estate were acquired by the Graesser family. Many will have read publications by Neil Graesser who was a great authority and wrote extensively on salmon, salmon fishing and salmon river management including his famous book ‘Fly Fishing for Salmon’. The Lower Cassley is managed to this day by his Trustees very much in line with his principles.
The Cassley is a spate river but it has some notable features or assets. The source of this river lies in the shadow of Ben More Assynt which often remains snow covered well into the spring thus providing a slow-release reservoir which can sometimes provide that all important top-up on a sunny spring day. The river makes its way south-eastward through a very beautiful and sparsely populated glen which includes a holding pool nearly a mile long that plays an important part in supporting a healthy population of salmon. One of the most notable features is the Achness Falls on the Lower Cassley: this forms a temperature barrier in the early part of the season ensuring that early spring fish are confined to the Lower Cassley beats usually until about mid-May.
Lower Cassley Beat 1 includes impressive falls and gorge pools which provide intriguing tests and challenges for the fisherman as well as some more streamy pools. Lower Cassley Beat 2 mainly flows through a more gentle pastoral landscape down to the tidal water at the Kyle of Sutherland, although when the temperature barrier has opened up it too includes some interesting gorge pools. The first spring fish are usually caught in March and these stunning ‘bars of silver’ continue to provide great sport through April, May and June. They may not be as large as some rivers with an average weight of 7 or 8lbs but they are usually in great condition and 14 - 16lb fish are quite often caught: connect with one of these and you will know all about it!
Grilse usually start to enter the river in June or July and fishers can enjoy some great sport with these lively little fish (typically 4 – 5lb) well into August. Early Autumn is a beautiful time in Sutherland and whilst the Lower Cassley has been only lightly fished at this time in recent years the Trustees are keen to encourage anglers at this time as there is still the chance of a fish even if it might be a little coloured!
A double-handed rod is strongly recommended in the 13’ - 15' range with a range of lines and tips. In keeping with Neil Graesser’s principles dressed singles or tubes with single hooks are the order of the day until late spring when small doubles are permitted. Standard patterns are used with Alistair Gowans' Cascade being amongst the most successful in recent years although Mr Graesser's own famous pattern the Tadpole is still in regular use.
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.
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.
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.