Fiordland is well-known for the tourist attraction, Milford Sound, often described as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’

But there is also a vast array of lakes, rivers and streams with wild trout populations in some of the clearest water the world. It is rugged, remote and offers a true wilderness experience for the angler who is prepared to do the legwork. It is no exaggeration to say that some of these fish have never seen an angler.

Access to this vast region is somewhat limited. There is road access at some points, while boats provide access to the larger lakes and then access to the lakes’ tributaries. Department of Conservation walking tracks are a very useful means of getting up valley and accessing some of the fisheries, for others there are no formed tracks. Helicopters can be landed in most of the National Park but be aware that they are not allowed in the designated Wilderness Area.

Brown trout are present in at least the lower or estuarine reaches of most Fiordland rivers draining to the sea. Otherwise, the generally steep catchments, the extreme rainfall, and resultant flows significantly limit their distribution.
The Hollyford River is one of the region’s larger rivers and its tidal reaches are very productive for many fish species.
All Southland rivers and lakes draining to the Tasman Sea, and Foveaux Strait west of the Waiau River are open for the entire 12 month season.

The fish in Fiordland do particularly well in a ‘mouse year’.  A mouse year occurs the year after the beech trees have a significant flowering event. This can be fragmented over non-contiguous areas or be more uniform over wider Fiordland. The resultant extra seed on the ground causes the mouse population to boom and given nearly all of Fiordland’s waterways are lined with beech forest, it is not surprising that trout zone in on these protein rich meals.

Weather conditions in Fiordland can change rapidly, so anglers need to be prepared for all weather.  It is important to always carry two forms of communication. A modern PLB and/or In-Reach type messenger systems are lightweight insurance against the worst. Fiordland rivers can rise very quickly, but fortunately they also fall quickly. Wait it out and never cross a swollen river.

Didymo (Didymosphenia geminata) is an invasive freshwater alga which is present in many other South Island rivers and lakes. It is most likely to be spread by humans moving between waterways. For more on didymo, see here

To stop the spread of this alga and other potential invasives while still allowing fishing to continue, a free of charge Clean Gear Certificate is mandatory to fish most of the rivers and streams in Fiordland. For the area needing this Certificate, see the map on the link below.

As a ‘rule of thumb’ any Fiordland waterway that is accessible by public road does not need a Clean Gear Certificate. The exception being the Grebe River, which does.

Prevent the spread of freshwater pests in Fiordland National Park’ 


Fiordland waterways with customised management

The Clinton & Worsley Rivers 

The Ettrick Burn