Nymph Fishing Tactics | At Home On The Mataura

There is a saying amongst the Mataura river locals that ‘when the trout are not rising, nymph them in the riffles’ - and this is just what we do.

In-between hatches, when no surface activity is apparent, nymph fishing tactics like indicator nymphing, contact nymphing with conventional fly gear, or specialist Czech style nymphing among the Mataura’s fertile ripples can be highly rewarding.


  • Whenever nymphing, I prefer to use two nymphs, separated by 10 to 12 inches of trace material, tied directly off the bend of the top fly.
  • I set my indicator, normally of a yarn-type material, the NZ strike Indicator system, between two to four feet above my top nymph, depending on water depth, and current velocity.
  • Any deeper than this and I feel I have lost contact with my flies, as strike detection comes with some delay, and your turnover can begin to hinge.
  • Keep your indicator small so that it turns over accurate and true, and catches less wind. The size of my little fingernail is usually about right, but can go up to thumbnail size if needed.
  • A bright coloured indicator makes smaller bits of yarn easier to see and you can also follow their drift if the weight of the nymph pulls them under. The fish don’t know what they are and if you can’t see them, they’re not indicators right?
  • Consider dual tone indicators in variable, or low angle light conditions such as black/white, or yellow/orange to contrast off each other and stand out more so in tough visibility.
  • I prefer to use longer, more powerful leaders when indicator nymphing to ensure consistent turnover of my indicator in often windy conditions. A 10’ 2x Trouthunter nylon tapered leader with 2 or 3 feet or 3x nylon tippet leading to a tippet ring, then add your 5x tippet to there, length depending on conditions. 3’ is ample in most situations I find, and can easily be switched out to dry droppers or singles dries in a second if the need arises.
  • If I’m going to be nymphing all day I will employ a much shorter, cut-down tapered leader to a tippet ring and back myself to turn over a much longer, finer diameter level tippet to cut through the water column and get lighter flies to greater depth, quicker
  • And check out three great indicator nymphing tips in this article

Riffles on the Mataura River, New Zealand


Often referred to as naked nymphing, removing your indicator is the first step to becoming a more astute nymph angler, for you then turn your endeavour from a visual activity into a sensical one.

Longer leaders and more weight can now be employed to get your imitation down into the bingo zone, an area which may not have been achievable before whilst maintaining a reliable visual indicator. You are now utilising a combination of senses to detect the moment of the take, rather than just watching for a sign that may be so subtle that you do not pick it up anyway. You are more likely to maintain a good drift whereas you would normally strike whenever a heavier nymph simply sinks your indicator.

  • The first step to contact nymphing is to be able to feel your fly and the weight of the line. I often introduce clients to this with heavier streamers in practice to provide a resistance they can easily feel, and get them to lead a short line through a riffle by tossing it upstream on a 45-degree angle, and dragging the streamer back through via a high rod tip. Your rod tip is not following the line, but subtly leading it downstream
  • To begin, once the cast is made do not follow through to the water as you normally would, instead, raise the rod tip a few inches as your presentation falls. Follow this with a couple of short, controlled strips of the line to remove any sag, or slack line which may develop at the point where your fly line touches the water. Immediately you will notice that what would have become a saggy ‘L’ shape in your line now resembles a tight curve from your raised rod tip to the point at which your line anchors to the stream
  • Immediately begin the downstream swing of your rod, leading the line as it follows in the drift. Strip in any slack line as it develops to maintain a consistent curve below the rod tip. This tight curve acts as both a lifeline to your nymph (any bumps or knocks will be felt if constant tension is maintained) and a visual indicator of the slightest of takes (if the curve tightens at all, strike). Often you are left wondering whether you saw, or felt the tightening of the line as a fish hits
  • It is important when contact nymphing to retain an anchor of fly line upon the surface. The grip of the surface film on your anchor will prevent your line from sagging back beneath your rod tip, and reduce the effect of wind on your curve
  • Short line = shorter anchor, whereas longer line requires a longer anchor accordingly
  • Another important note is that due to the rod tip remaining often at chest height or above, I use the rod tip more so to remove any slack from the line upon the take, and it is the downward strike of the line hand which hooks the fish. Thus said, when stripping line during the drift, I prefer shorter, quicker retrieves so my line hand spends more time near the rod hand, to enable a quick and effective downward strike

So next time you are working a riffle with little joy, remove that indicator, extend that tippet and give contact nymphing a go. Your flies will get a deeper, slower drift less affected by surface currents, and your success rate will thank you!


There are many benefits of euro nymphing on the Mataura with deeper, slower, more natural drifts, and better detection of the subtlest of takes being the main benefits for me. Even in the clearest of riffles on the upper Mataura, it's easy to get within range of a feeding fish, and deliver a better nymph drift using euro techniques.

