An American Angler in Australia - Zane Grey - ebook

An American Angler in Australia ebook

Zane Grey



Australia recalls the images of the Great Barrier Reef, large white sharks, huge crocodiles and friendly people. Zane Gray was fishing and fishing everywhere, but he was often delighted with the Pacific Ocean, especially around Australia and New Zealand. Most of the fish caught by American fishermen in Australia are sharks (large white, tiger, even a few slopes!).

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FOR a good many years I gradually yielded to an impression that Australian waters, especially on the Indian Ocean side, would develop some of the greatest big-game fishing in the world.

At first, all I had to excite such interest were newspaper articles about man-eating sharks, and vague fish stories that drifted up from “down under.” But in recent years I have corresponded with scientists, market fishermen, anglers, even missionaries, from all of whom I gathered data that added to my convictions, and finally sent me down to the under side of the world to see for myself, and prove, if possible, that my instinct and imagination were true guides. But though my chief concern was with Australia’s thirteen thousand miles of rugged coast line, a small bit of which I hoped to explore, I was hardly prepared for this land of staggering contrasts, of unbelievable beasts, of the loveliest and strangest birds, of great modern English cities, of vast ranges that rivaled my beloved Arizona, and of endless forestland, or bush, as they call it, never yet adequately described, no doubt because of beauty and wildness beyond the power of any pen to delineate.

We arrived in Australia in time to welcome the New Year, 1936. I had seen many of the celebrated harbors of the world and was not prepared to surrender the supremacy of New York Harbor or that of San Francisco, not to mention Havana, Rio de Janeiro, and others, to this magnificent Australian refuge for ships with its shores of color and beauty. One of my camera men, Gus, exclaimed, enthusiastically and regretfully: “Say, this’s got Frisco Harbor skinned to a frazzle.” And I cannot do any better than quote this American slang.

Sydney is a great city, a real city, and there’s no need to say more. During my short stay there I saw practically everything and was greatly impressed by many things. But this is to be an account of my fishing adventures in Australia, and it would take another volume to describe the country itself.

From what information I could gather, the neighborhood of Montague Island had yielded most of the swordfish that had been seen and caught by Australians. So after enjoying the hospitality of Sydney for several days, we gathered up bag and baggage and motored down the coast some two hundred and seventy-five miles to the little town of Bermagui, where we established our camp.

It seems, as the years go by, that every camp I pitch in places far from home grows more beautiful and romantic. The setting of the one at Bermagui bore this out in the extreme. From the village a gradual ascent up a green wooded slope led to a jutting promontory that opened out above the sea. The bluff was bold and precipitous. A ragged rock-bound shoreline was never quiet. At all times I seemed aware of the insatiate crawling sea. The waves broke with a thundering crash and roar, and the swells roared to seething ruin upon the rocks. Looking north across a wide blue bay, we could see a long white beach. And behind it dense green forest, “bush,” leading to a bold mountain range, and the dim calling purple of interior Australia. This shoreline swung far to the north, ending in a cape that extended out, pointing to Montague Island, bare and bleak, with its lighthouse standing erect, like a gray sentinel.

At this side of the promontory the great trees failed, leaving only a few standing away from the storm winds of the Antarctic, with bleached gnarled branches. Beyond lay a few logs and these led to a long green slope down to the sea.

Camp of a dozen or so of tents we located in a grove of widely-separated eucalyptus trees–gum trees they are called in Australia. They reminded me of the pohutukawa trees of New Zealand. There were sunny glades and plenty of shade, and foliage for the wind to sigh or mourn or roar through, according to the mood of the wind. The fragrance of these trees I had long known, because I have eucalyptus on my place in California, some lovely, lofty, silver-barked trees, and others low and dense, bearing the scarlet flowers. But here the fragrance was penetrating and thick, like that of a fir forest in Oregon, only stronger. It pasted your nostrils shut.

Birds new to me sang in these trees and they were unnamable to me for a while, except the gulls, that come right into camp, up into the woods. This was unprecedented and very intriguing. Sea birds, fish-eaters, visiting me in camp! It was a good augury. Maybe they thought I would bring lots of fish meat for them to eat.

