Although some of Gary Kemsley’s fishing heroes have passed on, their writings remain, allowing modern anglers to benefit from their experiences.
Zane Grey was such a writer and fisherman. Not liked by all, envied by many and revered by many more, he was a writer of fiction – cowboy and Indian stories – but he researched and studied his subjects well, and to read his stories was like taking a history lesson in the nicest possible way.
His story of his trip to the Rainbow Bridge (National Monument) in 1922 is the tale of an epic journey. Today you can get there by boat on the flooded Colorado River; back then it required days in the saddle on treacherous trails. And that just to background a cowboy story! It says a lot about him.
He practiced as a dentist at first and later made a fortune from the sales of his books, spending it on travelling and fishing. He followed all codes of fishing, from surface trolling for the mighty broadbill swordfish, though to bass and warm-water fishing, as well as plying his fly for the noble steelhead trout that run up the rivers of the USA’S western seaboard rivers.
He was happy fishing for bonefish in Florida or wading the Tongariro River in New Zealand. He caught bluefin tuna off Catalina Island and marlin in Tahiti, as well as sharks and marlin in northern New Zealand and Australian waters, and broadbill swordfish worldwide. He was a true fishing pioneer.
Read his stuff and you will notice a hint of arrogance, but you will mainly pick up on the fact that he had an insatiable appetite for fishing knowledge. A local sitting on a rock with a cane pole was as interesting to Zane Grey as a millionaire with a big game boat. He couldn’t get enough information. When he decided that he and his son Romer were going to sort out the bonefish in Florida while they were down there, he had no idea that his life would be changed by this mysterious fish. He didn’t even catch one on the first trip, and left vowing to change that on his next visit.
It was a slow learning curve before either of them hooked a bonefish. Only a patient man would have persisted. He went on to catch one over ten pounds and hold a record for a period. Later, in Tahiti, he found more of them, and his Florida experience was of great use. In a short story he wrote called The Bonefish Brigade, he tells of watching other bone-fishers for hours, trying to work out what they were doing.
We should remember that all this was in the days when travel was difficult and information hard to gather. No instantaneous bonefish reports from top lodges and guides around the world. It was a time when most fishers didn’t even know that bonefish existed.
A fisherman needs someone to look up to, someone who has achieved. That will give them a goal or a point to aspire to. My fishing addiction came from writings such as Zane Grey’s and having the confidence to have a go. I well remember one fisherman I looked up to at the time telling me I was a fool for thinking I
could catch kingfish and other gamefish from the rocks. That was back in the early 1970s. There were few even trying, but I was prepared to give it a go, and over the next 30 years or more I caught more kingfish over 20kg and huge sharks off the rocks than he’d had hot dinners. It was a matter of research, preparation, application and perseverance. I gathered such strength from Zane Grey’s stories when he had been in a similar position and knew he could be successful if he tried hard enough. It was the 1970s again. “You will never catch anything on those soft-plastic lures,” someone said. “You’ll never catch a snapper on a lure,” said someone else. Today anglers are spending a million dollars a year on softplastics and their primary target is snapper.
Other writers through the years have had similar influences – Lefty Kreh, Steve Starling, Budge Hintz, Ron Calcutt and Steve Cooper, to name a few. Each one has his own style, and writes in his own manner. Some are older and some are younger than me. If you find a writer you like, then look for more of his work.
Zane Grey only wrote 18 books on fishing, but he did write a lot of other material for magazines and journals. Some of his short stories, such as The Bonefish Brigade, are amongst the best stories he has written. In that particular story he explained how he spent hours studying the successful fishermen wherever he went. He was not afraid of fronting up and asking questions if he saw a fishing situation he didn’t understand, either. A little of this content can be seen in his earlier book Tales of Fishes. His books are easy to find, although quite expensive, but journal and magazine writings are really scarce. They haven’t been reprinted in cheaper formats like most of his books.
There is so much to learn from early fishers such as Grey. They didn’t have the tackle we have today, they couldn’t fly around the world in a day, and communication with other fishers was difficult – impossible in many places. Yet these early pioneers worked out many of the secrets of the sport fishing scene at the time. We have plenty to be thankful for.
It is very interesting reading between the lines. Our knowledge today means that we can gain even more from early writings. While the writer might have mentioned something in passing, we may be able to delve deeper into his subject and tie in present information with their musings.
This is one of the reasons I have put pen to paper over the years. We need to document and report on the fishing scene. Changes in fish stocks and the use of fisheries, as well as the health, size and population base of species today, will provide valuable information for others to use in the future.
I have a medium-sized fishing library. My collection is a mix of historic and instructional fishing books, with a few text-book-style books and journals on New Zealand fish and fishing. I am forever referring to my books to clarify thoughts while I am writing, as well as reading and rereading for pure entertainment. My books also offer ideas and talk of fishing innovation. That inspiration keeps me writing and fishing.
I’m no fishing historian, but it is interesting to look back. Just recently someone asked where saltwater fly fishing started in New Zealand. What I do know is that there are plenty of us still fishing that go back a lot further than the time Auckland ‘discovered’ it! Looking through my books, the earliest reference I can find is in Guy Mannering’s book Eighty Years in New Zealand, published in 1943. He talks of kahawai fishing with the fly in the Tukituki River in Hawkes Bay around 1910 (pages 179-180).
My message here is to use our enquiring minds in conjunction with the words of our past heroes to enhance the fishing future.
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Enjoy with a fresh garden salad or simply on its own. 45g butter 1 clove garlic, crushed 2½ tbsp flour 1½-2 cups milk, warmed 1 cup grated cheese Salt and pepper to taste.