The Outdoor Hub last month published a story titled, The 10 Unspoken Rules of Fishing, and rounding out its list was a segment, “Don’t eat bananas on the boat.”
This is in reference to a long-held superstition that the yellow fruit portends bad luck or even disaster, a superstition so powerful that some saltwater fishing captains have imposed outright bans on anything even remotely resembling bananas.
The Outdoor Hub piece took me back to a column I wrote years ago for the Los Angeles Times. I interviewed captains and anglers, and the most amusing spiel came from Bouncer Smith, a South Florida charter boat operator whose business still maintains a strict no bananas rule.
“Typically, when customers arrive in the morning, the first thing I do is interrogate them,” Bouncer said. “First, I check for bananas, then I check for Banana Boat sunscreen products, then for Banana Republic shirts and blouses, then for Starburst strawberry-banana [candies] and, most important of all, for Fruit of the Loom labels.”
The captain claimed to have persuaded Fruit of the Loom’s vice president of sales, a regular client, to have bananas removed from the company logo, after an awful fishing trip.
Kenny Llanes, a Kona-based captain on the big island of Hawaii, told me, “You bring bananas and you’re going to get a lot of bites, but you’re going to lose a lot of fish. You’re going to get broken lines and your reel is going to freeze up.
It’s unclear when and where bananas became the forbidden fruit among fishermen and other seafarers. Some trace the phenomenon to the early Polynesians, who refused to carry bananas on long voyages because they ripened so quickly, emitting gasses that hastened the spoilage of other produce.
Another story centers on an unspecified time somewhere in the South Pacific, when consumption of bananas was restricted to royalty. According to legend, a group of lowly fishermen stole some bananas and paddled to sea, where the evidence, or peels, could be easily disposed of.
A typhoon struck, killing the fishermen and destroying the homes of their families, leaving the rest of the islanders unscathed.
Not everyone buys into the superstition, of course, and there are even charter captains who openly welcome bananas, and fishing lures made to look like bananas – which have actually hooked fish!
But the superstition remains widespread among mainly the saltwater-fishing crowd.
I recalled this witty website patter from Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunter International, which specializes in Sea of Cortez trips out of La Paz in Baja California Sur:
“I have seen too many things happen when bananas are involved. I have seen brand new boat motors simply stop. I have seen people get injured … gear breakdown … unexplained occurrences become common place. Dozens of boats can be catching fish and the one with the bananas can’t get a sniff! Wide open bites can suddenly turn icy cold. Vans carrying fisherman have stopped in their paths.
“This superstition is well-held around the world. I have seen anglers break out in fights when they find out that one of their amigos is carrying bananas. I have seen mischievous tournament competitors sneak out at night and hang bunches of bananas on the anchor chain of their competition. I have seen pranksters hide bananas in the tackle boxes of their “friends”.
“Conversely, I have seen the ocean suddenly come alive when bananas are thrown overboard. I have seen all manners of bad luck turn 180 degrees when the bananas get trashed! Some anglers (like me) are so convinced about bananas that I’d really rather you not only leave the bananas back at the docks, but also keep the Banana Boat sunscreen, your banana flavored lip balm, your banana chips and banana candy off of my boat!”
It sounds crazy, but fishermen are a superstitious lot. If you don’t believe it, see what happens when you start peeling a banana on your next fishing charter. You might get some strange looks, or worse, and you’d better hope the fish bite!
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