Itu's Bones Q&A
Published Jun 27th 2012
Some questions answered by Carl McNiel, the man behind the video Itu's Bones
I have just reviewed the DVD telling the fascinating story of Itu who turned from commercial gillnet fisherman to bonefish guide aided by New Zealand fly-fisher and filmmaker Carl McNiel.
It's a great DVD telling a great story.
I thought I'd ask Carl, the force behind the project, a few questions about the background, the idea and the result.
1) How did you "find" this story, the island and Itu?
The story has been long running and actually began about 9 years ago. In early 2000 my best mate Earl and I decided we would take our girls on holiday to a Pacific Island. Not only is Earl my fly fishing "partner in crime" he subsequently became our cameraman for most of our productions (Once in a Blue Moon, Casts that Catch Fish)
Being keen anglers it seemed only fitting that our holiday destination should include some fishing, and after all, the girls wouldn't mind... too much. Aitutaki fitted the bill perfectly for not only was it an idyllic tropical paradise, we had heard rumours of some very large Bonefish in the lagoon.
We had a wonderful holiday, caught some fish, and although we saw a few Bonefish we did not hook a single one. At that time it was accepted practice to net Bonefish (and many other fish) for food. Many of the Islanders live a very simple subsistence lifestyle and it is only fitting that they should harvest the bounty from their lagoon and surrounding waters.
On our last day as we were taking a scenic cruise around the Island we drove right by a small group of Locals netting Bonesfish - they had caught many and their nets were full. I clearly recall a handsome young guy holding up a Bonefish for us to see - he was grinning from ear to ear.
Earl and I almost wept!
Earl and I almost wept!We headed for home the following day and for many years afterwards Earl and I recounted the story of the young man with a canoe full of Bonefish when we had caught none. We often discussed what a great opportunity those guys would have if they wished to set down their nets and start a guiding business.
We now jump forward to 2010.
My fishing buddy Bob Wyatt wanted to take his girl on a romantic Pacific Island holiday - somewhere were there might be a Bonefish or two...
I recommended Aitutaki. Bob went, and a young man took him out fishing. Bob caught a couple of very large Bonefish and during their brief time together the young man told Bob that he might be interested in stopping netting and becoming a fly fishing guide - if only someone could help to train him.
Bob told the young local that he new a guy in New Zealand that was a casting instructor and filmmaker might be keen to help.
That young man was Itu Davey and the guy in New Zealand was me.
In short, I contacted Itu and made a deal. I would come over and teach him everything I could about saltwater fly fishing and casting and do what I could to help him establish himself as a guide.
The deal had two conditions.
1) He would hang up his gillents.
2) We could film the experience.
So, that's what we did. Almost two years later, and after two extended two month trips to the island, Itu now runs a very successful guiding operation, he runs three top class flats skiffs and employs his two brothers.
Netting Bonefish commercially is now outlawed, and over 700 hectares of lagoon have been put aside as reserves and protected breeding areas.
And that, is basically how it all happened.
2) This has to have cost some money. Traveling and spending the time. Who funded the project?
The project was primarily self funded. In order to get a mammoth project like this off the ground we needed sponsors. As a Sage pro staff member I approached Marc Bale at Sage to see if they would help support us. Very quickly they said yes. I then spoke with Bart Bonime at Patagonia. He had spent his Honeymoon on Aitutaki and had very fond memories of the people and the Island. Of course, he said yes.
My last call was to Al Perkinson at Costa, and without hesitation, Al said yes. We were underway!
Those companies were and still are hugely supportive, they not only helped outfit Itu and our crew, they came to the party with finical assistance to get the job done. Our friend Simon Gawesworth at Rio also joined in with lines and leaders.
Many organisations and individuals helped along the way. But if it were not for the support of these three companies the project would never have got off the ground.
3) I was honestly surprised to see bonefish caught for food. Did you know about such harvesting before you started the project?
Yes, absolutely. It was one of the prime twists for the story. You and I might find the idea of eating Bonefish a little strange. But it's entirely logical if you have a resource and mouths to feed. It's no different than you or I eating a trout or Salmon.
4) Have you heard from Itu and the island - or returned there to see how the project goes?
Itu and I talk or email at least once a week. We discuss how the business is going and what's happening with the fishing. We have made many dear friends on the Island and are in regular contact with them, including the Ministry of Marine resources who were hugely instrumental in the whole project.
Unfortunately other work commitments have prevented us getting back for the moment. But we will, regularly. Itu's Bones was just screened on Cook Islands TV, the World premier!
We continue to watch the fledgling Bone fishing resource and reserves program with huge interest.
5) What reactions have you had when showing the film? It's after all not a traditional fly-fishing film, but more in the documentary style that we see more and more in fly-fishing films.
We tend to shy away from "Fish Porn" films and tend to look subjects that are a little less obvious anyway, and wherever we can we try to produce product that makes a difference or adds some value. This story was a dream come true.
As filmmakers and anglers we're all very good at showing what we do to use the resource but are not so good at showing what we can do to protect and look after our fisheries. Hopefully Itu's Bones has a strong conservations and environmental message without being "preachy" - at least that was my intention.
In short, and assuming conditions are right. Setting up recreational sports fisheries and establishing marine reserves deliver a multitude of benefits and the flow on effects are far reaching - for the environment, the economic and social well being of small communities and the preservation of species.
And these changes can be bought about from very small beginnings - in this case, Itu's decision to hang up his nets and look for a more sustainable way to provide for his family.
The film is being received very well indeed. Earlier in the year it was invited to show in the Raindance Film Festival in the UK, and more recently the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey where it has proceeded to the final round of judging.
Most importantly our audience like it. We have a pretty discerning group of viewers that seem to appreciate stories with depth, which, at the end of the day, is why we do what we do.
This is not just a story for fly fishing nuts, it's a film for anyone that enjoys and inspirational story that just so happens to be about trying to unlock the secrets of finding and catching Monster Bonefish on a gorgeous tropical Island.
6) Can people go to Aitutaki and expect to get place to stay, a guide and some fishing?
Yes, as part of the Cook Islands chain Aitutaki is a well established tourist destination. It has fairly good quality infrastructure and there a plenty of accommodation options - from a simple hut on the beach to full 5 star silver service.
The fishing is good and very varied, there are a number of guides and operators on the Island. The Bonefishing is challenging, but the fish are big. And I know a truly excellent guide that runs 3 great boats, who along with his two brothers, will look after you very well indeed.
I know a truly excellent guide that look after you very well indeed