Josiah and the Bones is a film from Missoula, MT-based Western Pictures and is supported by NRS Fishing and Costa. It is the story of Josiah Koleo Ching, a native Hawaiian, Iraq War veteran, and second-generation fly fishing guide. The film is a chronicle of his life: the extreme ups and downs and how fly fishing has become strong medicine. It was filmed on location in Hawaii, with local permission to share this special place.
In this interview, we’ll be going Behind the Lens‘ and sitting down with Filmmaker, Matt Devlin of Western Pix, as well as the star of JATB, Josiah Ching for an exclusive interview surrounding their 2022 F3T film. For virtual tickets, click HERE.
Flylords interview with Matt Devlin
FL: How did you first get connected with Josiah?
Matt: Well that’s a funny story. The initial trip was actually the story of three outsiders from Montana on a quest to land a mighty Hawaiian bonefish, DIY-style. Then not one but BOTH of the other trip members completely bailed on the trip and left me holding the bag as it were.
The entire trip let alone the film almost went away. I tend to be doggedly persistent so I reached out to a guide I know on one of the islands, he immediately said Josiah was the guy to talk to for the island we planned to film on and the rest is history.
FL: How long were you two acquainted before you decided you wanted to tell his story? What did this process look like leading up to you asking to tell his story?
Matt: Honestly the extent of pre-production was a few phone calls, a few of them quite long. I think we got a good sense that the other was a generally “good dude” and we built some trust. The sensitive parts of Josiah’s story are the most important ones. We both felt that way, but you never know exactly how things are going to look or feel until you shoot the thing.
FL: When you first began working on this film, what was your initial mission? Did this evolve as the filming progressed/ as you began to dig deeper into Josiah’s story?
Matt: I do think the focus shifted a bit from the fishing to the driving forces behind the fishing…as it so often does for anyone in this sport. I’m kind of wired to always dig deep.
FL: What was it like watching Josiah fish as an angler instead of a guide? Did his style reflect his prior fishing experience?
Matt: Honestly, I’m glad you asked this question. I think Josiah is a virtuoso of fly angling. He has only been doing it a matter of years and can lay long casts out in the wind…with BOTH hands. It’s kind of wild.
FL: Can you describe the relationship Josiah and his father share?
Matt: I think their relationship is formal in some ways, but that to me seems to be the product of a strong foundation built on mutual respect. There is also a lot of love and admiration shared between these two. Love for each other, love of family or Ohana, and a deep deep love for the island and ecosystem they call home. My father passed away when I was 16, and his life’s work happened to be as lead Psychologist for the drug treatment program at the National Veteran’s Aﬀairs Hospital in Washington DC. Suﬃce to say that deepened my personal connection to Josiah’s story.
FL: Josiah speaks about the conversations he wants to have about his military experience vs. the ones he actually has. Do you feel this film was a good vessel for that conversation?
Matt: I do. I think we keep it pretty real. War is intense beyond the scope of understanding of any civilian. I think we have been good as a society at keeping lots of space between our experience and that of soldiers. This is damaging. It further alienates those returning from combat and insulates our daily lives from those soldiers. Josiah was brave enough to put himself out there in this film so that the conversation may continue to move forward and we may get to a place where soldiers actually feel supported upon return from war zones.
FL: in terms of technical aspects, what filmmaking techniques did you employ during filming and in post, to aid in delivering the film’s message?
Matt: Hawaii is an incredible place. Everything smells, looks, sounds, and tastes better there. However, I didn’t want to hit people in the nose with that for this film. I chose certain shots that had a more ambiguous feel to them, some of them in low-light, and included some gritty treatments of the footage. As if the opulent beauty of the island truly only exists in concert with the darkness of the human experience.
FL: How would you, the filmmaker, like for people to receive this film?
Matt: I would like people to listen. Just listen. This is not fish porn. This is an exploration of a character who happens to be a great spokesperson for fly fishing as therapy. However, too often we feel “thanks” is enough for our veterans. What they really need is our open ears and hearts.
Flylords interview with Josiah Ching
FL: Can you tell us more about your military background. When and why did you enlist, and what was your specific branch and job?
Josiah: I enlisted as a Cavalry Scout (MOS 19D) in the US Army my senior year of high school in 2002. I think for me and a lot of guys who enlisted at that time it was initially out of a sense of patriotism especially since the events of 9/11 were still so fresh. It was our generation’s “Pearl Harbor” as I heard more than a few guys put it. I did a little over four years total on active duty, and two years in the national guard in Texas.
FL: How did you and Matt come to meet? What led you two to make this film?
Josiah: I met Matt initially via social media (IG) when he approached me about the possibility of hiring me to fish him and help with some promotional stuff/ gear testing. We had several calls and obviously a chain of emails and texts back and forth throughout the process. I think other than the initial promotional stuff the film itself kind of came about as a sort of natural process of just spending time on the water together.
FL: Are you a guide in Hawaii? How did you get into it and do you do it full time?
Josiah: I am born and raised am of Native Hawaiian ancestry and guide in Hawai’i. I initially got into fly fishing through my dad (Capt. Clay Ching of Hallelujah Hou Fishing) who had started and developed his operation during the time that I had left home for the army and was overseas or living in Texas. I started learning from him when I moved home with my family, it was a process and the learning curve was steep. My dad has always had a very analytical approach to fishing that I believe stems from a Hawaiian cultural perspective to fishing that has been handed down. Once I got to the point that I hooked and landed my first fish and started doing it consistently, I sort of ran with it and spent as much time out there as I could. Most often alone if I wasn’t with my dad. I eventually started working for my dad’s operation and spent a couple of years guiding for him full time before I started offering guided trips of my own. I am currently not operating full-time. Three and a half years ago I accepted a full-time position as the Project Coordinator for the Molokai Land Trust a local conservation-based organization specializing in preserving and restoring critical native habitats and ecosystems. I am currently guiding on my weekends and holidays, I do not have a website as most of my business comes via social media (IG) or from repeat clients. I am already sort of at the point where I am booked most weekends and I am more concerned with providing a legit cultural and historical education and authentic experience than just “booking trips” so things will more than likely remain the same for the time being.
