A few years ago my best friend’s dad underwent a double knee replacement and so I swung by the house one afternoon to say hello, see how he was doing, have a chat, etc. It was just a couple of days after the surgery so he was totally whacked out on pain meds, which made for quite a few interesting conversations.
At one point he told me that as soon as he was healed up and back on his feet that he was going back to school to get his doctorate. Being an educated man, I didn’t think too much of this notion. That is until he told me what he was going to study.
“I am going to write my doctoral thesis on why some people can catch fish and other people can’t,” he said. He went on to tell me all about his childhood mate and how they used to fish together on the river. Same rod, same reel, same bait, same hole. His friend always caught fish and he never did. Clearly this childhood scar stuck with him over the course of his lifetime.
There’s something about fishing that makes the most rational people turn into mini witch doctors. The only pastime that fosters more superstition is playing Bingo at a smoke-filled V.F.W. hall. The list of fishing superstitions and taboos is exhaustive, wear the right hat, spit on your worm, throw back your first catch of the day for good luck…in the superstitious South you can find at least 50 different supernatural tricks specifically for hooking a catfish. Motor oil on your hook, anyone?
Of course a lot of the taboos we follow at home are just for fun. I remember fondly how my dad wore his fishing vest inside out for good luck, even though it was a real pain to get lures out of the pockets! When heading out on a charter trip, though, it’s a good idea to know some of the taboos that you should break, and of course those you should keep. It’s kind of like breaking the “rules” at the blackjack table…no matter how ridiculous you might think the rules are, you don’t want to anger complete strangers, especially since from their point of view your actions made them lose money…it’s the same with fishing. You might know that crossing your line with a fellow fisherman’s doesn’t do a thing to the bait underwater, but if the other guy believes it, at the very least it’s bad karma to step on his toes.
Fishing Taboos You Should Break
- Don’t Live Chum: a lot of folk believe that it is bad luck to toss perfectly good bait into the water simply to attract fish up towards the boat. The reality is that for some species, this is the best way to turn a poor day out at sea into a successful one. One such fish is sailfish. Don’t just dump the whole bucket overboard in one quick toss, but drip feed a handful or two to create a trail of bait for the fish to follow all the way up to the boat.
- Don’t bring bananas on a fishing trip: while eating a banana won’t necessarily help you catch more fish, it certainly won’t hinder your chances either. “One story about the bananas is an old wives tale,” says Key West Captain Craig Eubank. “It dates back to the days when stevedores would sometimes get bitten by poisonous spiders while unloading cargo crates of bananas from the Caribbean. The tale started out with bananas being bad luck on boats in general, and then morphed to fishing boats in particular.” Other stories and explanations abound – but it’s not bad luck, Captain Craig says.
- Any of the weather taboos: there are dozens of taboos that have to do with wind, rain, barometric pressure, thunder, and other weather conditions. While there is probably more truth to some of these wives tales than say worrying about bringing the pole into the house before a fishing trip, you can pretty much fish in any weather that you feel comfortable fishing in. While the conditions will undoubtedly affect your enjoyment of the day, most likely the direction of the wind will have no effect on the bite.
- If you talk while fishing the fish will hear you: this one’s kind of a double-edged sword. No, you don’t need to be as quiet as a Tibetan monk, but stomping across the boat like a Neanderthal and shouting at the top of your lungs may lead the fish to stop biting simply out of spite.
- Never tell anyone how many fish you have: keep in mind that there is a difference between telling how many fish you have and asking. Feel free to share your successes as you are so inclined, but never ask a fellow fisherman to do the same.
- A woman on board makes the Ocean angry: it’s 2013, don’t be a sexist pig.
- If you play a fiddle the fish will come to the surface: bringing a fiddle on your Key West charter boat, even if it’s a private charter, is liable to end with your fiddle being thrown overboard.
Clearly the ocean was not angry enough to keep this young woman from catching a black grouper for dinner on her Key West deep-sea fishing adventure.
Fishing Taboos you should keep
- Never wear black-soled shoes on a fishing boat: the superstition here is clearly ridiculous, but the idea is not to mark up the floor of the boat!
- Fishermen who wear earrings or have tattoos won’t drown: this isn’t true, but it’s a great excuse to get a tattoo.
- A dog near fishing tackle is bad luck: luck is the least of your worries here; it’s a Chihuahua with a triple hook in his lips!
As an honorable mention here, keep in mind that when fishing with others you need to respect that they may follow a stricter list of fishing superstitions than you do. Sure, it’s silly, but messing up someone else’s fishing trip is the surest way to lose your own fishing karma…and fishing karma, without question, is a bona fide proven fact!
- License: Image author owned
- License: Image author owned
- License: Image author owned
By M.-J. Taylor
M.-J. Taylor loves to write about fishing, and other warm water attractions in Key West and the Florida Keys – it’s where summer spends the winter, they say. Let’s go fishing!