HomeNelson – MarlboroughNelson Marlborough: Where to fishWairau River

Wairau River


The Wairau is a large braided river offering over 140kms of diverse fishing waters from trophy sized fish in the pristine wilderness headwaters to some sea-run brown trout and salmon in the lower reaches. The Wairau offers fishing waters for all types of angling methods and tastes.

Fish type Brown trout (some sea-run) and salmon
Setting This huge river rises in the Spenser and Raglan ranges near St Arnaud and flows north to enter the sea near Blenheim. The river flows from beautiful wilderness valleys at the headwaters, through a wide braided river valley to open land, long glides and deep pools in its lower reaches.

Upper Wairau access map

Lower Wairau access map

Check conditions

View the river flow.

View the rainfall at Top Valley (middle reaches)

View the MetService weather forecast

Water quality The water of the Wairau is usually tinged with a turquoise silt from the mountain run-off. As the Wairau has a large catchment area, much of it over open land, the river can discolour and stay that way for relatively long periods of time. Early in the season the river and its tributaries can be heavily discoloured due to snow melt from the ranges they
Upper reaches

The headwaters are remote and challenging offering the chance to fish for large trophy brown trout in beautiful wilderness valleys surrounded by high peaks and primeval forest mountain slopes.

The upper reaches or headwaters are very challenging and should only be attempted by fit experienced anglers. The water cascades down through a series of turbulent rapids and runs into deep, sometimes inaccessible pools.

Fish numbers and size

Fish in the headwaters are fewer in number (and often seen in inaccessible pools) but can reach very impressive sizes.


The upper reaches require either tramping or specialized transport and are about 2 hours from Nelson and 1 hour from Blenheim.

The Rainbow Rd via the upper Wairau River valley opens over the summer period on payment of a toll to the pastoral lessee.

The headwaters can be reached using a four wheel drive vehicle along the private road that continues past the Rainbow Valley ski-field that is off State Highway 63. This road continues all the way to Hanmer Springs, The Rainbow Rd opens over the summer period on payment of a toll to the pastoral lessee. Permission to cross it is required from the Department of Conservation at St Arnauds (phone 03 521 1806) or DOC at Hanmer (on 03 4157128). This is a very rough road so do not attempt it without a suitable vehicle. Slips sometimes also limit vehicle access until cleared.

Those wishing to tramp in can do so following the road but again, seek permission first. See the Upper Wairau access map.

Middle reaches

The middle 80kms of the Wairau runs across a wide open valley in a series of inter-twining channels each containing long glides, small rapids and deep pools.

The middle reaches cross a wide valley offering good casting positions along many kilometres of river. This section is mostly wadeable though care should be taken on the constantly moving stones and gravel. Wind that sweeps down the valley in this section can be a problem at times.

Fish numbers and size

Fish numbers in the middle reaches are good and tend to be mobile, moving through different sections of the river. They average around 3-4lb in this section.


The middle reaches are about 45 minutes from Blenheim and 1.45 hours from Nelson. They are accessed via State Highway 63 and although the river is often several hundred metres from the road, many small signposted roads offer access for the angler. Once on the river, the open banks allow the angler many kilometres to explore either up or down stream. See the Lower Wairau access map.

Lower reaches

The lower reaches are wide and more sedate with fewer defined runs. This section of the Wairau consists of long glides and deeper pools running over mostly open land as the river reaches the tidal section. Fishing in the esturine section with a whitebait imitation such as Grey Ghost during the day or a large black lure at night can be very effective when the whitebait are running. The lower reaches are easy to fish using either spinner or fly.

Fish numbers and size

Numbers are also around average in the lower section but this section can hold some large fish including sea-run brown trout and salmon.

Salmon can be caught between Late Jan to April in the lower reaches below Renwick and sea-run trout move up the river from February.


The lower reaches are around  15 minutes from Blenheim and 1.5 hours from Nelson. The lower reaches can be easily accessed from either bank by taking side roads off State Highway 6. See the Lower Wairau access map.

Recommended lures

Hare and Copper, Stonefly, Pheasants Tail and March Brown nymphs are all effective in sizes 14 to 16 (though these will often need to be heavily weighted in the faster turbulent waters of the headwaters)

Dry flies:
Larger (size 10 - 12), well hackled, high floating flies such as Royal Wulff, Coachman, Coch-y-Bondhu and Twilight Beauty are all effective dry flies during the day with Twilight Beauty and Greenwell's Glory being good evening flies.

Wet flies:
Small winged patterns such as Blue Dun, Kakahi Queen and March Brown are all good wet flies especially in the twilight hours as the fish begin to rise.

Lures: Large flies such as Grey Ghost can work well in the lower section during the day (or a dark lure such as a Craig's Night-time at night) when the whitebait are running from around September to December.

Spinners: Bladed spinners such as Mepps or Veltic work well when fished upstream.


The Wairau has a number of tributaries that are important fisheries in their own right. These are the Goulter, the Branch, the Leatham and Argyle Pond, the Opawa River, the Waihopai, Spring Creek, the Tarns and the Rainbow River.

Other tributaries such as the Wye, the Tuamarina, the Onamalutu, Bartlets Creek and Top Valley Stream are all too small to be regarded as fisheries with much to offer. They tend to become very small in the hotter months, but at their mouths where they enter the Wairua they often provide real opportunities for anglers as they provide cool water and a good food source for large trout.

Regulations (1)
Applicable to Wairau River (including the Diversion and the Southern Valley Irrigation Intake Pond) downstream from the Wash Bridge.

Wairau River and its tributaries upstream of the Wash Bridge are closed to salmon fishing.

Region Nelson/Marlborough
Season All year
Methods Artificial fly, spinner, bait
Bag limit 2
Size limit (cm) None
Regulations (2)
Applicable to Wairau River and its tributaries lying upstream of the Wash Bridge
Region Nelson/Marlborough
Season Closed for salmon
1 October - 30 April for trout
Methods Artificial fly, spinner
Bag limit 2
Size limit (cm) None

Other fishing waters of the region


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