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Reeling in Adventure: Explore the Beginnings of River Helmsdale on Your Highland Self-Catering Escape

Helmsdale River in the Winter
Helmsdale River in the Winter

Welcome to the captivating realm of the River Helmsdale, an east-flowing river nestled in the heart of the Sutherland region in the Highlands of Scotland. Understanding the river's origins and the intricacies of its flow enhances the Highland experience for all its visitors, allowing for a deeper connection with this enchanting landscape and its fishing background.

This 21 mile river to Helmsdale gracefully meanders southeastwards from its source at Loch Badanloch down the scenic Strath of Kildonan. Along its journey, the river embraces the waters of the Bannock Burn on its left and the Abhainn na Frithe on its right, with its finale into the Moray Firth on the North Sea. Other significant tributaries that contribute to its allure along the way is the Suisgill Burn on the left bank which adds its own unique character to the flow. Meanwhile, the right bank witnesses the graceful entry of Craggie Water, a tributary that weaves its own tale into the river's narrative.

Lochs and Legends: Achnamoine, Badanloch, nan Clàr, and Rimsdale

River Helmsdale's course is adorned with enchanting lochs, each holding its own secret and adding to the mystical ambiance of the Highland landscape. Loch Achnamoine, just over 1 km in length, rests along the river's line, creating a serene interlude in the flow. A bit downstream, Loch Badanloch stands as part of a complex of interconnected lochs, including Loch nan Clàr and Loch Rimsdale. These lochs form a poetic connection with the moors on the southern edge of the Flow Country, receiving the waters from the Allt an Lòin Tharsuinn, Allt Lòn a' Chùil, and Rimsdale Burn.

Old Map of River Helmsdale
Map of River Helmsdale

River Helmsdale
River Helmsdale

The River Helmsdale isn't just a fishing destination; it's a tapestry woven with the threads of nature, history, and tradition. As anglers cast their lines into its waters, they become part of a story that has unfolded over centuries. Lochs, burns, and the ebb and flow of the river create a mesmerizing backdrop for an angler's journey.

Renowned as the most productive salmon river in the region, this hidden gem opens its arms to anglers seeking an authentic and exclusive fishing experience. Divided into twelve beats, six above the falls of Kildonan and six below, this stretch of water offers a carefully preserved sanctuary for anglers. Two rods are allowed on both the top and bottom beats each day, allowing a fortunate dozen to revel in the thrill of the catch.

The fishing season 2024 kicks off on January 11th, and is the only day when the fishing is open to all on the river. It marks not just an opening but a grand saga of salmon hunting. The falls of Kildonan witness the majestic passage of salmon, with the most prolific fishing occurring from April to August. Grilse (a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea) make their grand entrance in June, ensuring that the River Helmsdale remains a year-round haven for avid anglers.

In the spirit of tradition, fishing on the River Helmsdale is an art conducted with a fly. The pure elegance of this method adds to the allure of the experience, connecting anglers to the ancient roots of Scottish salmon fishing. Access to the private beats is a privilege strictly limited, adding an air of mystery to this angler's haven, however occasionally, a lucky few may find the opportunity to claim a rod in the early season, a chance to immerse themselves in the untamed beauty of this Scottish river.

For those who seek a taste of the River Helmsdale magic without the long-term commitment, day tickets are available for the association water in the village of Helmsdale. The mile long stretch promises salmon excitement throughout the season and offers excellent sea trout fishing during the summer months.

Glencoast fishing tackle, country, and outdoors shop in Helmsdale, offer fishing permits for the area [1] [2]. The shop is located on Dunrobin Street in Helmsdale, UK, contact them at 01431 821372 to inquire about the availability and pricing of the permits.

So as you embark on your angling adventure along the River Helmsdale, take a moment to appreciate the majesty of its origins. From the serene lochs to the meandering flow through the Strath of Kildonan, every bend in the river tells a story. The whispers of the tributaries, the legends held by the lochs, and the dance with the moors create an experience that transcends the mere act of fishing.

The River Helmsdale beckons, not just as a salmon haven but as a portal to the Highland's rich natural tapestry. Cast your line, embrace the story, and become part of the legacy that flows through the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

River Helmsdale from old Helmsdale Bridge
River Helmsdale from old Helmsdale Bridge

Prices for Helmsdale River Permits: 

January-June, Day permit £33 weekly £135

July-September, Day permit £47 weekly £164 

OAP’s half price on all

These can be purchased at Glencoast, Helmsdale in the village main street together with any equipment you may need.

Trout lochs are managed by the estates: 

Auchentoul - 01431 821283

Helmsdale River: Monthly River Report

Blogpost contributed by Jennifer Gordon - Linkedin Profile -


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