Fishermen are a superstitious bunch. From ancient sailors to modern-day anglers, lucky charms and bad omens have always been important on fishing trips. Recently, we asked our readers to share their fishing superstitions from around the world. There are some well-established beliefs in the list, but others were completely new to us.
No Bananas On Board
We’ll kick things off with a classic. Half the responses we got were about bananas and boats. More specifically, how the two should never, ever mix. This is pretty much given on fishing charters, where most captains don’t allow bananas on board. Some won’t even stand for the color yellow!
You can’t spend much time on the water without encountering your own “banana story.” For us, it was a trip to Fujairah, where one yellow fruit was the difference between eight hours of slack lines and a boat full of Mahi Mahi. Sadly, there’s no way to counter the curse, and we just had to try again the next day.
Where did this myth come from? There are several theories. Some say that venomous spiders used to hide among the fruit. According to others, ships had to travel at speed to stop the cargo from spoiling, so the crew couldn’t fish along the way. If you ask us, the answer’s simple: boats with bananas onboard just don’t catch fish!
No Black Briefcases, Either!
Bananas may be the most common curse on a fishing trip, but they’re not the only thing you should leave on the dock. According to Nanci Morris Lyon from Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the worst things to bring aboard is a briefcase.
For us, it’s bananas in the boat. The other one that isn’t as prominent is a black suitcase or briefcase. Means someone’s not coming home. We don’t like seeing anyone with either of those items crawl on board. To my knowledge, both superstitions are prevalent in Bristol Bay and some folks live in fear of both of them.
We get briefcases being bad luck. After all, who wants to do business on a fishing trip. But suitcases? Apparently, the idea comes from the color’s association with death. Big black baggage can easily conjure up images of body bags. Luckily, we’re more of a polka dot and Hawaiian print kind of crowd.
Don’t Step Over Rods
Anglers are pretty protective of their tackle. That’s understandable – fishing gear can cost a lot of money. Nothing makes your teeth grind like the sound of rods banging on the boat rail. However, for David Kosofsky, even moving around the rods can ruin a day’s fishing.
Here in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, a common belief amongst old-timers was that if you step over a fishing pole or line, whether it be in the water or on the ground, you will not catch any more fish that day, period.
David says that this isn’t as common anymore but it used to be widely recognized as fact. Our best guess is that it started as plain bad manners and evolved into a fable from there. Besides, it’s not wise to plant your feet either side of a line when a 100 lb Blue Cat could pull it tight at any minute!
Don’t Flip the Fish
In some parts of the world, fishing superstitions extend far beyond the actual day of the trip. Even the way you eat your catch can affect your chances the next time you’re out. David Truong shared one such story from Vietnam:
In Vietnamese culture, it’s considered poor form to flip a fish over to get to the meat on its underside. It’s still a custom that you will see at any of the roadside restaurants in the southern part of Vietnam – even among those who aren’t fishermen.
David has heard a couple of explanations for this belief. One is that flipping the fish is like flipping a boat, and will bring bad luck to your vessel as a result. Another theory is that turning your catch over is disrespectful, so the fish may return and flip your boat in retaliation.
Don’t Say the “R” Word
People have always believed in the power of curse words. No, not bad language – literal words that are cursed. For fisherfolk, a major one is “rabbit.” The first person to write in about rabbits was Pete Chatfield from England:
On one of my first trips out, I was told never to say “rabbit” as it causes bad luck. I come from a small fishing town (Deal, Kent, UK) and it is commonly known in these parts. Although casual fishermen find it funny, the captains seem to take it seriously.
Soon after, Camille Chevalier-Karfis got in touch from France with a little more detail:
The biggest superstition is against rabbits: never say that animal’s name (in French “le lapin“) but should you need to talk about it, say “the name of the beast” or “the animal with the big ears.”
Why are rabbits cursed? Well, a rabbit’s foot is lucky on land but not at sea, so mentioning them may attract the devil. A more practical theory is that rabbits would gnaw through the ship’s wood and damage the hull during transport. Whatever the origin, think twice about mentioning little Fluffy on your next outing.
Pour One Out
As well as all the bad omens, the fishing crowd has plenty of lucky charms. Often, these are personal rituals that anglers pick up throughout their lifetime. However, some of them are deeply rooted in a country’s culture. Alona Tiunina shared a Ukrainian belief with a very long history:
It’s said to be good luck to toss a shot of horilka (vodka) into the lake when you start fishing. This is because we believe in a spirit called Ivan Kupaila, who is a sort of guardian of lakes and rivers. The shot of vodka is meant as a gift so he is happy and will allow us to catch many fish.
Alona says that this is still very common. Most people don’t actually believe in the spirit, but she’s noticed that the older the angler, the more adamant they are about making an offering. Maybe they’re clinging to the old gods. Maybe fish are just easier to catch when they’re drunk!
