I think it must have been one of the American authors – John Gierach springs to mind – who once said he never even wanted to try blue-water fishing because he knew too well what the pull of those turbo-charged pelagics would do to his lifelong love of trout angling.
At first blush, this looks a lot like stoic self-denial. But now, watching this debut DVD from Charles Rangeley-Wilson, formerly seen on screen as the Accidental Angler and founder of the Wild Trout Trust, I can concede that it’s possibly also a very sensible act of self-preservation.
(After all, who needs azure water and coralline coves, shell-sand beaches and concussive coconut palms under a blinding sun? Who wants to have to handle tackle better balanced for playing a runaway Routemaster in heavy London traffic? And if fly-fishing alone isn’t bad enough, who needs an even harder addiction?)
Then again… watch this film in the freezing depths of a British January, cast yourself off in pursuit of those mythical, psychedelic bonefish… and like Odysseus himself, the gods only know when you’ll come home.
With perfect classical pitch, Bonefish opens with a roar of agony from our narrator, a fisherman who’s just blown his day’s best shot at a brace of “epic” bones on a flat somewhere in the Bahamas.
“Bonefish country is like a drug for me now”, confides Charles to camera, and it’s easy to see why. Grittily far from lifestylish tourist resorts, the reflective, opalescent beauty of evening on Eleuthera is enough to make me want to pack my own bags right away, regardless of the damage this will do to my mortgage, my marriage and my trout fishing.
In fact, one of the reasons Bonefish succeeds so well is precisely because of its raw, underplayed, travelogue style.
From finding your own guides (or not), to DIY-ing a ferry trip between the islands (“because sometimes you have to force yourself to take the longer road”) in a claustrophobic cabin with locals called Lucifer and Stinking Biddy, this is pretty much as far from the polished, cocktails-before-dinner lodge experience as it’s possible to get.
At the same time, there’s no lack of cinematic craft, and even jeopardy. It’s just unforced and beautifully concealed, and it lands you right there in the solo-fishing experience, with diary pieces to camera, beers by the roadside, lingering vehicle shots and one long scene-setting sequence of a bucket racketing across a dirt road as a trip-killing storm blows in.
In short, Rangeley-Wilson is already a world-class writer – but I think he may have found his true medium with Bonefish.
Producing, writing, part-shooting and editing this DVD himself in a light-travelling team of two, he’s far more relaxed than we’ve ever seen him in front of a camera, hitting the highs and lows of weather and fishing, and connecting deeply and naturally with the locals as he captures them on film.
“I feel I’ve landed in an epic poem”, Charles marvels at one point, “with wise dudes at the roadside telling us which way to travel”.
It’s a great allusion, and it works.
Like other reviewers, I won’t blow the ending of his Homeric journey, except to hint that it’s lonely, heroic, and a satisfyingly long haul from the M25 London Orbital motorway. But for all the rest of us stuck at our self-denying desks inside that safety-ring of concrete and belching steel… I hope he takes ship with his camera again, and soon.