The beautiful and prolific Thurso River is located in Caithness in the far north of the Scottish Highlands, and is rightly regarded as one of Scotland’s premier Atlantic salmon rivers. The river flows for 26 miles/41km from its source, above Loch More, to Thurso Bay where it meets the Atlantic.
The Thurso has a long and productive season, where Salmon can be caught on the fly from the start of the season on 11 January, until its close on 5 October. The river enjoys strong runs throughout the spring, summer and autumn periods and, when the conditions are right, the sport can be truly exhilarating!
Anglers are based at the wonderful Ulbster Arms in Halkirk, which has been a sporting retreat for over 150 years. Having been recently renovated, the Ulbster Arms is the perfect place to relax and unwind following an action-packed day on the river. There are also three luxury lodges available for larger parties.
The Thurso is fed from Loch More, which is dammed at the top of the uppermost beat, 13. The fishery can control the water flowing out of the loch, which helps maintain optimum fishing for about three weeks, once the loch is full. Of course, Mother Nature remains in charge and rain-fed spates through the spring and summer months can supercharge the fishing.
The Thurso River is a charming medium to small-sized highland river that changes dramatically throughout its course. It presents a great variety of fishing challenges and there are one or two novel techniques to learn, such as ‘backing up’ which makes for some fascinating fishing. Classic wet fly techniques are highly productive, but tactics such as the hitch, skated flies, dry flies, and small sunrays often induce heart-stopping surface action.
The river has a great variety of fishing, to be both tempting and to challenge visiting anglers. There are streamy runs and fast necks which hold summer fish; a ‘lochan’ which can be fished by boat; slow-moving canal sections, which can be energised by a good upstream breeze; and classic Highland streams cascading through an idyllic gorge section.
Spring fish, (known in Scotland as ‘springers’) begin to arrive during March. Growing in number week by week, the peak time is from late April until early June. If conditions are conducive, spring fishing on the Thurso can be electrifying. Grilse begin to arrive during the latter half of May and keep coming until the end of August. The peak time is the middle of July when following a spate, large shoals enter the river producing incredible fishing on light tackle. These spritely, sporting fish are followed by larger summer salmon which enter the river during August and September. These distinct runs of grilse and salmon combine to produce an average catch of 1700- all on the fly. A wet spring and summer can see catches rocket to over 2000.
The Thurso’s twelve beats (numbered 2-13) are fished in rotation. In spring anglers are given two beats per day to fish, meaning they can fish the whole river during their week, while summer rods are given a single beat each day, rotating downstream by two beats. This system ensures visitors experience as much of the river as possible during their week. There are no rigid start and finish times on the river, which further enhances any Thurso adventure. Your beat allocation will be confirmed with you when you make your booking.
The Ulbster Arms hotel is situated in the small village in Halkirk, right on the river at beat 4. The hotel provides a superb accommodation option for anglers fishing on the River Thurso. Recently renovated there are 13 rooms in the Hotel with a selection of premium double rooms over looking the river. With 9 premium double rooms, 4 small premium double rooms, 2 premium twin rooms and a premium family room – all rooms are ensuite with free WIFI connectivity, tea and coffee making facilities with short bread.
There are also 3 luxury lodges available to let for larger groups that would prefer to experience the fishing in a lodge environment. The Dale Lodge contains 7 small double ensuite bath or shower rooms and 2 family ensuite bath or shower rooms, We have also renovated our new Executive Lodge – ‘Milton Lodge’ – which contains 4 ensuite bath or shower rooms.
All rooms contain tea & coffee making facilities, remote controlled televisions and Wi-Fi internet connectivity.
Food & Cuisine
The Restaurant at the hotel caters for all of the visiting guests. The Head Chef, Craig Brown, and his highly skilled team of local Chefs prepare menus each day, reflecting local seasonal fresh produce. From a hearty cooked breakfast and continental options, the hotel will prepare your lunch either as a packed lunch for a day out on the river, or welcome guests back to the hotel for a hot lunch option. Dinner is served in the dining room, where there is always a vibrant atmosphere of anglers sharing stories of how their days’ fishing went.
The hotel prides itself on using only the best local produce reflected in the seasonal menus. Guests are encouraged to make special requests, and should you wish to try some of the wonderful variety of freshly available local seafood, such as halibut, scallops, lobster or langoustines, the kitchen team will endeavour to source these from local fishing boats who land at nearby harbours.
