HomeNelson – MarlboroughNelson Marlborough: Where to fishClarence River

Clarence River


The headwaters of the huge Clarence River, where some very large trout reside, offer a unique and very different upland fishing experience. However, other parts of the Clarence are inhospitable and inaccessible except by raft or helicopter.

Fish type Brown trout
Situation The Clarence rises high in the Spenser Mountain Range and flows southwards to feed Lake Tennyson, a small mountain lake. From the lake, the Clarence continues as a small stream that flows over highland tussock country for several kilometres and is fed by a number of small tributaries that turn it into a medium sized braided river by the time it reaches the confluence with the Acheron. While the first section is approximately 15 minutes drive from Hanmer Springs the upper reaches over Jacks Pass Road
take much longer due to the narrow winding shingle road.

Upper Clarence access map

Lower Clarence access map

Check conditions View the river flow for the Clarence river flow (upper Clarence)

View the MetService weather forecasts for:
- Nelson Lakes National Park (upper Clarence)
- Kaikoura (lower Clarence)

Upper reaches

The headwaters of the Clarence are challenging to fish as their altitude and open terrain mean that they are exposed to cold winds and conditions for much of the year.

The river flows over open grassland and a gravel bed. It presents a series of riffles, small rapids, deep pools and long glides to the angler. It is excellent water for spotting the large resident fish and presenting a fly or small spinner to them.

The river is subject to extremes of weather and as a consequence the bed and channels tend to change over time. This also has an impact on fish numbers as the food
source is also affected.

The upper reaches are mostly over open land and so the fishing conditions are relatively easy. But beware of the wind which can at times be icy even in the height of summer.

Fish numbers and size

Fish numbers are generally low but this is more than compensated for by their condition and size which can go to trophy size.


From Hanmer Springs, take the Jacks Pass Road and turn onto the Clarence Valley Rd (marked Lake Tennyson). Continue along a metaled hydro road (called the Tophouse
Rd initially) that follows the river upstream to Lake Tennyson and then continues through to the Rainbow Valley. Note that the road beyond Lake Tennyson requires a good 4-wheel drive vehicle though in fine weather a 2wd is fine until Lake Tennyson. It takes up to an hour to drive to the Lake but the scenery makes the slow drive worthwhile.

See the Upper Clarence access map.

Middle and lower reaches

The middle and lower reaches of the Clarence are not often fished though do have some areas that are worth exploring and some great small tributaries that very seldom see an angler.

The middle reaches are rather inaccessible and provide a hostile environment for any angler willing to face the challenge and long walk into this region. The best alternative is to access this very remote region by helicopter from Blenheim. Alternatively you can raft down the river but this will require you travelling the whole length, a journey for a few days.

The lower reaches are open but worth fishing only at the river mouth when the kahawai are running.

See the Lower Clarence map access map.

Recommended lures

This river responds best to lightly-weighted nymphs such as size 14 - 16 Hare and Coppers, Pheasant Tails or any Green Stonefly patterns. More weight may be required to get to the larger fish spotted in the deeper pools and runs.

Dry flies:
Coch-y-Bondhu, Mole Fly, Royal Wulff and Humpy patterns are all popular. Flies may need to be in the 10 - 12 size range.

Wet flies:
Small wets like Greenwell's Glory, March Brown and emerger sedge patterns in sizes 12 - 14 work well when fished sub-surface through the riffles and in the evenings

Spinners: Small bladed spinners (Mepps or Veltic) fished upstream into the faster water or through the deep pools. Toby and Cobra patterns in sizes 10 - 14 grams (to counteract the strong winds) in Lake Tennyson.

Tributaries The Clarence has many tributaries along its length including the Acheron. Lake Tennyson is worth fishing when the conditions are good but is a difficult lake to fish.
Biosecurity requirements
Biosecurity Because of the presence of the invasive alga didymo in these waters, anglers must clean their fishing gear including waders and boots, especially when moving between rivers. See Didymo Biosecurity Alert for details.
Regulations (1)
Applicable to Clarence River and its tributaries lying upstream of the Styx confluence.
Region Nelson/Marlborough
Season Trout: 1 Oct-30 Apr
Salmon: Closed
Methods Artificial fly, spinner
Bag limit 2 trout
0 salmon
Size limit (cm) None
Regulations (2)
Applicable to Clarence River downstream from the Acheron confluence
Region Nelson/Marlborough
Season All year
Methods Artificial fly, spinner, bait
Bag limit 2
Size limit (cm) None

Other fishing waters of the region


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