Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions

Mind the magic and get the bite.

Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions
Offshore fishermen are a notoriously superstitious bunch.Dennis Friel

It seemingly defies logic that a fruit, a song or even a color could determine the outcome of a fishing trip, but many bluewater anglers believe as strongly in their superstitions as a young child believes in Santa Claus.

The scary thing is that these same captains and anglers have the evidence to prove that some items, traditions or charms bring good luck, while others can produce only bad luck. And it can differ widely from boat to boat. It’s like a brand of black magic or mythic island voodoo: If you truly believe that someone sticking pins in a doll made to resemble you will cause problems, it will. But if you’re a nonbeliever, you don’t have anything to worry about.

Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions
Bananas are one of the most well-known fishing superstitions.Dennis Friel

The Yin and Yang of Bananas

We’ve all heard the myths about this good-for-you yellow fruit. Bananas are strictly taboo on some boats and allowed, and even encouraged, on others.

Capt. Bouncer Smith, of Miami Beach, Florida, is famous for his well-earned fear of bananas aboard Bouncer’s Dusky. In fact, Smith’s disdain extends to banana bread, banana chips and even clothing named after or depicting anything remotely banana-related.

“I can’t tell you how many pairs of Fruit of the Loom underwear we have pulled out, wedgie-ing people and cutting off the labels,” says Smith, who says he had a hand in getting the company to change that iconic brand. He was fishing with a regular customer who brought his friend Jack along for the day. Anchored in 90 feet with two baits on top and two on the bottom, they did not get a bite all morning. Meanwhile, Smith’s buddy, Capt. Dennis Forgione, dropped anchor 25 yards away and immediately caught a sailfish.

“I moved 25 yards west of Dennis. He continued to catch fish; we continued to catch nothing. I said, ‘Darn it, someone on this boat is wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear — the one with the little bananas on the label.’ Jack says, ‘What would you say if one of your customers was vice president in charge of sales for Fruit of the Loom?’ And less than a year later, the bananas were gone.”

Another time, Smith was waiting at Miami Beach Marina for husband and wife duo Don and Sandy, from Aventura, Florida, and their young nephew. They’d booked him to fish the Miami Billfish Tournament but showed up just minutes before the 8 a.m. Bimini start. Smith set up on a rip just off Government Cut, and Sandy released the first sailfish of the tournament, then caught another just a few minutes later. They released six sailfish that day and ended up going 12 for 12 to win the three-day tournament.

“At the end of the first day, I said, ‘I’ve got to ask: What happened to you this morning?’ Don said they were at the dock at 6:30, but when he went to the restroom, he saw he was wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear, so he drove home and changed, then raced back in Miami Beach rush-hour traffic,” Smith says. “So how could I not be a believer at that point?”

Yes, We Want No Bananas
Smith says he first learned of bananas being bad luck in 1976 when he was a guide at Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada, Florida. He was on the porch by the tackle shop, hoping to book a trip, when he saw Capt. Sarge Werner come in from a fishless offshore trip on his boat, Hawk, storm out of the cabin with a handful of bananas, throw them in a garbage can and then head straight for Papa Joe's Bar across the street.

Smith says the banana superstition goes back to when boats transporting bananas from tropical jungles also had poisonous spiders and snakes mixed in with the fruit that would bite unlucky crewmembers. For Smith, it’s all about bananas preventing bites, and he’s a believer that they are the worst kind of bad mojo.

The Flip Side: Yellow Is Good
Capt. Richard Stanczyk, the owner of Bud N' Mary's Marina and one of the pioneers of daytime swordfishing in Florida, probably loves bananas as much as Smith hates the tropical fruit.

"I don't think I've ever gone on a boat and not taken a banana," says Stanczyk, who fishes offshore with his brother, Scott, on Catch 22, a 56-foot custom-built Blackwell. "There is definitely a stigma to carrying bananas, but there have been the days where we sat eight hours waiting for a swordfish, I pop out a banana, throw the peel over and we get a bite."

For Stanczyk, motivational sayings have provided the best results over his long fishing career. When the fishing gets tough, he’ll say a few words to get the fish going.

“One of my favorite statements is ‘You’re only one bite away from being a hero.’ That statement releases the tension on the boat, and suddenly the bite comes,” Stanczyk says. “I think it’s not so much superstition, but intuition. I just feel it.” Chalk one up for the good side of bananas, plus some positive thinking from an experienced captain.

Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions
Hit songs can lead to big bites.Dennis Friel

Songs to Serenade Swordfish

Bobby Boyle, of RJ Boyle Studio in Lighthouse Point, Florida, is considered the guru of electric-reel daytime fishing for swordfish. Besides being particular about everything, from his tackle to his baits to the 40-turn Bimini twists with eight finishing knots that he ties, Boyle must have Michael Jackson's music playing on his boat, Dat's Nasty.

“We used to leave the inlet and head to the swordfish grounds playing ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’ because we wanted to start something, and that was the Michael Jackson song that started us off,” says Boyle, who has fond memories of skating to Jackson’s music at the local roller rink.

Subsequent trips featured an assortment of the singer’s greatest hits. Boyle, who also loves reggae and country music, says those songs never worked as well as Jackson’s.

