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Mataura River, New Zealand - Tips & Tales

Category: Fly Fishing Destinations | Author: Jakub Kanok

The Mataura River is the trout fishing purists dream. It is reputed to be the ultimate in dry fly angling for brown trout, with nearly 150km of easily accessed waters. This river would take months if not years to fully explore and discover its many facets.

Fooling Mataura trout on Pogo nymph

New Zealand`s Mataura river situated in South island deservedly holds an international reputation as one of the finest brown trout rivers in the world. This famous trout fishing river provides over 150 km of fishable water which is described in three sections. Upper, middle and lower reaches. The Mataura is a large river in its lower reaches but the headwaters and upper reaches are quite small and easy to cross mostly by the end of every pool (Not after fresh). Mataura river holds very good numbers of good sized trout which are relatively easy to spot but also very spooky under normal conditions. To catch a Mataura river fish on a fly, its pretty often crucial to identify and match the hatch as the trout is very selective. When the fish are obviously feeding but unresponsive  to flies, it is worth seining the water to determine the food source. Sight-fishing is available in the freestone headwaters, upper reaches and some parts of middle reaches.

The river character changes so much it is best for the river to be described in three sections:

Nice Brownie caught by sightfishing

Upper reaches - Fairlight to Cattle flat

The river is small and runs over an alluvial gravel bed and  is willow lined most of the time. Upper Mataura offers  long glides, shallow riffles over stones, deep holes and pools, mud banks covered with tall grass and  willow trees. These all provide great cover and a large food source for brown trout, which average around 1- 2 kilograms, however the river holds a healthy population of trophy trout. Early in the season the river contains snow melt and is greyish green coloured but by middle of November the water is usually clear and also recovers very quickly after rain. Sight fishing in Upper reaches and headwaters is the best through summer months. Summer time also attracts a lot of fly fishermen from all around the world as it offers great dry fly fishing. There is a big number of side outlets (little streams separating from the river and joining the river again). Don't be afraid to explore these waters even if they are very hard to access as they often hold a number of trophy trout. I believe that most of the fishermen don't fish these waters except locals which know every stone in the river. This is the best time to share my first wee story with you guys.

It was actually the first time when I went fishing into Upper Mataura and deeply fell in love… I had a tree snag all the way accross the river and decided to get there even though the water was pretty high and strong as I did not want to lose my fly, actually two as I was fishing tandem ( two nymphs). It was very challenging but I made it across, climbed the tree to get my flies and was about to cross the river back when I saw a little side stream not far away but not visible from the other side of the river where I was previously fishing. I decided to have a look and to my surprise I spotted a huge brown in extremely shallow water and another one and another. The stream was about 4 meters wide with maximum knee deep depth and minimum flow. Very hard to cast and as a newbie to Upper Mataura I spooked all the trout before I even actually cast, and trust me in a little stream like this all the fish just dart to seek cover and the water seems lifeless and free from any activity. This little stretch of water (about 50 meters long) which I accidentally discovered  became my favourite spot on the whole Mataura. I kept coming back there at least two times per week to get lessons from the trout again and again. Even every drive is about 60 km one way, and one evening I got all the gold! I hooked  three of the biggest trout I have ever caught, and all by sightfishing. Always explore as the best places and things are often hiding right under your nose!!


  • Very quite approach, watch the water carefully as the bigger fish usually cruise super shallow water.
  • Long powerflex tapered leader 13 feat suits the best + fine tippets.
  • Small dry flies or nymphs, mostly size #18 or even smaller ( Willow grub, Stu`s pogo Nymph.
  • Deadly Nymph, small Red tags - not available in NZ stores, tye plenty of them in advance.
  • Fish upstream!
  • Visit Stu Tripney's world famous fly fishing shop in a little place called Athol. Stu has the biggest selections of his Superior flies and also does an update list on what the fish are feeding on every week.

Stue's Pogo Nymph

Middle Reaches  - Cattle Flat down to Gore

This is probably the most popular part of a river by most overseas anglers although the water quality does not offer sight fishing that often. The river bed is mostly gravel and the mud banks are covered with grass and willows. There is a population of brown trout up to 4 kilograms. Its very important to match the hatch as the trout are very selective. A small variety of insects are often on the water by the milions, especially when the river is slow and clear and the fish appear to swallow them in patches. If the fish are not responding to your fly try to improvise and try different fly types.

I remember one fish which I saw heavily feeding in front of a little grassy island, picking up something invisible from the surface in intervals less than 10 seconds. I could not see what the trout was picking up but decided to put on a willow grub size #18 which is really deadly most of the time but nothing happened. That day I probably tried 10 different dry flies even though I knew that you usually have only a few casts in Mataura river to fool the fish. But the fish did not pay attention to them at all and kept comfortably feeding. I stayed probably an hour watching this brown till I decided to leave him alone and kept fishing other water. I could not stop thinking about the trout which led to me coming back a few days later to try again, and guess what…he totally ignored me and all my flies again. The same story kept happening until my visit number 4. Same fish, same spot, feeding heavily again. I set up my tripod, zoomed the camera, went through my fly box and picked the tiniest fly ( probably size #24 )which my grandpa made. This fly was probably more then 20 years old but I was so desperate and gave it a try. First cast I was not really happy with as the fly went too far to one side of the fish, but I decided to wait till it passed the fish so as not to spook it. But suddenly the fish moved and swam back to get the fly, and it was fish on! It took me about 15 minutes till I landed this beauty which totally destroyed the fly pattern and bent the hook. Pure happiness filled my body that day.


  • Small dark bodied nymphs, small dries (Parachute Adams, Yellow humpy, Red tag, Cicada pattern, willow grub).
  • Use of indicator if sight fishing not possible.
  • Light nymph under heavy one (2 feet).

Another lovel Brownie

Lower Reaches  - Gore to the Mouth

The best water in lower Mataura lies upstream from Mataura island, below the river is not very attractive and becomes channeled. The river gets larger and way deeper with occasional coal reef. There is a very high number of trout present but they often remain in areas difficult to cast to. Fishing the ripples with nymphs can be very productive.


  • Hare and copper nymph, big Wooly Bugers.
  • Try the river mouth to catch some different species of fish.
  • Use sinking line.

Author with brown trout caught on Pogo nymph from Wee creek

If you ever go fly fishing to New Zealand, Mataura river is MUST GO RIVER, trust me You won't regret it!

Tight knots and happy fishing!!!

Short video from fly fishing on the River Mataura, New Zealand:

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