For the roving angler this is the time when brochures are scanned, costs calculated and future adventures planned. A wild trout angling holiday in Scotland will be number one choice for many of the more discerning and though this may entail slightly more thought, the rewards of spanking golden trout amongst majestic hills are usually worth it.

Each year many visitors arrive from south of the border or from abroad to enjoy Scotland's brownies. Unfortunately some appear completely unaware of the intricacies of Scottish trout law. If overlooked, important details like whether you can fish locally on a Sunday, can unexpectedly shorten angling time and leave disappointed anglers. It's important to be well versed in the do's and don'ts of trout fishing north of the Watford Gap. We do things a little differently here and though you will not need to purchase a rod licence, you still need to be aware of local laws affecting your fishing. Ignoring the legalities of brown trout angling in Scotland can at best lead to a red face, and at worse a substantial fine depending on the nature of the offence - innocent or otherwise!

Wild trout angling comes under a complex umbrella of Scots law which in places, differs considerably from the English legal system. In Scotland, brown trout fishing can be affected by the Salmon Act, Protection Orders and Civil Law as it affects non migratory trout. As all forms of brown trout fishing first fall under civil law, it's best to begin there.

Civil law in Scotland states `No one, even if he is lawfully on the bank of a river or loch under right of access, has the right to fish in that river or loch'. This basically means that the right to fish for trout rests solely with the riparian owner(s) i.e. the owner of the adjoining land to the water, and that if you intend to trout fish you should seek his/her permission first. Unfortunately, because this civil law is without much clout in terms of legal redress, and it's not always practicable to find the owner in remote rural areas, it is sometimes ignored by those with a `fish and be damned' mentality.

Partly to cope with modern day angling pressures and partly to enhance this weak civil law, the Protection Order system came into being in Scotland in the 1970s. Substantial areas in Scotland are now covered by these Orders which make it a fineable offence to fish without a written permit and/or by a method not prescribed on the permit. These include the catchments of the Rivers Clyde, Don, Tummel, Garry and Tay as well as Loch Awe, Scourie Lochs, Loch Arkaig, Loch Morar and the Loch Earn catchment areas.

Those who first created PO's fundamentally had their hearts in the right place, however they rather overlooked the shortcomings. PO's at present are only granted on the understanding that public access to trout fishing will be increased but sometimes when an Order is in place, there is little or no follow up to ensure this spirit of access is being maintained. In practice some riparian owners pay lip service to trout fishing access or even rescind it altogether while still enjoying the increased conservation benefits of an Order covering their area. Equally, while salmon have enjoyed added safeguards under PO's, there seems to be a lack of cohesive effort on behalf of riparian owners to invest in long term wild trout conservation methods. Thankfully there are currently moves afoot in Scotland to reform Protection Orders and correct their limitations, the sooner the better it may be said.

The complex legal tale does not end there however, for in Scotland different laws affect different trout angling venues. When fishing for trout in waters also containing migratory fish the Salmon Act applies, while angling in waters with non migratory species is largely governed by Civil law. To this end river and loch trouting bylaws differ somewhat, so don't be caught out! In rivers, the Salmon Act takes precedence and points to note from this include; 'It is an offence to fish for salmon without written permission' (even if you are actually after trout) and also 'It is an offence to fish in rivers with illegal methods such as set line' (a rod which is propped up on a rod rest akin to coarse fishing is, in Scotland, classed as an illegal set line). Sunday fishing is also a very grey area. With no fishing for salmon in rivers on the Sabbath your trout fishing rights are also likely to be affected. Today many Scottish rivers still have no angling at all on a Sunday.

Alternatively if you choose to fish on an inland loch solely containing non migratory fish then some laws like no Sunday fishing may not apply, however `set line' fishing using a rod which is not hand held is very much frowned upon. Indeed, if you use a rod rest on a trout loch you technically render yourself liable to prosecution under the Salmon Act despite the fact there may be no migratory fish around!

Bewildered?? Don't be, for provided you fly fish and buy a permit first, then you will comfortably stay within the confines of the law. Scottish trout fishing has always had an appeal to the common man and therefore the stringent laws set in place to govern 'his lordship's salmon' have not crept into brownie angling. What is needed in 2001 is a reform of existing laws to make sure brown trout achieve the recognition they deserve both in terms of access and long term conservation.

Thankfully there are a number of proposals before the Scottish parliament at present, notably the `Angling for Change' strategy put forward by respected organisations like the Salmon & Trout Association and the Scottish Anglers National Association. 'Angling for Change' asks for a holistic approach to be taken, to conserve all of Scotland's freshwater fish species and not just salmon. If it also drags Scottish trout angling law kicking and screaming into the 20th century, it's not before time!