“Over the years, there’s never been a musician to produce more swordfish bites than Michael Jackson,” Boyle says. “You always remember the song that produced the bite because you’re so tuned in to the rod. You’re sitting there in a trance looking at a single rod tip, waiting for it to move, and when you get that bite, you remember the song that’s playing.

“It’s a serenading process,” he adds. “You’re trying to catch a big girl, so you have to serenade her. ‘Thriller’ was definitely a good song for a bite. We had a lot of success with ‘Billy Jean.’ Believe it or not, even the very early Jackson 5 songs produced bites, but usually with much smaller fish.”

Boyle says many fishermen are superstitious about food as well. It’s not unusual for his crew to get a swordfish bite as soon as they decide to have lunch.

“Our best bites will come around lunchtime, usually while we’re going for a sandwich and are totally unprepared,” says Boyle, who recommends Publix subs when hunger strikes offshore.

He’s also developed a new tradition/superstition. On a day when swordfishing is slow, the former minor league pitcher turns his fishing hat inside out and wears it backward as a rally cap. So far, it’s worked well.

“A rally cap with five minutes left to go in the day will usually get the bite,” says Boyle, who had gone eight hours without a swordfish bite before he gave the five-minute warning and put on his rally cap. With one minute to go, he got the bite, then successfully did it again the very next day. Rally for the win.

Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions
Certain colors have been banned on boats.Dennis Friel

Don't Be Caught Red

Capt. Chris Lemieux fishes tournaments on Rebound, a 52-foot Merritt run by Capt. Stan Hunt out of the Hillsboro Inlet Marina in Pompano Beach, Florida. Before one of those outings, Lemieux encountered one of the most unusual fishing superstitions he'd ever heard of.

“I brought a cooler that had a little bit of red paint on it, just some overspray,” Lemieux says, “and Stan threw a fit. ‘No red is allowed on my boat!’”

Hunt says his rationale for red being an unlucky color stems from his youth, when he and his friends rode four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles.

“We started noticing that whenever someone wore red, they would get hurt or break down,” Hunt says. “One of my best friends was looking at a four-wheeler, a nice red-and-white Honda. We all told him, ‘Don’t buy it, it’s bad luck.’ Wherever we went with him, he broke down within half an hour.”

Hunt does not allow red hats or clothing on his boat, and only grudgingly bends the rules for lures and kites. “I only put the red fishing kites or black-and-red SeaWitches out when I really have to,” says Hunt, whose favorite lure color — not surprisingly — is blue-and-white. No red, Fred.

Marlin's Guide to Fishing Superstitions
Superstitions also have a tinge of humor to them.Dennis Friel

Bedtime for the Best Lures

Fort Lauderdale, Florida's Capt Tony DiGiulian, who runs Saltwater Professional Consulting and fishes on Wish List, a 37-foot Willis, had another belief that left some questioning his sanity, if not his results.

“When I was in my 20s and fishing the North Drop in St. Thomas, I had 15 or 20 lures that were my go-to rigs,” DiGiulian says. “Whenever we had a good day and got a lot of marlin bites, at the end of the day I would take the two or three best-performing lures and bring them inside the air-conditioned salon. I’d make up a little bed for them so they could watch TV with the crew. The idea was hopefully the bad lures sitting outside would want to come in and watch TV and they’d start performing better the next day. It was just funny, but people really thought I was crazy.”

Sticking with the Standards

Although constant innovations in tackle and techniques are a hallmark of the sport-fishing industry, angler and boat owner Sandy Smith is old-school in the sense of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And his results are hard to argue with.

Eight years ago, Smith found himself ready for a new challenge, so he bought a 58-foot custom Carolina boat that he named Zues, after his late Rottweiler. He enjoyed fishing in a couple of the Bahamas Billfish Championship events in 2010, so Smith teamed with Capt. Glenn Cameron and mate Tim Lanahan and won the 2011 championship series. They had two first-place finishes and two seconds out of five tournaments, and set a series record with 12,000 total points. In 15 days of fishing in the Bahamas, the Zues team released 13 blue marlin, 12 white marlin and 11 sailfish, nearly all of them on 20- and 30-pound outfits.

Now, Smith and mate Christian Springsteen return to the Bahamas for a few months each year with the goal of releasing 100 billfish in a season. Smith, who runs the boat, uses the exact same setup that he learned from Cameron and Lanahan in the BBC: two squid daisy chains, two dredges and two flat lines, with a rod on the bridge. The first year, Smith and Springsteen, who rarely have other people on the boat, caught 87 billfish, mostly blue marlin along with some whites and sails mixed in. They also had a couple of grand slams.

“I became pretty good at billfishing thanks to Glenn and Tim,” Smith says. “I fish exactly the same way we did back then, with the same colors and the same dredges. Red-and-white Hawaiian Eyes in front of the mullets on the left dredge, black-and-purple on the right dredge, and the same green squid chains at the same exact measurements that Tim wrote down for me. We use the same discontinued circle hooks, which I bought a couple thousand of, and we fish naked ballyhoo on TLD 30s. I’ve still got the same rods and reels we used in the BBC.

“I’m going to do it exactly the way it worked back then,” Smith says. “I’m only going to be on this planet for a short amount of time, and the billfish are not going to change that much in my lifetime.” Keep it simple, believe in what works and don’t change a single thing.

About the Author: Steve Waters has written about the outdoors for more than 30 years. He lives in South Florida, where he has fished for everything from sailfish to snakeheads.