I wrote the book because it seemed important to record more than 100 years of fishing on New Zealand’s finest rainbow trout river. –Grant Henderson

By Tony Orman

An internationally acclaimed river

The Tongariro River which flows from the Desert Road area and northwards to Lake Taupo is an outstanding trout river, that for over a century and a half has endeared itself to fly fishers – not only New Zealanders but also visitors from overseas. English royalty and celebrities who love to fish for trout have been among its admirers. 

Famed western novelist Zane Grey fished the Tongariro River on four visits and in his book “The Angler’s Eldorado” with his colourful, flamboyant writing style, extolled the brawling wild river and its hefty rainbow trout.

Grant Henderson takes up the challenge
Several years ago, Auckland trout fisherman Grant Henderson set about writing a book about the Tongariro River and its fine rainbow trout fishing. Initially he tried to persuade noted trout fishing author John Parsons to take up the task. John liked the idea and contacted a publisher but was turned down. Disappointed John Parsons gently suggested Grant Henderson write the book himself.

So Grant set about the task. “I wrote the book because it seemed important to record more than 100 years of fishing on New Zealand’s finest rainbow trout river — something no one else has done,” he explains. Author Grant Henderson grew up fishing the brown trout rivers of the Wairarapa before discovering Lake Taupo’s and the Tongariro’s world ranked rainbow fishery, and has clocked up some 60 years of fly fishing — well qualified. He embarked on exhaustive and meticulous research and in delving into archives, unearthed detail of happenings and personalities.

Histories run the danger of being tedious, but such is Grant Henderson’s diligent research and judicious writing that his history of the Tongariro River comes alive and is absorbing to read.

There were many interesting personalities who like Zane Grey, became addicted to the Tongariro River’s fishing. One was Joseph Colston Frost, an Englishman who emigrated to New Zealand in 1923. An ardent angler, Joe Frost initially travelled around New Zealand for two months, fishing as he went along his way.

The legendary Joe Frost
During that 1923 tour, “he first encountered the Tongariro River, opening his account with a superb 14 lb (6.2kg) rainbow trout from the upper reaches.” Thus began a long association with the Tongariro’s superb rainbow trout fishery. Highly skilled in fly fishing, Joe Frost was also years ahead of his time with his innovation and while he would have declined the title, was virtually a living legend. He fished nymph and dry flies on the Tongariro, over half a century, before others did. A skilled fly tier of trout flies, he eventually became a successful popular fishing guide and ran a tackle shop at Turangi. 

I’ve always felt Joe Frost has never got the credit he deserved although his modest nature would not have demanded it. It’s seems just to see Joe Frost given several pages within the book.

The author and the publishers have produced an excellent book
One feels that an underlying motive in writing this book for the author, was as an appreciation of an outstanding trout river and a plea to respect the waterway and its trout, and also ensure the Tongariro River is wisely managed and not lost to thoughtless exploitation or habitat degradation. “The Tongariro is still an outstanding trout fishery attracting fly fishers from all over the world,” he writes.

Therefore, there is “the responsibility of protecting and thereby ensuring that the quality of the fishing is maintained for future generations of anglers.”

Sensitively produced by Bateman Books, the numerous black and white photographs of yesteryears give a warm historical feel, while a colour section brings it up to the present making for a nice blend.

This is an outstanding book, a credit to both author and publisher and an essential addition to the fly fisher’s book shelf. Highly recommended! 

Fishing the Tongariro: a History of our Greatest Trout River by Grant Henderson published by Bateman Books. Recommended Retail Price $59.99. (The release date is 7 August.)