  • The Primal Zone 10’6” 3wt combo is the perfect euro nymphing set up for the Mataura and surrounding waters of Southland in my opinion. It possesses the power to quickly subdue a 5lb brown in faster water and the tippet protection to keep you in touch when using lighter tippet. It's easy to load and responsive to cast and offers much more feel throughout the casting and drifting process than others I have been fortunate to try
  • As I'm generally fishing a rod length and a half to two rod lengths distant, I set up my leader with around 10’ of stiff, Maxima Chameleon butt section in 12lb, attaching 5 feet of hi viz stren, or multi colour sighter material, leaving the tag ends of my knots long to aid visibility. Attached to this is a tippet ring, then 5 foot of fine diameter tippet, usually 5x
  • A finer diameter leader is a little harder to cast and attain accuracy, however with a stiff butt section, smaller diameter leaders provide less sag and much more contact. When guiding I usually begin with 20lb chameleon and build out my leader off that
  • I'm generally fishing two nymphs, one on point and one 200mm up off an independent dropper, the bottom tag of a surgeon's knot providing ample reliability for my dropper. Keep your dropper trace short to avoid unnecessary tangling

There are many ways to present your flies when euro nymphing, along with different angles of drift, degrees of contact, depth control, lifting and swinging which become an entire article series in themselves. For now, refer to our Getting Started In Euro Nymphing article to get up to speed and get yourself into more fish on the Mataura.

Fly Fishing success on the Mataura river in Southland, NZ


I find most nymphs will work on the Mataura as long as they are of the correct size, and of a slim, dark construction. Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tails, Hare and Coppers; any of the above will take fish. Trout don't know the difference between the aforementioned, they are all simply mayfly nymphs to their eyes, but matching the average size of the naturals, and getting them to the right depth are the keys to success.

Kyle's Deletidium nymph from the Manic Fly Collection

Kyle's Deletidium 

  • Kyle's Deleatidium is a modern pattern available in the Manic Fly Collection which I personally believe to be the ultimate Mataura mayfly nymph. Super slim, non-flashy with minute rubber legs and small tungsten bead, you will search far for a more deadly mayfly pattern than this for local waters.
  • My Mataura Box is filled with various mayfly representations in sizes 14 through 18 in a variety of weights. I utilise both tungsten and brass beads on smaller nymphs to enable me to either get deeper or fish through the shallowest of riffles, and use multiple tungsten bead sizes on my standard sz14’s and sz16’s to cover a range of depth, and current speeds.
  • An example of this is carrying a sz14 pattern in 2mm, 2.4mm, and 3mm beads, and 16’s with 2mm and 2.4mm, along with 1.5 and 2mm brass for a lighter, shallower riffle option.
  • I carry unweighted patterns in sizes sz14, sz16 and sz18 for use as a more naturally drifting point fly, and for use when sight fishing to trout in the shallows or up near the surface. Soft hackles come into their own providing imitation of life in lower flows and slower water.
  • My standard go-to set up in normal river conditions consists of a sz16 beaded nymph as my top fly used in conjunction with a smaller, unweighted sz16 or sz18 drifting freely on the point.
  • In general, I prefer to use black beads to avoid unnecessarily spooking shy fish, but will employ a gold, silver or red beaded, or flashback style nymph on overcast days, or when the river sports some colour. It pays to carry a diversity of bling as some days you may want to go to with very bright flies, whereas some days you may just need a subtle hotspot to ensure your flies stand out in the drift. Other days it's the natural, non-flash patterns that will seal the deal.

Along with huge populations of mayfly, the Mataura is a veritable food factory harbouring a plethora of caddis, black stoneflies, snails, chironomids and corixa, and anglers should stock their boxes accordingly.

An angler hooked up to a brown trout in New Zealand


  • Always start a little below the bottom of the riffle and slowly work your way into it, casting on an angle upstream. You’ll be surprised at how many fish ‘cruise’ the slower water near the base of the riffle, picking up invertebrates dispersed by the flow, especially in the calm or gently swirling edge waters at the very base of the riffle. It also pays to work out where / how high in the riffle fish are sitting
  • Watch your indicator closely and strike at any unnatural movement, bumps, minute changes of direction and brief hesitations. Sometimes it will simply slow. Not always will your yarn take a dive
  • Concentrate on the seams or edge water where fast water meets slow, and do not disregard the extremely shallow water adjacent to your bank, especially mid-afternoon when large numbers of nymphs enter the drift before emerging. A sure sign of an imminent hatch is when the fish move into these shallows, and often you will see an increased number of nymphs collecting along the slack, edge water
  • Look for prominent rocks, drop-offs and holes and work them thoroughly
  • Fish through the ripples slowly, covering any likely pockets, or seams with patience
  • Trout will often not see your nymph on its first pass, or even your second due to the large amount of food already in the drift, or maybe your drift just isn’t right. I find it is important to get your fly down to the depth where the fish are feeding. If the trout does not take your fly, yet continues to feed, odds are you just aren’t getting a deep enough drift
  • Many anglers work through these ripples way too fast, anxious to cover ground. Little do they realise is that a good riffle can be fished through time and time again, as many trout are passed by, and fresh fish move up from the pool below
  • Look for the more stable riffles offering both deeper guts and shallow edges, those which run into the deeper, more established pools. The pool provides cover and shelter to the trout, whilst the rocky, riffly above provides the food supply
  • To find a good riffle is to locate a goldmine and often a highly productive day can be had by fishing just one ripple and the adjoining pool alone

Slow down and watch your catch rate increase! And be sure to watch the video below for more great nymph fishing tips.


Chris Dore is a battle tested fly fishing guide with over 15 years of professional guiding experience, battling the demanding, ever changing conditions that our New Zealand rivers throw at us.

In 2006 Chris became one of the first New Zealanders to successfully pass the internationally recognised Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructors examination and has since taught many thousands of anglers to up their skillset.

For more in person and on river fly fishing advice and upskilling why not book Chris for a day or three?