HomeNorth CanterburyNorth Canterbury: Where to fishWaiau River

Waiau River


The braided Waiau River offers excellent fishing in stunning North Canterbury scenery. The Waiau is home to a large population of brown trout and seasonal sea run trout and salmon.

Fish type Brown trout, salmon
Situation The Waiau River rises in the Spenser Mountains. It flows south until it joins the Hope River, then sets off in an easterly direction parallel to SH7 (the Lewis Pass Highway). The river flows through hills and a series of gorges, from the alps to the sea just north of Cheviot.

It is located around 90km north of Christchurch, and parallels SH7 for much of its middle reaches.


Upper Waiau access map

Lower Waiau access map

Check conditions

View the MetService weather forecast.

View the river flow. The Waiau generally becomes fishable once it drops below 60 cumecs.

Tide tables See the tide tables for Lyttleton at the LINZ website.
Upper reaches (Above the confluence with the Hope River)


The headwaters above the Hope River confluence, are excellent for brown trout up until mid March (when spawning salmon enter the river). The fish can be sighted on clear bright days. They are wary so a careful approach and an accurate first cast are necessary. The medium-size river river winds across a tussock valley. It has some deep pools and long stable runs with grassy bank. Note that it quickly becomes uncross-able after north-west rain.

Fish numbers and size

Both salmon and brown trout and though numbers are not high, they are usually a good size, with some trophy fish. Please catch and release.


Access to the upper reaches of the Waiau is difficult. The options are:

  • From the Hamner hydro road, walk for 2-3 hours over Malings Pass or Fowlers Pass. Obtain permission first from St James Station.
  • Tramp from Lewis Pass for two days on the St James Walkway
  • Drive a 4WD vehicle through Glenhope Station after obtaining permission and arranging payment for access and use of huts.

Access to the Hope, Boyle, Doubtful and Lewis Rivers is also off SH7, then by walking. See the upper Waiau access map.

Middle reaches (Between Hanmer and the confluence with the Hope River) Description

This section of the Waiau is difficult to fly fish except in low water summer conditions.

Fish numbers and size

Both brown trout and salmon (in late summer). Fish stocks are reasonable with there being some good fish laways present.


The river parallels SH7 almost to Culverden providing easy access. The best access points are the bridges at SH1, Waiau township, Leslie Hills and the Hamner River. Alternatively there is access off the Waiau-Rotherham road.

See the upper Waiau access map.

Lower reaches (Hanmer to the mouth)


In its lower reaches, the Waiau becomes a large braided river that is shingly and unstable. Though not always easy to access, there is good salmon and trout fishing using spinning gear.

Fish numbers and size

January to March often sees a moderate quinnat salmon run. Trout are also present along this section and some sea run browns can be expected early in the season


The lower reaches are accessed from roads leading off State Highway 1. See the lower Waiau access map.

The mouth


The Waiau Mouth is a popular spot for salmon fishing. The mouth is best fished during the middle stages of the incoming tide. The surf here is generally too rough and shallow to fish.

Tide tables

See the tide tables for Lyttleton at the LINZ website.


Launch a jet boat at Spotswood and boat downstream for 10 minutes. The only alternative is a long walk.

See the lower Waiau access map.

Salmon fishing methods Spinning

Spin fishing is the most effective, though fly fishing is also effective.

At the river mouth: Use a medium-fast action rod of 2-2.5m in length, coupled with a fixed or free spool reel capable of holding 200m of 8-10kg line.

Up river: Lighter tackle such as a rod and reel with around 6-7kg line is recommended, with zed spinners of 10-22 grams fished right on the bottom. Target places where the current is slow and the water deep.

Fly fishing

Try streamer flies fished on sinking lines through the tails of pools or through slow flowing reaches.

Trout fishing methods Spinning

Spinning is the best method when the river is discoloured and fly fishing when it’s low and clear enough to sight the fish.

Cast into calm water at the top of pools using good-sinking spinners such as the Tasmanian Devil or Toby.

Fly fishing

To avoid spooking the trout, approach carefully, standing well back from the bank and spot them before casting. Use nymphs or dry flies fished upstream on a floating line.

Recommended  trout lures Nymphs: Use small weighted nymphs such as tungsten beadheads: see Hare and Copper Gold Bead and Caddis Tungsten Brown.

Dry flies: Well-hackled flies such as a Royal Wulff, Coch-y-bondhu, or Klinkhammer pattern (this is not a great dry fly water however)

Streamers: Hamill's Killer, Mrs Simpson , Parson's Glory, Woolly Bugger or at night a Black marabou or Black Fuzzy-Wuzzy

Spinners: Tasmanian Devil or Toby.

Tributaries Tributaries to the Waiau River include:
- Mason River
- Boyle River
- Doubtful River
- Lewis River
- Hope River
- Nina River
Regulations (1)
Applicable to Waiau River upstream of  the Hope River confluence is classified as a backcountry fishery requiring all anglers fishing this section to obtain a backcountry licence.
Region North Canterbury regulations
Season 1 Oct-30 Apr
Methods Artificial fly, spinner
Bag limit Trout: 1
Salmon: 0
Size limit (cm) 400mm (or 40cm) maximum size of any fish taken.
Regulations (2)
Applicable to Waiau River downstream of the Hope River confluence
Region North Canterbury regulations
Season Trout: All year

Salmon: 1 Oct - 31 March

Methods Artificial fly, spinner

Bait can be use when fishing for trout only

Bag limit Trout: 2
Salmon: 1
Size limit (cm) 300mm (or 30cm) minimum size of any fish taken.

Other fishing waters of the region


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