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The great story of Zane Grey’s world record blue marlin

By Staff | Aug 27, 2015

All fishermen tell a good story. Throughout history, these tales about big fish always gather attention, from fishermen and non-fishermen alike. Often, it’s the fish that got away that become the biggest. But plenty of fish brought back to shore seem unimaginable and make for great storytelling.

In each case, the record catches have been carefully examined and authenticated by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the organization responsible for approving, or disapproving, world record claims. The lone exception is Zane Grey’s fish, which was caught prior to 1939 when the IGFA was founded.

Zane Grey’s Quest

In 1930, very few anglers could afford to travel the world in pursuit of large game fish. The sport of big-game angling was still in its infancy, and the tackle of the day was primitive.

Grey stands out as a pioneering member of the small sect of big-game fishing aficionados who spent huge sums of money to feed their passion for big-game fish. Grey put together the boats, crew and captains to travel the world looking for fish-filled waters. He made his money writing popular western novels and used this wealth to stage elaborate fishing expeditions to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and other exotic locales.

Few anglers of that era ever dreamed of casting off in search of a 1,000-pound marlin. Most believed that such a voyage, or even such a fish, was outside the realm of possibility.

In 1930, Grey found himself on a multi-week expedition in Tahitian waters pursuing the mythical Tahitian striped marlin that reportedly grew to a massive size. Many years later, scientists would identify this species as the Pacific blue marlin.

The party fished aboard two boats, with Grey on the Tahiti. The group caught several good-sized marlin, but a monster fish they raised and lost brought Grey’s blood to a boil. The anglers also caught tuna, wahoo and large sharks, but it wasn’t until nearly the end of the expedition that fate would deliver a truly giant fish to Grey’s freshly caught bonito bait.

On May 16, 1930, the morning passed uneventfully, with the exception of a few shark bites on several of Grey’s baits. His tackle consisted of a heavy wooden rod and a large reel capable of holding 1,000 yards of 39-thread (117-pound-test) linen line and another 500 yards of 42-thread (126-pound) line for backing.

Suddenly a marlin attacked the bait, and Grey made a solid hook-set. The ensuing battle lasted several hours, and the Tahiti logged more than ten miles while chasing the great fish. As reported in Grey’s book, “Tales of Tahitian Waters,” the marlin jumped clear of the water 15 times and at one point almost got away by diving under the boat.

Finally, Grey defeated the huge marlin and brought it boat-side, only to see the billfish attacked by a pack of sharks attracted by the struggling fish. After tail-roping the marlin, the crew fought off the sharks as they chewed at the billfish’s tail. Finally, after beating the sharks on the head and pulling the boat away from the bloody melee, the crew secured the fish and towed it back to camp.

Once onshore, the crew hoisted up what was left of the fish on a tripod of timbers. It tipped the scales to 1,040 pounds with a good section of the tail missing. This fish represents the first marlin over 1,000 pounds caught on rod and reel.

The fishing community generally accepted Grey’s catch as the world’s record at the time, although it was nine years before the IGFA and its rules, which would have disqualified the mutilated fish from record consideration, came into existence.