For the first time in its history, Zane Grey’s West Society is having its 34th annual conference east of the Mississippi, and it has chosen Islamorada as one of its host sites. A few of the events set for June 20 to 23 in Islamorada are open to the public, and new members are welcome to join the society, which promotes the works of author Zane Grey, an Ohio native and New York City dentist who many credit as the father of the American Western novel. Grey was also an avid outdoorsman who frequented the Florida Keys and helped popularize the use of light tackle for catching large gamefish.
Grey fished at the Long Key Fishing Camp, serving as its president from 1917 to 1920, and the Zane Grey Lounge at World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada displays Grey-related memorabilia. Grey’s son, Loren, has claimed that his father fished an average of 300 days a year through his adult life, according to Wikipedia. Grey and his brother, R.C., were regulars visitors to Long Key, where they helped to establish the Long Key Fishing Club, built by Henry Flagler. “Grey pioneered the fishing of boohoo fish (sailfish),” according to Wikipedia. “Zane Grey Creek [in Layton] was named for him.” Grey was an early catchand-release proponent and actively promoted the idea of limited catches. A sign over the entry at the Long Key F i s h i n g C l u b reminded anglers that “Good Sportsmanship does not consist in a Big Catch, but in the use of light tackle and a Reasonable Catch.”
Grey was a prolific author. Although he worked as a dentist after attending college on a baseball scholarship, he always wanted to be a writer. His first book “Betty Zane,” self-published in 1903, was the heroic tale of his Zane ancestors. In 1907, he headed West and compiled notes about his travels that would become the source of information for his adventure novels that were published almost yearly starting in 1908. “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) was his best-selling book. Other titles include “The Code of the West,” “The Lone Star Ranger,” “The Rustlers of Pecos County” and “The Border Legion.” More than 75 years after his death in 1939, almost all his books are still in print, and many of his novels were turned into films that launched the careers of such luminaries as John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gary Cooper. Grey became one of the world’s first millionaire authors. Grey also wrote about fishing in articles, short stories and nonfiction books.
According to the society, as president of the American Game Protective Association that advocated the preservation of wild lands and rivers for future generations, Grey wrote the “American Sportsman’s Creed” in 1918, which declared that sportsmen should never in sport endanger human life; never kill wantonly or needlessly or brutally; never be a fish-hog; study and record the natural history of game species in the interest of science; and the like. He believed in the conservation of resources and sportsmanship, and was a member of the Izaak Walton League.
During his lifetime, Grey held 14 world fishing records, including two catches of more than 1,000 pounds. His first record was a bluefin tuna caught in 1924 off Nova Scotia that weighed 758 pounds.
Among the Zane Grey convention events open to the public are a fundraising auction at the Islander Resort and a free discussion at the Helen Wadley Branch Library in Islamorada about “The Border Legion,” a novel that has its 100-year anniversary this year. The discussion is set for 4 p.m. Monday, June 20, in the library meeting room and copies of the book are available at the library. Additional events are planned prior to the Islamorada visit in Everglades City and afterwards in Key West.
Visit zgws.org for a schedule and more information.