Wairau River and Diversion, Marlborough Salmon and Trout Fishing

Wairau River and Wairau Diversion, Marlborough

Sea-run trout, rainbow trout, salmon – plus whitebait, kahawai, red cod, and mullet in the lower rivers and river mouths

The Wairau River runs for 140km. The lower and middle reaches are braided over a wide shingle bed. For most of the year, only about 10 per cent of the shingle bed carries water – often in a single channel. The upper reaches 100km inland from the sea are more confined over rocky ground. From the State Highway One Bridge at Taumarina downstream the river comes under tidal influence, is wide and slower moving. The river below Taumarina tends to be milky rather than being clear.

Fishing for kahawai at the mouth of the Wairau Diversion. Click to enlarge.

Self-contained camping is permitted at the Wairau River Diversion between the lower bridge on Neal Road and the mouth on the north side. This camping area is very popular with white-baiters during the season. The reason the Wairau Diversion was constructed in the early 1960s was to prevent widespread flooding on the lower Wairau River plain. Heavy rain in the Richmond Ranges, which includes the main tributaries such as the Goulter, Northbank and Waihopai Rivers, would cause such massive flooding in Blenheim that the town was originally named the Beaver.

This huge sea-run brown trout jack was taken on a small feathered lure at the mouth of the Wairau River Diversion. It was a huge fish of perhaps 7 lbs. It was no doubt after the whitebait and smelt.

A major earthquake in 1848 caused a lowering of the Wairau Lagoons by 1.5 metres. This improved the flooding situation somewhat and allowed trading vessels access into the Wairau and Opawa Rivers. However, huge destructive floods still occurred in 1868, 1904, 1911, 1916 and 1923.

Through the work of various river boards, and eventually, the Marlborough River Board between 1956 and 1989, stop banks and other works finally culminated in the opening of the Wairau diversion on 30 April 1963. The diversion created a new course for the Wairau River, which ran from State Highway 1 at Tuamarina, more directly to the sea at Cloudy Bay. The diversion straightened out the usual course of the river which meandered south-east before reaching the sea at the Wairau Bar.

Looking north from the original mouth of the Wairau River.

Looking upstream at the “true” Wairau River mouth 8kms to the south of the Diversion.

A big kahawai taken on light-weight trout spinning gear at the mouth of the Wairau Diversion.

Whitebaiting at the mouth of the River Diversion. The young angler in the centre of the picture only had the bottom section of his rod, and no line, but even though wearing nappies, still continued fishing anyway!

Spinning for kahawai at the mouth of the Wairau River Diversion.

Fishing for kahawai at the mouth of the Wairau River Diversion.

Red cod caught in the lower river out from the rocks at the mouth of the Wairau River Diversion.

Anglers fishing at the mouth of the Wairau River Diversion.

Spinning for kahawai at the mouth of the Wairau River. There are usually a few kahawai about at the Wairau River mouth – though sometimes there are a lot of smaller fish.

This is the “true” Wairau River mouth 8kms to the south of the Diversion.

Wairau River Floodway Reserve Land. Camping for up to two nights for self-contained campervans only. The camping area is shown in yellow on the map below.

The Wairau River mouth and the mouth of the Wairau Diversion 8km to the north are good places to spin fish for kahawai from October onwards. The mouth of the Diversion tends to be swifter before Christmas. The river level can drop quite a bit during a dry summer. Then the mouth tends to follow the beach becoming less defined. There can be excellent kahawai fishing at the mouth of the Wairau River, and at the mouth of the Wairau Diversion over summer and autumn.

Following rain, the Wairau Diversion, and the surf zone can become very dirty which is not good for kahawai fishing. Provided the river and surf are clear there will be a few kahawai around for certain. Often the kahawai are there so it is worth casting either into the lower river or even straight out over the surf as far as you can cast. Sea-run trout are caught early in the season while whitebaiters are still working the tidal zone of the Wairau River. Sea-run browns can be taken in the surf on spinning gear as well as further upstream.


View Larger Topographic Map The green marker shows the location of the camping area.

Wairau Diversion and the Wairau River Mouth. The camping area popular with white baiters is shown as a yellow line near the top of the map. Map: Google Earth, TerraMetrics and DigitalGlobe. Click on the map to enlarge.

A very good salmon from the Wairau River, Marlborough.

Marlborough angler Alex Kole caught this bueat 6.35kg (14 lb) salmon in the Wairau River near Renwick in mid-March 2021. Alex caught it on a light 6 lb line. Photograph courtesy of Alex Kole.

Another view of Alex Kole’s salmon caught off Pauls Rd, weighed 6.35 kilograms. Photograph courtesy of Alex Kole.

Salmon in the Wairau River

A few salmon are caught each summer throughout the Wairau River. Occasionally salmon are taken at the mouth of the Diversion but most are caught well upstream near Renwick. They tend to be taken on trout gear, including the fly-rod, rather than heavier zed spinners used to fish the bigger Canterbury rivers to the south.

Fish & Game: Wairau River Salmon Running. According to Nelson Marlborough Fish & Game field officer Vaughan Lynn there has always been a small salmon run in the Wairau River but it has remained relatively unknown. He believes the salmon run in the Wairau has increased over the last decade and more anglers have become aware of it and we’re now targeting the species.

Data from spawning counts over the last seven years, together with catch reports, suggest the annual Wairau River salmon run be around 400-600 fish. There could be up to 1,000 fish in a good year – Nelson Marlborough Fish & Game. Salmon fishing on the Wairau River is only allowed downstream of the State Highway 63 Wash Bridge. The river is closed to salmon fishing above Wash Bridge in order to protect spawning salmon. See the nearby Opawa River.

Predator PDL Old Town Kayaks, Waikawa Bay, Marlborough Sounds This Predator PDL kayak by Old Town measures 4m in length and 91cm in width. PDL stands for the pedal drive. Your legs can produce a lot more sustained power than your arms and shoulders. With a high 10.3:1 gear ratio it is possible to reach speeds of 5.5mph. My first impression is that it would make a brilliant fishing platform for targeting kingfish and snapper around New Zealand. I’m guessing it would also be excellent for lake fishing for trout. Trolling and harling would be a breeze. Video from an event organised by the local agents Henderson’s Limited, Blenheim, held at Waikawa Bay, near Picton.

This post was last modified on 06/04/2021 11:42 pm

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