Fly Fishing the Mataura River | An Introduction

They say that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish. This is never truer than when fishing the Mataura river in Southland.

Sourcing high in the Eyre Mountains south of Queenstown, the Mataura winds its way towards the Pacific through some of Southland's most productive pastoral land, offering anglers easy access to over 150 kilometres of world-class fly fishing.

It is the stability of the Mataura, as it flows from deep, willow-lined pool to pool, interspersed with long, rocky riffles, combined with Southland's plentiful rainfall and temperate climate which creates the optimal habitat for huge numbers of invertebrates and more importantly, high populations of wild brown trout.


The brown trout statue in Gore, NZ

Such is the Mataura river’s reputation as a trout fishery that in 1989, the world's largest brown trout statue at the time was erected along its banks, in the heart of Gore. In 1997 it was awarded a water conservation order declaring outstanding fisheries and angling amenity values for the Mataura river, Waikaia river and their many tributaries. Gore is known as the Brown Trout Capital of the World, and with good reason.


Many anglers have heard of ‘Match the Hatch’ fly fishing, but yet relatively few have really experienced this to any extent. On many waters, trout can be ‘brought up’ to a general terrestrial or something roughly similar in appearance to the natural, or maybe cajoled into accepting a standard size 12 nymph. There aren’t too many places in New Zealand where fish lock onto just one specific food source to the degree that they do on the Mataura.

A hatch is a hatch anywhere in NZ, but trout only feed specifically when a particular food item is present in sufficient numbers to make it efficient to position themselves and feed on these, to the exclusion of all else.

You must match the size, shape, positioning on, in or below the surface film, and behaviour to a T to ensure success, and present it well. A well-presented general pattern won't often cut it here when trout lock onto a huge drift of emergers, or a cloud of size 18 spinners falling onto a large flat. Even a pattern one size larger than the natural can see refusal. The difference between a sz14 and a sz16 fly may not seem much to you and I, but to the trout locked in on the mad Mataura rise, it can mean eat or ignore.


Chris Dore and the Scott G Series fly rod

My favourite all round Mataura rod is the 8’8, 5wt Scott G Series matched with a 5wt Airflo SuperFlo Ridge 2.0 Tactical line. The rod is supple and discreet in its action yet has the balls when needed to drop a double tungsten Iron Maiden fly across a distant drop-off, and the Ridge 2.0 Tactical is a spectacular presentation line. 

On the tributaries or in low water, summertime conditions the 8’8” 4wt Scott G Series is a hands-down winner. 

It's amazing, even in the gin clear waters of the upper river how effective euro nymphing can be to sighted trout, and for this it's hard to beat the precision and accuracy of the 10’6” 3wt Primal ZONE. Slower, deeper drifts, super protection for lighter, finer tippets, and more precise strike detection on quick spitting clear water browns are the reason I'm rarely without a Zone combo when walking the Mataura. 



Mataura river through Gore.

In the lower reaches below Gore the Mataura is a true fish factory. Longer, smoother pools, larger, joggly riffles, coal seams and plenty of technical water, the lower Mataura is reminiscent of many of the famous American trout rivers. With uncountable numbers of trout averaging a shade below 3lb this is the fly angler's mecca. 


The middle section of the Mataura River

From Cattle Flat to Gore the river becomes more gravelly but stable, interspersed with the classic pool, riffle, pool configuration and a solid population of 3lb browns intermingled with the more occasional larger specimen.

This often meandering section is sprinkled with backwaters and characterised by its tightly willowed stretches, providing habitat and cover to a very healthy population of browns.

This piece lends itself nicely to sight fishing techniques, with larger riffles and more productive blind water lower down. 


The Upper Mataura River

The upper Mataura from Cattle Flat to its headwaters is your classical fly fishing water. Small to medium in size, normally gin clear, and with populations regularly recorded at around 30-40 fish per kilometre around the Garston area, this is where you go to truly test your skills. Long, light leaders, accurate presentations, and a tight fly selection is the key to success along the upper Mataura. But even on those tougher days, the scenery, and the homemade bacon and egg pie at The Coffee Bomb in Garston make it all worthwhile  

A Mataura River brown trout

To be regularly successful upon the Mataura river, one must not only understand the fodder on which the trout feeds but how to effectively imitate the different stages and present them flawlessly to well-educated, selective trout. That’s the challenge we love.

Check out more in our Mataura River series:


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?