Fishing Locations and Access

Nelson/Marlborough region encompasses a diverse range of landscapes and climates.

It stretches from Kahurangi Point in the northwest, south to Springs Junction and east to the Conway River catchment near Kaikoura. The region contains three National Parks, one Forest Park, Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park, 9 major and 12 lesser water Catchments and 10 lakes, tarns and reservoirs. Department of Conservation estate encompasses 40% of the region.

You can read more about each river catchment or fishing location below, and download access maps and pamphlets by clicking on the links below.

The climate varies considerably from mild coastal to cold alpine conditions, and rainfalls between 3700mm (Bainham) to 570mm (Grassmere) are experienced. The underlying geology is also varied and this affects river form and flows, from limestone and marble, clay bound gravels and various granites in Nelson and schist, limestone and greywacke in Marlborough. This wonderful diversity is reflected in the waters of Nelson-Marlborough.

These rivers flow over large rounded white and yellow boulders that contrast with the evergreen native forests. The Waimea and Motueka basin catchments rise in the steep beech clad Richmond and Arthur ranges before flowing through intensely farmed lands growing pine trees, apples, kiwifruit and hops. Upper catchment rivers like the Wairoa, Upper Motueka, Wangapeka, Baton and Pearse are noted for their water clarity.

The Murchison district offers everything from small feeder streams to the huge and impressive Buller River. The Buller River is NZ’s fifth largest, and in flood, the largest – rising over 30 vertical metres at Hawks Crag near Westport. The Buller Valley still shows signs of the massive 1929 earthquake that has dammed the river in the gorge section, forming a slowly moving lake. The Buller’s source is Lake Rotoiti, within the Nelson Lakes National Park. Mountain peaks here rise to 2339m and are snow topped 6 months of the year. The run off and snow melt flows into Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. The two lake outlets form the upper Buller River until it is joined by the Matakitaki, Mangles, Matiri and Maruia at the ‘four rivers plain’ near Murchison.

Most of the larger Marlborough rivers are a total contrast to the western Nelson rivers, often being blue coloured from glacial silt – wide, braided with extremes of flow. Rivers in the Marlborough high country carry some of the largest volumes of gravel in the world.

Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest farm (180,476 ha) supporting 10,000 cattle. This huge trackless area features many small alpine tarns and lakes and its western and southern boundary is the Clarence River – one of New Zealand’s longest and more remote catchments that drain the Inland and Seaward Kaikouras. The lower Clarence and the Awatere rivers flowing northeast from Molesworth are heavily silt laden for much of the year.

The Wairau River is one of the areas best trout fisheries producing large searun and resident fish as well as a few salmon. Close to Blenheim spring creeks like the Taylor, Opawa and Spring Creek offer classic fishing in very clear water.  

Completing the circle of the region we finish in the Marlborough Sounds’ main catchment, the Pelorus Valley. Beginning in the Richmond ranges between Nelson and Marlborough, this river gouges its way through steep native bush covered mountains to slow down to a gentle pace in lush dairy farm land before entering the sea at Havelock.

The brown trout is king of Nelson – Marlborough waters, found in all but a few places unsuitable or not accessible to trout. All populations are wild and self-sustaining. Brown trout not only survive in the many types of water found in Nelson – Marlborough but thrive. They are very adaptable fish tolerating high and low water temperatures and water flows. Brown trout size, colour and physical features differ from catchment to catchment. One thing about brown trout that is consistent is their ability to avoid capture by anglers, (before and after being hooked)!

Rainbow trout have not fared as well here, although there are a small number of fisheries that provide good sport for rainbow trout. Good lake options include Lake Daniells, Cobb Reservoir and Lake Argyle.  Rivers with solid rainbow trout populations include the Pelorus, Rai, Branch and Leatham rivers. There is a growing population of rainbows in the Wairau River, and although less common, there are light numbers of rainbows in Lake Rotoroa tributaries as well as the upper Maruia valley; 

Quinnat or Chinook salmon run into the Clarence River, Lyell Creek (Kaikoura) and Wairau River near Blenheim in low numbers. Escaped salmon from sea cages occasionally find their way into other rivers such as the Pelorus and Takaka.

Aorere Catchment:

As the largest river in Golden Bay, this river offers the angler many miles of back country fishing for large brown trout in scenic surroundings. The water is often a brownish colour but in the upper reaches is extremely clear and deep. The upper river is part of the Tasman Wilderness section of Kahurangi National Park.

Here the going is difficult but the keen angler is often rewarded with large and challenging fish. The main river features several impressive gorges with accessible reaches between. The lower river provides productive angling for searun trout and Kahawai.

Awatere Catchment:

This river receives little angling attention due to its extremes in flows, steep descent and poor water clarity. Despite this when the river is clearish local spin anglers do catch some nice trout mainly at the mouth or middle to upper sections in the pools with good bed structure. The fly angler will find some interesting sport in the larger side streams.

Buller River:

Important enough to warrant a National Water Conservation Order, this outstanding fishery attracts many anglers. Access to most reaches is easy with roads close by and agreeable landowners who grant access permission upon request. The Buller and tributaries give the angler many choices of fishing location and trout size, numbers and catchability. All angling methods work with flyfishing being the most productive in clear water.

