Tongariro River (New Zealand)

Zane Grey fly fishing on New Zealand's Tongariro River (Credit: BYU, L. Tom Perry Collections, MSS 8710 Box 101 File 28 Item 6698)

In 1925, Zane Grey and his fishing friend, Captain Laurie Mitchell, hopped aboard the Royal Mail SS Makura and headed for New Zealand.  This trip is often touted as the one where caught a 450 pound Striped Marlin Swordfish, a species often believed to be too large to catch on rod and reel.  Less known are the days they spent on New Zealand's Tongariro River flyfishing for huge rainbow trout.

The following story is from Grey's travelogue, Tales of the Angler's El Dorado, New Zealand:

Zane Grey with a catch of Rainbow Trout from New Zealand's Tongariro River (Credit: BYU, L. Tom Perry Collections, MSS 8710 Box 92 File 1 Item 922)

I cast my fly exactly where I wanted to.  The currrent hungrily seized it, and as it floated out of my sight I gave my road a gentle motion. Halfway between the cast and where the line would have straightened out below me, a rainbow gave a heavy and irresistible lunger. It was a strike that outdid my first.  It almost unbalanced me.  It dragged hard on the line I clutched in my left hand. I was as quick as the fish and let go just as he hooked himself.  Then followed a run the like of which I did not deem possible for any fish short of a salmon or a Marlin.  He took all my line except a quarter  of an inch left on the spool.  That brought him to the shallow water way across where the right-hand channel went down.  He did did not want that.  Luckily for me, he turned to the left and rounded the lower edge of the pool.  Here I got line back.  Next he rushed across toward the head of the rapid.  I could do nothing, but hold on and pray.

Twenty yards above, he sprang aloft in so prodigious a leap that my usual steady shout of delight froze in my throat. Like a deer, in long bounds he covered the water, how far I dared not believe.  The last rays of the setting sun flashed on this fish, showing it to be heavy and round and deep, of a wonderful pearly white tinted with pink.

Fearing the swift water at the head of the rapid, I turned and plunged pellmell out to the beach and along it, holding my rod up as high as I could.  I did not save any line, but I did not lose any, either.  I ran clear to the end of the sandy becvh where it verged on the boulders a few faces farther roaredd the river. Inch by inch I lost line.  I became desparate. Once over that fall she would escape.With all that line off and most of it out of the water in plain sight, tight as a banjo string, I appear to be at an overwhelming disadvantage.  So I grasped the line in my left hand and held it.  My six-ounce rod bowed and bent, then straightened and pointed. I felt its quivering vibration and I heard the slight singing of the tight line.  

The first few seconds were almost unendurable.  When would line or leader give way of the hook tear out? Than as the moments passsed I lost that tense agony of apprehension.  I gained confidence. Soon the tremendous strain told.  The rainbow came up , swirled and pounded and thrashed on the surface and made upstream.  The move I signaled with a shout, which was certainly echoed by my comrades, all lined up behind me excited, gay and admonishing.

I walked down the beach, winding my reel fast, yet keeping the line taut. Thus I advanced a full one-hundred yards. When I felt the enameled silk come to my fingers, I gave another shout. Then I backed up the beach, pulling the trout hard.  At last she got into the slack shallow water over the wide sand bar.  

"Work that plugger in close where the water is shallower," advised Captain Mitchell.

Indeed, I had wanted and tried to do that, for the twisting, rolling fish might at any instant tear out the hook. The little rod wore tenaciously on the raibow, growing stronger, bending less, drawing easier.  After what seemed an interminable period there in this foot-deep water the battle ended abruptly with the bend of the rod drawing the fish head onto the wet sand.  Captain Mitchell had waded in back of my quarry, suddenly to lean down and slide her far up on the beach.

"What a bally fine trout! Look at it! Deep, fat, thick.  It'll weigh fourteen."

"Oh no," I gasped, working over my numb and aching arms and hands.