An Enlightening Invaluable History of one of New Zealand’s Greatest Trout Fishing Rivers

Book Review 
“Fishing the Tongariro – A History of our Greatest Trout River” by Grant Henderson, published by Bateman Books. Price $59.99. Reviewed by Tony Orman


Several years ago, Auckland trout fisherman Grant Henderson set about writing a book about the Tongariro River that runs into Lake Taupo just north of Turangi. So good is the Tongariro that it has an international reputation as a fly fishing river, extending over almost 150 or so years and has lured countless thousands of anglers, among them even celebrated figures such as famed western novelist Zane Grey and even British royalty, to fish.

It was back in 1996 that Grant Henderson contacted the late John Parsons, a very accomplished journalist and fine trout fishing author with a lovely sense of prose, to suggest writing a book detailing the history of the river. 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,” explains Grant Henderson.

Author Grant Henderson, who grew up fishing the brown trout rivers of the Wairarapa before discovering Lake Taupo’s and the Tongariro’s world ranked rainbow fishery, has clocked up some 60 years of fly fishing.

He embarked on exhaustive and meticulous research and in delving into archives, unearthing interesting and intriguing happenings and personalities.

One theme that emerged strongly was conflict, he says. Conflict with native fish stocks when trout were introduced, conflict between brown and rainbow trout, heated discussion as to the proper name for the river, (i.e. upper Waikato or Tongariro), controversy between government and the public over building a giant power scheme and disputes between anglers about fishing techniques and angling etiquette.

Histories can tend to be tedious and almost trying to read. However such is Grant Henderson’s diligent research that his history of the Tongariro River comes alive with vibrant personalities often featuring strongly. 

The flamboyant Zane Grey who fished the Tongariro of course was a colourful, at times controversial character. Zane Grey made four visits to the fish the Tongariro and with his lively skill with the pen, publicised the wonderful rainbow trout fishing, which is exactly what the New Zealand Tourist Department wanted.

But there were many other personalities over the years who like Grey, were addicted to the Tongariro’s fishing. I was pleased to see Joseph Colston Frost, an Englishman who emigrated to New Zealand in 1923, mentioned in detail. An ardent angler, Joe Frost initially travelled around New Zealand for two months, fishing as he went along his way.

During that 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 superb rainbow trout fishery. Highly skilled in fly fishing, Joe Frost was also years ahead of his time, fishing nymphs and dry flies on the Tongariro, over half a century, before others did. A skilled fly tier, he eventually became a much sought after fishing guide and ran a tackle shop at Turangi. 

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

Author Grant Henderson skilfully paints written pictures of the various anglers and brings their personalities to life.

One feels an underlying motive in writing this book for the author was as an appreciation of an outstanding trout river a plea to respect it and ensure it 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 out 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 – 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! Five stars!

Footnote: The release date is the 7th August

Tongariro book.jpeg

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3 Responses to An Enlightening Invaluable History of one of New Zealand’s Greatest Trout Fishing Rivers

  1. Jason Foord says:

    I note with amusement the subtle difference between the headline of the review and the title of the book – I’ll go with the later and declare the Tong’ to be the greatest trout river in NZ! Which other river is as accessible and simultaneously as consistently productive? The lifespan of a hydro dam is circa 60 years, almost as long as the Tong’ has been muted by various dams and diversions. Time to free her from her concrete shackles? Can’t wait to read the book, sounds like a ripper.

  2. Dave Rhodes says:

    My dad loved that stretch of river, so much so I scattered his ashes there about 7 years ago now!

  3. Jim Hale says:

    I have known John for some time; even had the pleasure, of having fishing with him on the odd ocasion, some time back, a good freshwater angler.
    Can’t wait, to read his book.

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