Clarence Catchment:

The lower and middle sections of this river are silt laden for much of the year but do clear at times in the summer or mid winter. The salmon run in the Clarence is small but consistent with fish size averaging 12 lb. Most are caught at the mouth were angling pressure is light. The middle section of the Clarence can be accessed with difficulty by jet boat or 4wd through the Bluff Station with their permission, and through Remuera Station with the permission of Ainslee Green. Most angling occurs from the Acheron River confluence upstream where there is good road access.

This section of river is often clear and holds plenty of small to medium sized trout that love dry flies and spinners. The occasional large trout and salmon are caught. Lake Tennyson holds good numbers of medium sized trout with high numbers of small trout in the first 2km of the Clarence River below the lakes outlet. The Acheron River and its tributaries hold larger trout with miles of rivers to explore. Foot access is available all summer and vehicle access along the Acheron only when the Molesworth road is open to the public from November to April, subject to weather and farming operations.

Motueka Catchment:

This is one of the region’s most popular fishing rivers and also has a Water Conservation Order protecting its values. It is less than one hour’s drive from Nelson and has an abundance of easy access to the main river and all tributaries. This catchment offers excellent angling for brown trout of 2-4lb. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s trout numbers in the Motueka were some of the highest in New Zealand. The river generally always has a good population of fish, however there are fluctuations from year to year, depending on the magnitude and frequency of flood events, particularly in Spring when juvenile fish are vulnerable. All angling methods can be used successfully with small artificial lures and flies working best.

Click here for the Motueka River access pamphlet.

Nelson Lakes National Park:

Lakes Rotoiti, Rotoroa and the Travers, Sabine and D’Urville Rivers provide superb wilderness fishing. DoC have provided good tracks, bridges and huts that anglers can utilize as well as water taxi services on both lakes. Trout numbers are good with flyfishing being the most productive in the clear waters. Trolling works well on the lakes at times.

Pelorus Catchment:

The Pelorus is a beautiful river with wild rugged headwaters and gentle lowland reaches. Populated by 70% brown trout of 1-7 lb and 30% rainbow of small to 3lb size. A great river for the less experienced angler and for winter angling.  The Rai River flows into the Pelorus and is a small gently flowing river with a good mix of brown and rainbow trout. The Rai has several tributaries which are well worth a visit.

Takaka Catchment:

A popular Golden Bay river with unusual flow patterns caused by variable flows from an upstream power station and water flowing underground to feed the Pupu Springs, the largest and clearest in the Southern Hemisphere. The Cobb Reservoir in the headwaters holds lots of small rainbows and some browns.

The upper Takaka is rugged but well serviced with the hydro road, this section and major tributaries the Anatoki and Waingaro hold low numbers of good strong brown trout. The section of the Takaka River from Lindsay’s Bridge to the Waingaro confluence is often dry. Pupu Springs are always clear and used to hold a population of huge brown trout, howvever this has diminished recently.  There is also the possibility to catch salmon that escape from farms on the upper end by the actual spring.

Waimea Catchment:

Popular with Nelson anglers due to its proximity to town this river features large resident and searun trout with very high water clarity providing good stalking conditions. The lower section is modified to control floods but still produces large fish, the upper reaches and tributaries are gorgy in places with most trout being 5 lb in top condition and exciting to catch. River levels do rise quickly in heavy rain but fall and clear just as quickly. During a hot summer with low flows fishing can be best at night. Fishing for searun trout in the tidal zone during October to December is popular.

Wairau Catchment:

Rising in the Raglan and Spenser ranges this large, sometimes blue coloured river flows north to Blenheim. The upper reaches are stable, swift and single channelled, until emerging into the main valley where the riverbed can be 1km wide. Here it is braided with many side channels and islands. From Renwick to the sea it is once again confined to a single channel.  The catchment has a growing population of rainbow trout, which are commonly caught in Lake Argyle, and the Branch/Leatham catchment.  Many of these rainbows make their way into the Wairau and are now commonly caught in the middle and lower reaches.  

Fishing for resident and sea run brown trout is surprisingly productive. Good spotting conditions are common once the snow is gone. 2-7lb trout are often caught with all methods being successful trout, with larger trophies caught each season.  Quinnat salmon are usually 6-20lb.

Click here for the Lake Argyle information pamphlet.

Winter Angling:

Our region has 22 winter fishing waters. Winter fishing can be quite productive and enjoyable. Fishing does slow down a little in the cold months of July and August but the rest of the time if water conditions are good then all fishing methods permitted will catch fish, especially those big searun trout in the lower reaches. Midday hatches are always possible on the main rivers on warm sunny days.  May is still a great month to fish, particularly either side of midday on clear sunny days.  In September, the fishing begins heating up with trout chasing bait fish in lower reaches, however trout will often be found nymphing energetically in riffles trying to put on condition post-spawning.

Why have a slot limit?

(Where the bag limit is two, but only one fish may exceed 500mm in length)

Most headwater and smaller tributary fisheries contain low numbers of large adult trout. These fish represent a high proportion of the breeding stock in that particular catchment. The slot limit helps to maintain these fish stocks for future breeding and to provide angling opportunities in these popular waters throughout the season.


Nelson/Marlborough Fishing Spots