There are several waters worth fishing within 45 minutes’ drive of the city centre. Here are a few pointers for those of you who are visiting town and have half a day to spare on a bit of trout fishing.

Two worthy waters that cross the main highway as you travel north out of Dunedin are the Waikouaiti (25 minutes) and the Shag/Waihemo (40 minutes) rivers. Both are clear and trout can be spotted cruising in large pools. This means that while you may see plenty of fish, you will need to show some good skills to get them on your line!


These two rivers are relatively similar in size, the Shag being slightly larger and generally holding a few more fish. Because of the small size of the streams, trout tend to be found in the larger pools rather than in ripples or runs. These large pools often contain significant weed beds where insects and snails hang out. The trout generally behave more like lake or backwater fish than river fish; they set up a feeding circuit or ‘beat’ in a pool and cruise around feeding on corixa (water-boatman), midge (buzzers/ chironomids) and tiny black snails.

Spin fishing

The best time to spin fish in these waters is when there has been some rain and the water is a little murky, or on a rough day when fish won’t be as easily spooked by the splash of a spinner.

Spinners to try are Veltic in sizes 1 or 2 (green and gold in spring and summer, red and gold in autumn) or a small floating Rapala (brown trout or minnow). Remember that distance casting is not necessary but accuracy definitely is.

Bait fishing

Bait fishing is permitted in these waters and if employed properly can be quite effective. The best method is to stalk and ambush fish, similarly to flyfishing. A small piece of split-shot (as light as you can cast effectively) is attached to the line approximately 40cm above the hook. Observe your fish from the bank and work out its beat. Then wait for it to pass and cast your bait well ahead so the fish isn’t startled by the splash. Wait for the fish to swim back around to where the bait is lying and give your line a slight twitch, just enough to grab the fish’s attention.

Effective baits are earthworms (preferably not the banded ‘tiger-worms’ often found in compost), grass grubs, toe biters (creepers) and porina grubs.


Flyfishing in these waters is done mostly to sighted trout. Fish cruising in pools can be taken by methods similar to that described in ‘bait fishing’, above. Flies to use are Water Boatman, size 14-16, Black and Peacock, size 14-18, Midge Pupa, size 14-18, Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear, size 12-16.

Sometimes, particularly in the spring, you may strike a hatch of mayfly. These are usually small and dark brown and are best imitated by the Cul de Canard dun in size 14-18.

Evening and night-time can be productive times for flyfishing. Find a pool during daylight hours that contains some fish and return in the evening armed with some size 12-14 caddisfly imitations and, particularly in November or early December, look out for a beetle hatch right on dusk.

Waikouaiti River

There are only a couple of access points to the Waikouaiti River and much of it is steep and gorgy, which suits the fit and adventurous angler.

The lower river and estuary can be accessed from SH1 where there is a rest area adjacent to the bridge. From here anglers can explore upstream with a few electric fences and willows to negotiate, or downstream along the side of the highway.

Travelling north on SH1 about 2km before you get to the bridge, turn off to the left onto McGrath Rd. The first bridge you come to after about 1.5km is Orbells Crossing. You can park here and walk upstream for several kms into the lower gorge before it becomes almost impassable. Downstream of this bridge is easy going through farmland, although be aware that the river is tidal right to the bridge and can be deep to cross on a big high tide.

If you carry on past Orbells Crossing on McGrath Rd and then turn left onto Ramrock Rd, this will take you to Bucklands Crossing. You can hike and fish up or downstream from here. The terrain gets steep and gorgy in places.

Eldorado is the highest access point on the river and is reached by turning right off Ramrock Rd well before Buckland’s crossing onto Mt Watkin Rd. There is not a lot of water in the Waikouaiti by this point and fish are very few and far between for most of the season.

Shag River

There are heaps of access points on the Shag River as SH89 (the Pig Route) follows the river for much of its course.

From the bridge on SH1, upstream along the Pig Route to Dunback there are six road bridges (on side roads leading right off the highway) and four fords (mostly impassable, but still access to the river) and a walking bridge in Dunback itself. The river changes slightly from year to year, as it runs through fairly open country unlike the gorgy Waikouaiti. 

The best advice is just to go and explore; there are fish spread right through the river.  The most difficult part of accessing the Shag is the willow growth along much of its length. The willows do provide important refuge for fish and many an angler has spent hours perched in the branches watching big browns cruising lazily below, trying to figure out how on earth to cast to them. Upstream of Dunback the river gets more gorgy and fish are less numerous, although the adventurous angler can have a great day’s fishing if they are prepared to walk. Access to the upper river is via the SH89 Bridge at ‘The Grange’, McDonald Rd or Loop Rd, both of which branch off SH89 to the left. 

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