Bay du Ford River (Newfoundland)

Zane Grey in fly fishing attire on rock in Newfoundland- 1929 (Credit: BYU, L. Tom Perry Collections, MSS 8710 Box 96 File 41 Image 1905)

In 1929, Zane Grey visited Newfoundland in pursuit of the legendary Atlantic Salmon.  With him were Romer Grey (his son), R.C. Grey (his brother), George Takahashi (his cook), Captain Laurie Mitchell (his long time fishing friend) and Bob Carney (his photographer and soon-to-be son-in-law).  The group caught many, many fish including mature Atlantic Salmon up to fifteen pounds and scores of grisle in the three to six pound range.  Grisle are young salmon who have spent only one winter at sea before returning to the river.  However, Zane was hoping to catch a world record Atlantic Salmon.

The fishing expedition flyfished many rivers and streams while in Newfoundland including the Grand Codroy, Humber, Conne, La Poile and Bay du Ford Rivers. They also fished Grandy's Brook and Burnt Island Brook. Conditions were not favorable.  They were too early for the salmon run in some places.  In others, they experienced swarms of biting, black flies.  In some places, they faced extended rain storms and high water. Zane Grey's West Society has published an extensive web story about this trip which you can view by clicking here.

Fortunately, much of this adventure is recounted by R.C. Grey in 1932's October and November issues of Outdoor Life. Enjoy the following story from the November issue about Zane Grey's final encounter with a huge Atlantic Salmon in the Bay du Ford River:

(Note: The photos in this exhibit are not from Bay du Ford, but other Newfoundland locations Zane Grey visited in Newfoundland during that trip.) 

Zane Grey fly fishing in Newfoundland stream (Credit: BYU, L. Tom Perry Collections, MSS 8710 Box 92 File 1 Image 955)

A bright day or two showed us big fish through water too clear to fool wise old salmon with a fly.  Some were from 30 to 40 pounds.  They maddened us with their indifference.  We caught grilse, but none of the big fellows.

The second day I watched Z.G. (Zane Grey) cast carefully over a big pool below the falls. I followed his casts, hoping that he would get a strike.  He was grim and determined.  I think he felt the strain more with each successive cast, but he kept on doggedly.

Suddenly there was a big swirl in the water.  I saw Z.G.’s line straighten out and the rod whip back and, bobbing, hold there, against the pull of a heavy fish. No doubt the beggar was hooked.  He fled upstream for the falls with the speed of an airline.  A downstream run might have brought him immediate freedom, so luck was with Z.G., at least for the present.

The salmon leaped again and again.  His gyrations were amazing, and with his flashing colors, marked him a fresh run fish.  Z.G. and I yelled in union.  Never before had Z.G. been hooked to such a magnificent salmon.

For several minutes the salmon kept to the head of the pool directly under or very near to the falls and Z.G. had to put great strain on the rod to hold him back. As long as the salmon remained there fighting the swift current he was exhausting his strength, so neither of them had the advantage.  On his next move the fish evidently decided to return to the ocean.  He broke downstream with increasing speed and darted past us carrying plenty of slack, which made a big bag in the line.  He jump again, below us, mouth open wide, and we could see the fly firmly lodged in his jaw.  What a great and beautiful fish!. He was headed for big rocks, rapids and a low falls.  In the event of his reaching the falls it meant a splendid chance for freedom.

“This is going to be my finish,” Z.G. groaned miserably.  “Somehow I know I can’t get him.”

Covering a distance of about 300 feet in less time than any world-famous sprinter could achieve it, the salmon plunged over the first falls.  Z.G., who had struggled his way out of the water by this time, ran stumbling along the bank, performing wild acrobatic leaps from one rock to another.

Z.G. was fighting a losing game.  I could tell that by his actions and his few ejaculations.  I wanted victory to be his.  He had earned this one fine salmon; the long hard trip should have brought him some reward. There had been times when I have actually rooted for a fish that fought as valiantly as this one. But I wanted him beached.

His energy renewed, the fish took to wild leaping again, outclassing his earlier performance.  Up and down he went, all savagery, all violence.  Then with magnificent propulsion with the ease and strength of a first leap, he shot up, shook his head and freed himself from the hook while in the air. 

Z.G., thoughly exhausted, dropped down on a rock.  He was heartsick, and so was I.

“Doesn’t it beat the world the number of fish I have to lose?” he asked me.

I said nothing.  Many time in my life I have followed Z.G. home after similar disappointing experiences,an  experience common to both of us.  But when I consider the many victories we have had, I realize the failures, although never forgotten, add to the wealth of our fishing knowledge.

When we reached camp we found that Cappy (Captain Laurie Mitchell) and the boys had returned, fetching three nice salmon and several fine grisle.  Fishing conditions were improving!


Zane Grey wearing bug netting as he fishes in Grandy's Brook, NL in 1929. (Credit: BYU, L. Tom Perry Collections, MSS 8710 Box 93 File 15 Item 3944)