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THE MAN WHO LIVED TWO LIVES IN ONE
Robert H. Boyle
April 29, 1968
Although Zane Grey accomplished more than most men, his years passed too quickly. As it was, he lived two full lives—one for his writing and one for his fishing—and he was extraordinarily successful at both. For years the sale of his books was surpassed only by the Holy Bible and McGuffey Readers, and his earnings allowed him to fish the waters of the world, where he set many records. Today, almost 30 years after his death at age 67, his books still sell and two of his fishing records have never been beaten
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April 29, 1968

The Man Who Lived Two Lives In One

Although Zane Grey accomplished more than most men, his years passed too quickly. As it was, he lived two full lives—one for his writing and one for his fishing—and he was extraordinarily successful at both. For years the sale of his books was surpassed only by the Holy Bible and McGuffey Readers, and his earnings allowed him to fish the waters of the world, where he set many records. Today, almost 30 years after his death at age 67, his books still sell and two of his fishing records have never been beaten

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Grey always had some new adventure going. A Norwegian named Sievert Nielsen, a sailor turned prospector, read Grey's novel Desert Gold and wrote to him under the misapprehension that the story of the lost treasure in the farfetched plot was true. Grey was so charmed with the letter that he invited Nielsen to see him. They became friends and together hiked across Death Valley for the thrill of it.

Grey's success at landing big fish prompted a correspondence with Captain Laurie Mitchell of Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Mitchell, who was to become one of Grey's fishing companions, was enthusiastic about giant bluefin tuna off Nova Scotia. He himself had landed only one—it happened to be a world-record 710 pounds—and had lost between 50 and 60 of the big fish. Other anglers had caught perhaps a total of 10. The fish were simply too tough for ordinary tackle. This was just the sort of challenge that appealed to Grey, who promptly began laying plans to fish in Nova Scotia. He reasoned that his sword-fish tackle would be adequate for the tuna, provided that the boat from which he was fishing was fast and maneuverable. He had two light skiffs built in Nova Scotia, and from Florida he ordered a special launch, 25 feet long and equipped with two engines capable of 18 miles an hour. The launch was so designed that at full speed it could turn on its own length. Grey installed Catalina fighting chairs in each boat.

Within a couple of weeks Grey proved his strategy to be right. He hooked three tuna and landed two, one of which was a world record 758 pounds and the largest fish of any kind ever caught on rod and reel.

Before leaving Nova Scotia, Grey fulfilled a boyhood dream by buying "a beautiful white ship with sails like wings to sail into tropic seas." The three-masted schooner, which he called Fisherman, held the record for the run from Halifax to New York. Grey scrupulously made certain she never had been used as a rumrunner; ever the teetotaler, he would not have a bootlegger's boat as a gift. He had Fisherman outfitted with all the tackle that "money could buy and ingenuity devise," and, with R.C. and Romer, he set sail for the Gal�pagos, Cocos Island, the Gulf of Panama and the Pacific coast of Mexico. On this trip he caught a 135-pound Pacific sailfish, the first known to science, but otherwise fishing conditions were not good because of an abundance of sharks.

Broadbill swordfish remained Grey's great love. In 1926 at Catalina, he and his brother caught a total of 10, including Zane's world-record 582-pounder. In that same year R.C. caught five marlin, all more than 300 pounds. No other angler had then caught more than one 300-pound fish, and the 354-pounder taken by R.C. was a world record. It was a great, year for the brothers and, as Grey wrote, "Not the least pleasure in our success was to run back to Avalon with the red flag flying at the masthead, to blow a clarion blast from the boat's whistle, and to see the pier filled with excited spectators. Sometimes thousands of visitors massed at the end of the pier to see the swordfish weighed and photographed. On these occasions R.C. and I would have to stand the battery of hundreds of cameras and shake hands until we broke away from the pier."

Not everyone cheered Grey. He and R.C. broke early with members of the Catalina Tuna Club over Grey's choice of tackle. Although a light-tackle man in freshwater, Grey used very heavy tackle for big game fish. He argued that fish that broke off light tackle either became prey to sharks or died.

Grey accepted the invitation of the New Zealand government to investigate the big game fishing possibilities in that country. Captain Mitchell and R.C. went with him. They revolutionized local practices; instead of fishing with bait deep down, they took fish by trolling. Grey caught a world-record 450-pound striped marlin and a record 111-pound yellowtail, while Captain Mitchell set a record with a 976-pound black marlin. Grey's greatest pleasure, however, was finding copies of his Westerns in even the remotest homes he visited. "This was surely the sweetest and most moving of all the experiences I had; and it faced me again with the appalling responsibility of a novelist who in these modern days of materialism dares to foster idealism and love of nature, chivalry in men and chastity in women."

Back home, Grey had difficulties in Arizona. In 1930 the state passed game laws and established seasons, and Grey, accustomed to hunting bears whenever the mood was on him, was angered. He felt that he was entitled to hunt year round, because he had put Arizona on the map. When a warden refused to issue him a resident license Grey was "grossly insulted," and he gave up his lodge in the Tonto Basin. "In twelve years my whole bag of game has been five bears, three bucks and a few turkeys," he said. "I have written 15 novels with Arizona background. Personally it cost me $30,000 to get material for one book alone. To the Last Man. My many trips all over the state have cost me $100,000. So in every way I have not been exactly an undesirable visitor." He was so indignant he said he would never return and, as a parting shot, he said that the game commission and the Forest Service had sold out to "the commercial interest." As a case in point, he cited the north rim of the Grand Canyon as nothing more than a "tin-can gasoline joint." Grey felt strongly about the Grand Canyon, so much so that he could not bring himself to write about it. It was simply too marvelous to describe. Grey felt the same way about a book, Fishing from the Earliest Times, by William Radcliffe, an English scholar. Grey found the book so poetic, monumental, scientific and informative he did not feel equal to writing a review of it.

Fishing in the Pacific lured him more and more. He revisited New Zealand and Tahiti, where he caught his record 1,040-pound striped marlin. The fish was mutilated by sharks; had it not been, it would have weighed 200 pounds more. When the Australian government asked him to explore big game fishing there, Grey went to Australia and landed his record tiger shark off Sydney Heads. Always the unknown beckoned. He spent $40,000 for a steel-hulled schooner originally built for the Kaiser, and another $270,000 went into refurbishing the ship, which he named Fisherman II. His dream of dreams was to fish the waters of Christmas Island off Madagascar, where there were reports of sailfish 22 feet long. Equipped with six launches, Fisherman II embarked for Christmas Island on a round-the-world cruise. The ship was 195 feet long, but she had a narrow 28-foot beam and she rolled, even in a calm sea. Even Grey got sick. "We had so much trouble it was unbelievable," says his younger son, Loren. "We got as far as Totoya in the Fijis. The captain was ill. The chief engineer had appendicitis. We were there for over a month or more with costly repairs. Father finally called the trip off because of a pressing business matter with his publisher." Eventually Grey gave up on the ship, and she ended her days as a cannery tender for a West Coast tuna fleet.

While steelhead fishing in Oregon in 1937 Grey suffered a stroke. Romer and a guide carried him to a car and got him home, where he recuperated. Within a year he seemed recovered. He went to Australia to fish and then back to Altadena to write, before going on to Oregon for steel-head. There he insisted that Loren and three friends fish. "Not only all day, but every day in the week," says Loren, now a professor of education at San Fernando Valley State College. "We finally had a big fight with him and said we wanted to go home. If he wouldn't let us go home, would he at least let us go into town on weekends and live it up a little bit? He finally gave in, so we'd fish just five days a week."

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