FL: To expand on one of your initial points, what do you feel societies relationship with veterans and currently deployed service is at the moment. Why do you think this is?
Josiah: I think that there is a very real disconnect from the realities of things experienced by our service members due in large part to the media and entertainment industry. That, and the percentage of the population that actually served during the post 9/11 “GWOT” (Global War on Terror) was so small in relation to the general population that it was inevitable that a lot of people didn’t even know anyone who had any personal experiences serving overseas during that period. The percentage of the veteran community that actually experienced combat during that era is even smaller yet. I don’t necessarily feel like the “American people” as a whole has forgotten about its veterans and there are a ton of amazing people and organizations out there doing amazing work for veterans. However, the way that our veterans have been treated and the struggles that they have been forced to go through to get the care and benefits that they deserve has been pretty shameful.
FL: How do you feel your military experience has affected the way you approach fly-fishing for Bonefish?
Josiah: I feel as though I have a more stealthy and tactical approach which helps with chasing ultra-spooky fish. My style of fishing is pretty flexible and adaptive as well, I try not to let myself get caught in patterns, or too set in my ways. I think I’m pretty good at adapting my tactics to the often changing and difficult conditions we encounter out here in order to give myself and clients the most optimal chances for success. Whether that means taking more of an “ambush” approach fishing back into the wind looking for moving fish through wind chop or spotting and stalking tailing fish on those rare calm days. I also do almost zero blind casting, I try to maximize precision and efficiency by always seeing the fish first and making sure I know exactly where it is and what it’s doing before taking a shot… I love those one cast, one strip, fish.
FL: You talk about other veterans who, to paraphrase: didn’t make it. Would you say you feel a sense of duty when it comes to living every day to the fullest? Does this feel like more of a privilege or weight to carry?
Josiah: I’d say both, there are definitely times when it does feel like more of a burden and things get heavy but, I also think that comes as a natural part of the process of losing friends during war. I’m sure it’s in some part due to some sort of Survivors Guilt, feeling bad about the fact that you’re still here when so many others aren’t. I am definitely grateful to be alive, for life and the rollercoaster that it is. There is definitely an added impetus to achieve or accomplish something meaningful with the limited time we have here both as a way to honor their memory. Especially after seeing how fragile life can be and how quickly it can be taken away, the limited time we have here is definitely a gift so you have to try and make the most of it somehow.
FL: From when you came home to now, how have you adjusted your lifestyle to accommodate the civilian lifestyle? What are some of the elements you still struggle with?
Josiah: I struggled a lot, and still do. Most of the guys I know have, mostly with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) and the vicious cycle of its associated symptoms and side effects and reintegrating back into society after going to war. I know more than a few guys I served with that have taken their own lives as a result of their experiences overseas or due to substance abuse. It’s rough and it sucks, I dealt with major depression for a long time, I’ve had nightmares, suicidal ideations, and panic attacks battled substance abuse. I was an alcoholic for years (I’ve recently been sober for a little over a year) I drank to numb things and not have to feel or process anything, staying sober is a struggle. I was a really bitter, angry guy for a long time. A lot of times I struggle with just trying to be and feel like a good person. I’ve had to make some serious changes in my life, getting sober has been HUGE for me personally. It has really been a long process for me to get to the point where I am in my life right now. I finally feel like I’m getting to the point of being happy, healthy, and functional. It took years of searching, self-assessment, and asking myself serious questions about who I am as a person and the life that I wanted for myself and my family. I would literally not be here without the unconditional love and support of my family, friends, and community.
FL: Have you been able to get on the water with other combat veterans? What has that experience been like?
Josiah: I have had the privilege of sharing time guiding several other combat veterans and it is always an amazing experience to be able to connect with them and fish them knowing how impactful fly fishing has been for me and my healing process. One of the best days on the water I’ve had was fishing for Redfish in Rockport, Texas with my buddy Nick and guide Drew Donaghue of DD Fly fishing (ddflyfishing.com). Nick was wounded in action in Iraq in an IED attack, he had also found fly fishing after his service. Just remembering seeing him in a hospital bed in Baghdad, Iraq with tubes in his nose to seeing him on the bow of Drew’s Chittum skiff with a fly rod in his hand scanning for Reds was such an amazing experience. Knowing he had so many similar experiences and had fought so many silent battles of his own and seeing him totally at peace was a beautiful I will never forget. I told myself when I made the decision to start guiding that I would love to get involved with veterans’ groups and organizations to help spread awareness about fly fishing as a form of therapy.
FL: If people could understand this film exactly how YOU wanted them to, what perspective would you want them to leave the show with?
Josiah: We can all do a little better, be a little better. Life is short, make the most of it love the ones around you. Try to waste as little time as possible being bitter, jealous, resentful things like that really are poison and most often we are the only ones they affect. The Hawaiian people and culture are alive and well despite the challenges we have and continue to face. If you plan to visit Hawaii, please be mindful and respectful of our places and spaces. Hire local guides, DIY fishing is a touchy subject and not recommended, support local businesses.