Learn how to read the river

Foraging Along Scotland’s Rivers

Foraging is a fantastic way to either support yourself or to supplement your meals. The latter is especially true when on a long distance canoe trip across some of Scotland’s wildest landscapes. In this blog, we show you how to forage for food and catch fish in and along Scotland’s rivers.

Join us for a spectacular trip along Scotland’s river Spey.
Click here for more details about our five-day Scottish canoe expedition along the river Spey.

As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or click on the section that interests you the most. 

Ethical foraging 

Foraging on the rivers of Scotland

Foraging, like anything else, has its limits. Taking more than the environment can replenish will not only reduce the amount of food available for other fellow foragers but will also have a serious impact on the wildlife and general biodiversity in the area. When foraging there are a few rules that you can abide by to help maintain the environment; take only what you will need, forage from a range of locations, not just a single focused area; eat/use everything that you take.  

Recommendations from Reforesting Scotland

Reforesting Scotland produced an in-depth study into sustainable foraging and provide the following further recommendations;

  • Don’t uproot plants.
  • Don’t hunt out of season.
  • Only take a limited number of leaves or fruits from a plant. This will leave it with the resources necessary to survive and reproduce.
  • Only harvest a limited number of plants or animals within a given area. Spread the harvesting load as widely as possible.
  • Take care not to damage the ecosystem.

Further considerations in Scotland

Foraging in Scotland is loosely governed by three sets of guidelines, these are available via the links below.

As normal, never eat anything that you have not absolutely, positively identified as safe.

Good spots to forage for food

foraging on Scotland's rivers

When it comes to foraging the first thing to be able to do is to identify where to look for food. This blog won’t cover specialist instructions on identifying fungi – to do that you need to take a course. If you’re interested in learning more about foraging why not take part in our weekend bushcraft course.

What we will look at in this blog is where to look to find foods to forage and good spots to fish along the Scottish rivers. Remember, this is to supplement your meal when canoeing in Scotland, not to provide all the nutrition that you need. Also, keep in mind that this is a broad look at what is available to forage in Scotland and doesn’t mean that all the foods mentioned are available throughout the country.

Foraging for berries

Scotland is a wonderful place for foraging for wild berries. There are around ten varieties of edible berries that can be found in Scotland; these include blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, juniper berries and even wild cherries. These berries can predominantly be found in Perthshire, Strathmore, and Fife. Though they can also be found within the Grampian, Highland areas as well as Arran, Ayrshire, and the Borders.

Foraging for mushrooms

If you know your fungi then Scotland can be a great place for fans of mushrooms. Popular edible species found in Scotland include Chicken of the Woods, wood Blewitt, and hedgehog fungus. For more information about the different varieties of fungi available in Scotland see the Scottish Natural Heritage guide to fungi.

Foraging on Scotland’s coasts

Of course, should your canoeing trip take you within sight of any of Scotland’s magnificent coastline then a wealth of foraging opportunities await you. In addition to the mussels, limpets, and winkles typically found along the British coastline, parts of the Scottish shore can also provide Dulse, a wonderful red seaweed which can make a good soup. 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Fishing in Scotland’s rivers

River Spey canoe trip

Unlike in England, you do not require a license to fish in rivers in Scotland. You do, however, need the permission of the landowner to fish for salmon and sea trout, and permission from one of the owners of any loch that you wish to fish in; each river also has its own seasons. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://fishinglicence.eu/uk/scotland.

The river Spey is one of Scotland’s finest Salmon rivers but is also home to Trout and Pike. For more information as to what to expect in the Spey see: http://www.fishpal.com/Scotland/Spey/ .

Bushcraft techniques for fishing 

There are essentially three broad types of bushcraft fishing techniques; hooks, traps/nets and spears/harpoons. In the following section, we will take a quick look at each of these in turn.

A word on the law

The techniques described below are bushcraft fishing techniques and some may not be legal within the UK. Please be aware that the law in Scotland states: “No person shall fish for or take freshwater fish in any inland water except by rod and line”. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/marine/Salmon-Trout-Coarse/game/methods


Hooks are the classic method of fishing. A basic principle that remains the same whether being used with the most basic wooden rod or by the most experienced sport fisherman. The most basic hook is the gorge hook. This is a piece of strong wood or bone sharpened at both ends, the line is tied in the middle of the hook. It works on the premise that when the fish swallows the bait, the hook becomes lodged in a toggle fashion in its mouth.  Hawthorn also makes a great fishing hook.


While lines can be made from materials such as rawhide it is best, particularly when on a canoe trip where weight is not a huge concern, to carry your own line. This can be used in conjunction with a rod or strung across the river with the hooks suspended vertically from the main line.

Traps and nets

Traps and nets enable you to (in theory at least) to catch more fish with less effort. At their most basic all fish traps work on the same basis; that is the fish swim into a narrowing funnel which they are unable to swim back out of. Fish traps work best of fast flowing or tidal rivers where the force of the water can help to trap the fish. Depending upon the amount of time available to you fish traps can either be complex woven basket-type devices of simple rock walls which guide fish into blocked off eddy pools. In bushcraft, traps are preferable to nets, simply because the latter requires a great degree of cordage. However, if you’re going to be out in the woods for a while then they may well prove a worthwhile investment of your time. 

Spears and Harpoons 

While it might look easy in the films, fishing with a spear or harpoon is actually very difficult and requires considerable practice. Just to be clear, technically harpoons are thrown rather than thrust, both can have detachable heads, though in reality the terms are used interchangeably.  Your spear/harpoon should be made of a light yet strong wood with a narrow point (either of bone or carved into the harpoon itself); this point should be narrow enough so as not to destroy the fish.  

Coming up

In next week’s blog we will be taking a look at natural navigation in the UK. In the meantime take a look at some of the wildlife that you might see if you join us on our five-day canoe expedition along the river Spey; read River Spey Wildlife . 

 Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

River Spey Canoe

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