The Complete Guide to Fishing in the Catlins©
The Complete Guide to Fishing in the Catlins

The Complete Guide to Fishing in the Catlins


Where to Fish in The Catlins

Located on the southeastern coast of the South Island, between the settlements of Balclutha and Fortrose, The Catlins is one of New Zealand’s most underrated fishing spots. The area offers remote rainforest and rolling hills, ideal for anglers seeking solitude and stunning scenery. With high rainfall, there are plenty of rivers and streams holding a healthy population of brown trout, usually 1-2kg (3-4lbs), as well as sea-run brown trout which can be as large as 3-4kg (6-9lbs). Anglers have a choice of the upper river, lower river and estuarine fishing, where we’ll go over fishing tips and river recommendations for each type in this complete guide to fishing in The Catlins.

\While you’re here, you might also be interested in 10 Must-Dos in The Catlins and 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins.

Quick Tips for Fishing in The Catlins

  • The fishing season in The Catlins is spring and summer (October-March)
  • Large rivers can be fished throughout the season, streams are best fished in the early or late season
  • For lower river fishing, early morning, late evening or on an incoming tide is the best time of day to fish
  • The best time for spin fishing in the upper river is as the river drops after rainfall
  • Keep changing your lure until you find something that works (lure recommendations below).

Remember to get a fishing license! Find out more in What You Need to Know About Fishing in New Zealand.

Pixabay© Pixabay

Tips for Lower River and Estuary Fishing

There are some excellent lower river fishing to be had in The Catlins. The main trout food source during the season is baitfish like whitebait, smelt, bullies and crabs, so make sure you have lures to mimic this.

The Best Lures to Use for Lower River Fishing in The Catlins
  • Silver and white lures work well during the early season to mimic whitebait
  • Later in the season, use black/gold lures to imitate bullies and crabs
  • Spin fishing is the easiest way to fish in deep water areas. Good spin fishing lures include Rapalas, Wedges, Tasmanian Devils, Zed spinners and Articulated Eels Tobys
  • Bait fishing also works. Putting your bait above the sinker can be more noticeable to fish
  • For fly fishing, good lures include Parsons Glory, Mrs Simpson (red), Jack Sprat, Yellow Dorothy and Grey Ghost.
pxhere© pxhere

Tips for Upper River Fishing

The Catlins has some excellent rivers and streams for trout fishing throughout the season. Trout are mainly attracted to insects like snails, caddis, mayflies, as well as baitfish like bullies. Have the appropriate lures to imitate their food source.

The Best Lures to Use for Upper River Fishing in The Catlins
  • Spin fishing lures should be a natural dark colour to mimic the insect food source. Try Veltic and Mepps spinners and Rapalas, Tobys and Articulated Trout lures
  • Fly anglers, use Hares Ear and Pheasant Tail lures for most of the time
  • If you see trout rising throughout the day, try using a small dry flies like Adams, Dads Favourite and Twilight Beauty
  • When there is a lot of insect activity (such as on a sunny day) use the Cochybudu, Royal Wolff or Blowfly dry flies.
goodfreephotos© goodfreephotos

The Best Fishing Rivers in The Catlins

Here are some of our top picks for the five best fishing rivers in The Catlins.

Lower Clutha River

New Zealand’s highest-volume river splits into two more manageable branches below Balclutha. The Matua Branch, on the west side of Inch Clutha, is the best branch to be explored by anglers. The river holds many deep pools and runs for catching brown trout and some rainbow trout, as well as perch and chinook salmon (summer-autumn). It’s possible to catch large fish here, with brown/rainbow trout up to 2kg (4lbs), sea-run brown trout up to 5kg (11lbs) and salmon up to 6kg (13lbs).

Catlins Lake

The Catlins Lake provides excellent estuary fishing containing lots of baitfish and crabs. Find good fishing areas close to structures like reefs and logs and near deep holes and drop-offs. This is also a popular location for night fishing, especially off Hina Hina Road.

Catlins River

For some upper river fishing, choose the Catlins River. Due to the vegetation surrounding this river, it’s best to use spin fishing techniques where you are most likely to catch small to medium-sized brown trout.

Tahakopa River

Sunny summer days are best spent in the upper Tahakopa River for fly fishing. Experienced anglers will find the best spots by walking up the middle of the streambed – take care and pack your best waders! The lower river and estuarine areas produce large sea-run trout, as well as flounder.

Lower Mataura River

The lower reaches of the Mataura River are excellent of spin and bait fishing to catch trout that can be as large as 2kg (4lbs) – and bigger for sea-run fish. There are many access point from a road running along the east bank.

Pexels © Pexels

The Best of the Rest

If you have more time in The Catlins, or just want to try some more off-the-beaten-track fishing, try these other fishing rivers and streams in The Catlins.

  • Puerua Stream – the best fishing is in the tidal area
  • Glenomaru Stream – small to medium-sized trout. It’s best fished early or late in the season
  • Owaka River – good for fly-fishing in the middle reaches. The lower reaches are good for spin fishing.
  • Mokoreta River – a small tea-stained stream with small trout
  • Waikawa – a picturesque river with medium-sized brown trout in the upper reaches and some larger fish in the lower reaches.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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