And the kookaburra, the laughing jackass, what shall I say of this laughing devil of a friendly ludicrous bird? They came early and late, they sat and watched me, turning their heads, as if to express their interest, if not resentment: “Now who is this fellow, anyhow? We’ll have to see about him.”

They were quite large, rather bulky forward, with dull white breasts and gray backs and markings, with big heads and wicked long bills. All about them comic and friendly, except that terrible laugh! It awakened me at dawn, and I heard it after I went to bed. I knew I would love them, despite the fear that maybe they were “giving me the laugh,” and pealing out with “Haw! Haw! Haw!” in several raucous tones at my temerity and audacity in coming nine thousand miles to catch some fish. That laugh discouraged me a little. But as far as the fish were concerned I had only to look out over that dark blue ocean, the Tasman Sea, notorious for its currents and storms, its schools of whales and fish, to know that I would find new and boundless sport.


The element of familiarity in all this newness and strangeness of Australia was supplied by the presence of my boatman, Peter Williams, of New Zealand, and my launch, the Avalon. She had been constructed from my design by Collings in Auckland, and is comfortable, fast, and seaworthy. With a long hard fishing trip planned, it is imperative that these features be present.

Peter used to be a whaler and that is why he is so efficient with ropes and moorings and boats. He is the brawniest and best man with a gaff who has ever stood beside me. Since 1927, when I first visited New Zealand, he has fished with me in many waters besides his own–California, Mexican coast, Galapagos, Tahiti, South Sea Islands, and now we are in Australia. It is needless to say that we look for an outstanding and wonderful experience.

From talking with the native fishermen and market fishermen at Bermagui, I learned considerable from which I could make deductions. There were a number of conflicting opinions, as well as some general statements in which all concurred. One was that I could hardly be expected to catch a swordfish before February. And this was mid-January.

The old familiar wind and rough seas marked the first few days at Bermagui. But we could not have gone out in any event, as it is a big job to pitch a camp of a dozen tents, all on board floors, and to build a serviceable kitchen and dining-room. The way we camp puts us in conflict with the elements, if not wholly at their mercy. But that is what I love about living in the open–rain, shine, wind, calm, gale, and torrential downpour. We have already had them all.

On January 11th we started out for our first run, really a scouting trip. For me it was difficult and poignant to take the initial step. That is because I know what this start entails–the beginning of a protracted period of hazardous, nerve-wracking, toilsome days. To get results you have to run out every day that is possible, and as the old Scotchman said, “If you want to catch fish you must keep your flea in the water.” If you substitute the word bait for “flea” you will have a slogan for successful saltwater fishing.

We ran from our mooring out the mouth of a little river, against an incoming tide, with a rugged low headland of rock on our right and a curved sand spit on our left, into a wide bay. A long white beach wandered away to the north, and dim in the distance was our objective, Montague Island. Gulls were absent, at least on the water, and there was no evidence of bait or fish. The day was overcast, with promise of clearing.

Peter called our camera-boat the Tin Horn. Its name was really Tin Hare, but it pleased his sense of humor to call it Tin Horn. She was long and well built, and appeared to be a most satisfactory vessel for taking pictures. I would not have fished out of her under any circumstances, because the cockpit was too far back, and therefore the fishing-chairs too far from the stern. You would have to fight a fish from either side; and when a swordfish ran under the boat, which is a likely occurrence, it would be just too bad. Australian anglers, after the manner of New Zealanders, run their boats while they are fast to a fish, usually in the direction the fish is going, and less often away from him. My method is to stop a fish after the first hard run, and fight him.

My camera crew, Bowen, Anderson, and Morhardt, experienced and clever as they are in photography, were utter novices in big-game sea-angling. The Warren Brothers, Ike and Bill, market fishermen and good fellows hired as crew of the Tin Hare, had no understanding of our methods. I felt a grim amusement when I realized what the Tin Hare was in for; and also, a keen relish in prospect of fun and sport and disaster and hazard on board the boat. Such things always promise the incidents that make for good stories. Bowen had conscripted or shanghaied his pretty wife, Marge, for script girl; and I certainly felt concern for her.

We put out the teasers and Peter handed me a rod: “All set, sir,” he said. “Might as well troll to and fro, going to that island. We’ll pick up a big fish some day.”

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