After dinner, guests relax over coffee and home made petit fours in the newly furbished library, or retreat to the Lounge for a “wee dram” of the finest Highland Scotch.
DAY 1 (Sunday) – HOME CITY TO Halkirk
- Flight from home city to one of two international airports – Edinburgh or Aberdeen
- Drive to Halkirk in Thurso – Transportation can be arranged at additional cost on request
DAY 2 to 7 – full board lodging at ulbster arms hotel and guided fishing
- Breakfast is served at Ulbster Arms Hotel
- Meet your ghillies (guides) at 8:45am at the Ghillies Bothy outside the hotel for guided fishing daily
- The hotel will provide packed lunch and guided fishing is until 5pm
- Evening meals served at the hotel
- Beats change at 5pm and each angler will drop down two beats each day
- Anglers are encouraged to fish after dinner on the river without ghillies
DAY 8 – HALKIRK TO HOME CITY
- Drive home or to designated airport
- Rod / Week (including VAT) ranges from £300 in March to £1,525 in July / August
- Ghillie hire is charged at a rate of £80/day
- Hotel Rooms from £105 per night
Where should I get flights to?
The two domestic airports closest to Thurso are Wick and Inverness, whilst Edinburgh and Aberdeen receive international flights. Many anglers will hire a car from the airport and continue onwards to the Ulbster Arms Hotel in Halkirk.
Getting there by road
By road from Inverness
From Inverness (2.5hrs, approximately 110 miles), follow the A9 in a northerly direction, passing through Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale and Dunbeath. At Latheron, turn left, continuing on the A9, towards Thurso, and remain on this road (passing the wind farm) until you reach a T-Junction, approximately 18 miles. Turn left at this junction and in 1/4 mile turn left onto the B874, signposted for Halkirk. Continue until you reach the T-junction in the village, turn right and the hotel is on your left hand side.
By road from Wick Airport
Alternatively, if flying to Wick Airport (18 miles), drive south through the town, crossing over the Wick River, straight over a small roundabout and at the traffic lights turn right on to Thurso Road (A882). Continue on this road, through Watten, for 16 miles, you will then reach a cross-road with the B874, turn left onto the B874, signposted for Halkirk. Continue until you reach the T-junction in the village, turn right and the hotel is on your left hand side.
Booking a ghiile/guide
For some rods their ghillie is an essential part of their fishing holiday and some relationships go back over 40 years. To get the best out of your fishing we recommend all rods take a ghillie with them on the water.
All the ghillies have an intimate knowledge of the river and their aim is to ensure that you have the best experience of fishing the River Thurso. You will normally meet your ghillie at the Ghillie Bothy situated at the back of the hotel at about 08:30, and their aim is to get you fishing by 09:00. Anglers are normally expected to transport their ghillie to and from the river. The ghillie’s day finishes at 17:00.
It is customary to book a ghillie in advance as we have a limited number of available.
Can I hire fishing tackle during my visit?
There is a fully kitted out rod room at the back of the hotel, next to the Ghillie Hut. Here anglers are able to use the drying room facilities and hang up their rods for the evening. The hotel has a selection of LOOP rod and reel outfits hand selected for the river to ensure a balanced setup, available for guests to hire out on a daily basis at £20 per outfit per day.
Is there nearby trout fishing available?
There are numerous opportunities for trout fishing in Caithness and we can provide information on the following lochs. Watten, St Johns, Heilen, Toffinghall, Calder, Syre and a number of local hill lochs. The bigger lochs are better fished from a boat and we can provide details of boat hire etc.
What is the best defence against the midge's
From June onwards the midges have been known to drive anglers off the water, particularly in the evenings when the wind drops and it cools down. We recommend having a bug/midge suit handy – such as the LOOP Mygg jacket – which will put you straight at ease and allow you to keep fishing into the evening.
The river itself is a small-medium sized spate river. Double-handed rods are the norm in the spring and autumn months, but stout single hand and switch rods are more desirable during the warmer months and low water periods. Caithness can be a windy place, so it is wise to have something with a bit of backbone. In short, bring everything! There will also be a range of LOOP rods and lines on hand should they be required!
For further information on visiting the Thurso please contact email@example.com