“Bright Waters, Shining Tides: Reflections of a Lifetime of Fishing,” by Kib Bramhall, Vineyard Stories, Edgartown. 96 pp. $29.95.
In some circles, Kib Bramhall is best known as an artist, in others as a fisherman. As the former he has a wide following as a master interpreter of the Vineyard landscape, especially where it abuts water. As the latter, he has taken striped bass fishing to a level achieved by few other anglers throughout the fish’s range from Nova Scotia to North Carolina. And despite his lofty achievements in both arts, he is always learning, always refining his craft, even today in his late seventies. Meanwhile, sort of sotto voce, he has developed a distinctive voice as a writer.
In “Bright Waters, Shining Tides,” Mr. Bramhall has melded these three talents into a delightful gift for his many admirers. This is a beautiful book — a thin, elegant volume that feels good in your hands while it sweeps you into a world well-known and deeply loved. Published by Vineyard Stories, the book comprises 10 essays (11, including the introduction) about fishing, written across a span of four decades. It is illustrated by 32 paintings of people, and places, and fish that the West Tisbury artist has encountered over the same period.
Many of Mr. Bramhall’s paintings are characterized by almost unnerving accuracy, in detail and palette and lighting, that not only declares the painter’s technical intimacy with his subject, but also invites the viewer to share an emotional connection to it. As if the artist said, “You have to look at it this way, and if you do, you’ll see something, feel something, that you may never have seen before.”
But if they are poignant, the paintings that Mr. Bramhall has chosen to include in “Bright Waters, Shining Tides” are also romantic — especially to fishermen who are always looking for the perfect fishing spot. They overflow with love for the place and the possibility of finding, and hooking, the fish of a lifetime. For instance, “The Road to Cape Pogue,” painted in 1982, draws the viewer along with a seductive sense of possibility, of adventure. “Sunrise behind Squibnocket Point” is also loaded: is it time to pack it in and admire the building day now that the dawn bite is over? Or should one stay at it, knowing that the breakfast blitz might bust out any moment now?
While the book is a feast for the eyes, it is also a beautiful love story about a boy who became infatuated with fishing and let it lead him where it would — to exciting people and unexpected places that nurtured him, as a man and as an artist.
It all started along the Jersey shore. Of the tackle room in his grandparents’ beach house in Mantoloking, he writes, “The aroma was of sea mist and oilskins, and I grew up there and on the beach, a willing and devout student of a pastime I would practice into the next century.”
The impression left by the first bass he caught on the beach there, in 1940 at age seven, was life-defining. “My spirit and the water and the fish were bonded forever in that moment,” he writes.
By the late ’40s his family had become summer residents in Edgartown, where streets along the harbor were still unpaved. With his father and his brother, David, he adapted his Jersey surf skills to Wasque Point. On his own he biked to South Beach and walked to the Katama Opening. “That’s when I got lucky and met my first Island mentors, Tony Gaspar, Warren Norton, and Preston Luce, who were nice enough to pick up a summer kid and take him fishing time and again in their Jeep and impart lots of local wisdom that would have taken years to learn on my own.”
Mr. Bramhall never looked back and never stopped fishing. He has fished with every manner of accomplished and/or eccentric angler along the way. In “Bright Waters,” he introduces us to many of these characters, almost always in the context of a fishing tale. Whether about specific fishing exploits or individuals who’ve profoundly influenced him, his portraits are full and evocative.
From tropical flats, where he has pursued bonefish, tarpon, and permit, to almost every linear foot of the Martha’s Vineyard shoreline, Mr. Bramhall knows what he is looking at. At the center of his fishing universe is Squibnocket Point, from the Mussel Shoals to the beginning of Long Beach, and he returns here — to paint and to fish — time after time, tide after tide.
But this book is much more than a sentimental paean to a lost past. “I have been saltwater fishing for more than seventy years and have been witness to the huge changes that have adversely affected our oceans and nearly all its inhabitants…” Mr. Bramhall writes. “Pollution, overfishing, population growth, and technology have combined to put relentless pressure on most fish species and threatened to wipe out some of them….
“And yet, for me, there remains the fundamental challenge and thrill that hooked me when I caught that first striper in 1940 at age seven: the quest to make a connection with mysterious, beautiful inhabitants of the ocean from which we sprang and to understand the tides and winds and weather that govern their lives and by extension my own.”