Hold Your Mouth Right
As often as not, superstitions are meant to teach a lesson. This may be something elaborate like the correct way to eat your catch, or something incredibly simple, like being friendly to others. David Cusick told us about one he grew up with fishing in North Carolina.
When I’d go fishing on the Eno River with my grandfather, he’d always tell me you had to smile and say hi to everyone you saw on the way, otherwise, the fish wouldn’t know to bite. His angling buddies insisted this was a truth: If you didn’t “hold your mouth right” then the fish wouldn’t come.
The old-timers may have believed it was true. However, David thinks that his grandpa was probably just teaching him to be polite. Either way, the tradition stuck, and David makes sure to hold his mouth right whenever he’s heading out on the water.
Toss a Coin to Your Water
A good day on the water is worth its weight in gold. The ocean doesn’t give up her bounty easily, though, so seafarers have always looked for ways to tip the scales in their favor. The simplest one? Bribe the sea. At least, that’s what Dan Carpenter says:
A fishing superstition that goes way back to the days of nautical explorers and swashbuckling pirates is to toss a coin into the water before leaving the dock. This was thought to be an offering to the gods to ensure plentiful harvest (or in the case of the explorers, safe passage).
This is hardly something new, even to non-anglers. Wishing wells appear in cultures around the world and famous fountains are normally full of coins. Even so, considering the amount of trash we already put into the ocean, we can’t imagine she really wants your loose change.
Good Luck, Bad Fishing
No matter how skilled you are, fishing involves a fair amount of luck. Some days, the fish aren’t biting and no amount of talent will change that. It’s only natural, then, to wish people luck before they head out. However, according to Dwight Norris, that’s a surefire way to ruin the trip.
It is very bad if somebody wishes you luck by saying, “I hope you catch a lot of fish!” or “I hope you catch a big one.” These are consistent ways to ruin a fishing day. One day I heard that line and I ran my boat aground, had a hook go straight through my toe, and didn’t get a single bite from a fish!
Dwight doesn’t really put stock in this fable. He says his fishing buddies just use it as an excuse when the bite’s slow. However, if you do believe it, there’s one easy way to avoid the jinx: Fish early in the morning, when nobody’s awake. Not only do you miss the well-wishers, you also get onto the water when the bite’s at its best!
Women – Bad Luck, Except When They’re Not
Women. Ask any sailor of yesteryear what’s the worst luck on a boat, and they’d say women. Except, that is, when they’re good luck. Confused? So were we. But that’s what Kate Pacholek told us when explaining Polish fishing superstitions.
Don’t bring any women with you. That’s just pure bad luck. Don’t let any woman touch your fishing rods. Again, bad luck. If you see a nun, you might as well pack everything up and go home. However, touching a woman’s leg before going fishing apparently brings good luck.
Now, we won’t entertain the idea that women are bad luck on board. Some of the best captains in the business are women, and their boats seem to get along just fine without sinking. However, we can perfectly imagine some lonely sailor spinning a yarn about lucky legs before heading out to sea.
Whistling Up a Gale
Whistling comes up time and again in folk legend. From attracting snakes in Asia to “whistling away money” in Eastern Europe, there are countless old wives’ tales about it. At sea, people sometimes think it will conjure up a storm. Or at least, that’s what they say, as Tim Zimmerman explains:
Never whistle while fishing. Whistling will bring about a gale. No way to counteract this. Personally, I just think it’s annoying if a fishing buddy is whistling a tune so I support this superstition.
Tim seems to have hit the nail on the head with this one. There’s nothing more irritating than tuneless tooting when you’re trying to focus on the fish. Some people even say that it’s bad luck to talk while fishing, probably for the same reason. Personally, we’re going to start rumors that phone sounds scare off fish.
We started with a classic and we’ll end with one. Hats are the go-to charm for people of all walks of life, and anglers are no exception. Some old sea dogs won’t even leave port without their lucky hat on their head. This is definitely the case for Dale Shelter.
My father had a “lucky fishing hat.” My son does as well, and I must admit, I own two of them, one for Trout and one for Bass! I wouldn’t give up mine for any price!
Dale discovered his lucky hats in much the same way as the rest of us. He had a great fishing trip, and the next time he went out, he grabbed the same hat. As time went on, it became his fishing hat, and the key to success on any outing.
Fishing Superstitions: One’s Made Every Minute
Dozens of people sent in their fishing superstitions. These are some of the top ones we received, but there are plenty more out there. Whether you’re a true believer or a complete skeptic, you have to admit that anglers come up with some interesting ideas.
Do you have a lucky fishing hat? Is there an interesting myth among anglers in your area? Drop us stories in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!