Trout fishing spots in the south island

Trout fishing spots in the south island

The prospect of a new Mainland trout season still gets writer Peter Langlands fizzing, and he’s happy to share many of his better options with us...

The main trout fishing season starts on October 1, opening up a wide range of rivers and some lakes throughout the South Island. In this article I will take you off the beaten track to find good trout fishing at that time, and suggest some good fishing options because, from the high country to the sea, there is myriad potential for all sorts of trout fishing on Opening Day.

The Molesworth region has several large rivers flowing through it, providing plenty of scope for trout fishing. To the north, the upper Wairau and Rainbow Rivers are very much overlooked, yet both offer some top angling for brown trout. The Acheron is the main river flowing through the area, with good trout fishing over thirty kilometres of it. Some of the Acheron’s tributaries are also worth looking at. 

A road closely follows the Acheron River as part of the main Molesworth Road, so you can easily fish sections of this river. Possessing lots of rock structure, the Acheron offers lots of good holding water.

The Acheron flows into the Clarence, the main river draining the Molesworth region, and which, like the Acheron, has roadside access along much of its length.

So there is plenty of water to explore, and as both rivers hold some trophy trout in their deep gorge pools, there’s always the chance something really special might happen


Add to these the lakes of the Molesworth, known as the Bowscale Tarns, also open in October. Bowscale Tarn (really a lake) is a very scenic body of water set amidst golden tussock landscapes. A mountain bike is ideal for travelling between the six tarns. Overall, Molesworth offers productive brown trout fishing in spectacular high country.

The headwaters of the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers to the south often fish very well in October, as do the many side channels and spring creeks that feed into these braided rivers. Both Canterbury river systems have a good mix of browns and rainbows, and there is plenty of scope to explore out on the main braided rivers, too.

In addition to the diverse and productive fishing, you can enjoy the spectacular arena of snow-capped mountains that surrounds the rivers in the upper reaches of the Rakaia and Rangitata River systems. It really does make you feel alive!

Heading down to the coast, it’s a good time for targeting sea-run trout throughout the South Island, especially as they are starting to put on condition. The Wairau River offers good sea-run trout angling, with large sea-runs often holding on the edges of the kahawai schools at the river mouth. Other good prospects include other large braided rivers such as the Waiau, Rakaia, Rangitata and Waitaki Rivers. And don’t overlook the many smaller coastal rivers, many with flows of only one or two cumecs of water, as they can often produce disproportionately large sea-run trout.

October also presents the best time to fish many of the smaller coastal rivers before the flows start to fall and the trout move on. There are many small coastal rivers in the South Canterbury and Otago regions that provide the chance of some large sea-run trout.

The outflow channel of Wainono Lagoon and the lower Waihao River is known to fish well for large sea-runs around this time of year. The rivers flowing into Lake Ellesmere are also prime locations to target large browns in October, as the trout have been feeding undisturbed while the rivers are closed over the winter season.

The Catlin’s region, where native forest comes down to sea level, is one of the most scenic along the South Island’s east coast. Large estuaries in the region, fed by quite small, tannin-stained rivers, attract large sea-run trout, which forage on the shoals of whitebait and smelt travelling through the estuaries. The Catlins Estuary and Waikawa Bay are prime examples.

Just south of the Catlins, the mouth of the Mataura River at Fortrose, and nearby Waituna Lagoon, are also worth fishing. Searuns can be sighted swirling on the surface: large streamers and soft-baits work well.

In addition to the estuaries, the streams of the Catlins – certainly an overlooked trout-fishing destination – offer good nymphing water. A small gold-bead-head nymph fished in tandem with a Pecker-head Caddis works well in the tannin waters. Due to the water’s discolouration, blind fishing tends to be the most effective.

Around the coast the river mouths of Southland are also overlooked, even though they provide top sea-run trout fishing. Many of the larger rivers are open all year round in their lower reaches. The Waiau River (Southland) is one of the more exciting river mouths because it attracts large sea-runs in good numbers. The Waiau also has a very healthy whitebait run, providing a robust food supply for the trout.

Fishing just upstream from many Southland river mouths produces some large trout. If you have a week to set aside, it is well worth taking the opportunity to explore the Southland Region at this time of year.

Then there are the larger West Coast rivers, such as the Grey and Buller, which also have good numbers of large sea-runs, with some of the larger fish going well into double figures. Look for deep seams of calm water adjoining the river’s main current and pick a time when the river is at a medium or low flow (not flood!). The big water is suited to spin fishing, soft-bait and even live-bait methods.

A boat or kayak is a good way to explore the lower reaches of these two big rivers. Often the start of the outgoing tide is a prime time for sea-run trout activity, and the large browns in the Buller and Grey stay active and feeding throughout the night.

Other West Coast sites, such as the Haast River mouth, Okarito Lagoon and Karamea estuaries, are also well worth a look at this time. Nor should many of the small West Coast streams be neglected, as they will have trout in their lower reaches until the water warms up and the trout move on later in the season. Some West Coast lakes open in October and are well worth checking out. Lake Poerua is a favourite of mine.

October is a prime time to target sea-run trout before they head off due to changing environmental conditions. Food and water flows tend to be bountiful at this time, so taking a week off for an exploratory trip can be well worthwhile. Later on in the season, as the fisheries change and become pressured, the fishing becomes harder.

It’s also a good time for spin fishers and soft-baiters, who can present lifelike baitfish imitations to entice trout feeding on whitebait and smelt – and bullies at times. These protein-rich food sources allow the trout to rapidly bulk up.

Heavy (articulated) Gallop lures can be effective for fly-fishers; otherwise, use heavy tungsten-bead nymphs to get down quickly if fishing upriver pools. One of the keys to successful nymphing is getting the nymph down deep quickly. Sea-runs, in particular, are highly responsive to bead-head nymphs.

For me, exploring somewhere a little off the beaten track is a big part of the thrill when fishing the new season. 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

October 2016 - By Peter Langlands
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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