10 Common Fishing Superstitions That Bring Good (or Bad) Luck

two fishers back to back on the boat

If you have not already heard, fishermen are among the most superstitious people around the world. The debacle over bananas on a boat is one of the most common fishing superstitions, but it’s far from the only one.

Anglers attribute small actions and phrases to the success or failure they experience on every expedition. And they keep a long list of things you can or cannot do on the boat! 

Over the years, these old wives’ tales and fishing superstitions have evolved and changed, but many fishermen still abide by them almost religiously. 

Why So Many Fishing Superstitious?

The superstitions of the fishing industry sometimes date as far back as hundreds and even thousands of years. 

As boats traveled long distances and started to connect to previously uncharted territory, superstitions began to spread more widely. 

Some of them are attributed to appeasing or angering the gods of the sea, but most came from some specific instances where fishermen searched for a way to explain their good or dumb luck. Either way, they are hard to ignore.

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What Brings Bad Luck to Fishermen?

Fisher hooked a shoe

If you ever find yourself on a fishing boat, you may hear a list of things you should never say or do. If you ignore it, you might risk ruining the trip’s catch. Below are five of the most common bad luck fishing superstitions. 

1. No Women on the Boat

Having an actual woman on the boat is considered bad luck. This superstition originated when boats were the primary vessel for exploration and trade. Traveling by boat was difficult and dangerous, and captains thought women were a distraction.

Over time, this tradition evolved. Women were soon blamed for storms, days where no fish were caught, and any accident that happened on the boat.

Today, women are the fastest growing demographic of new anglers. And rightfully so!

Let’s all do our part to make sure this erroneous bit of folklore is left far in the past.

2. Never Whistle While You Fish

“Whistling up a gale,” or whistling while you fish, brings strong winds or general bad weather. The tale has changed many times and has varying levels of severity.

Some say you should never whistle at all, while others just warn about whistling into the wind. The consensus is that you will bring inevitable consequences to the ship if you ignore this warning. 

3. Never Tell an Angler “Good Luck.”

Just like you never tell a performer “good luck” before they head to the stage, you never say to an angler “good luck” before they head out on the water. If you do, the bad luck befalls not just the angler but also you.

The presumed consequences for this tale can be a variety of things. They may not catch any fish, or they will get caught in bad weather with equipment failure. In essence, the two words will curse the trip. 

4. Keep Black Bags Off the Boat

Black bags on the boat mean that someone will not return from the trip. The origins of this one are murky, but many believe it started with the use of black body bags.

Any black bag on the ship signals to the sea that you are preparing for death on the ship. Suitcases, backpacks, briefcases, and even trash bags cannot be black. 

5. No Bananas On a Boat

“No bananas on the boat” is easily the most widespread fishing superstition. Bananas are strictly bad luck, and having one onboard can cause anything from bad weather to catching nothing.

There are many suspected origin stories for the banana tale, but the most likely involves the Brazilian wandering spider.

Bananas were common cargo on ships coming from Brazil. Unfortunately, they often housed the indigenous wandering spider. It was once deemed the most venomous spider in the world and could kill with a single bite, which is a scary reality for a group of men trapped on a boat with them.

What Brings Good Luck to Fishermen?

Fisher with his catch giving a thumbs up

Fishermen of every culture have their good luck superstitions as well. Many of them are silly fun, but some are taken very seriously. Here are five of the most common ones. 

1. Send a Man Overboard

A ritual used to boost slow fishing days is to throw a crew member overboard and bring him back in. It may have originated among Scottish fishermen.

The general idea is that throwing someone in the water would draw in curious fish and improve the catch. It’s not overly common today, but it was serious business when it debuted. 

2. Make an Offering to the Gods of the Sea

In various cultures around the world, you do not start any venture without making an offering to appease the gods. For anglers, an offering must be made to the gods of the sea.

The offering is different wherever you go, but it usually involves money, alcoholic beverages, and personal items. You simply throw your offering into the water and hope that the gods accept it.

If you please them, you will experience safe travels and bountiful fish. Naturally, a failed expedition was attributed to a refused offering. 

3. Throw Back the King of Fish

There is a belief among Brighton fishers that every species of fish has one king who is characterized by his large size. If you catch him, you have to return him to the water. When you did, you brought good luck to your boat. If you did not, you would be lost at sea in a storm. 

4. Drink Whiskey After Preparing the Gear

Scottish anglers follow an old tradition of drinking scotch after preparing the lines and nets. They were not to stop from the time the work began until it was completed. Anyone who interrupted was sent to buy whiskey. Then once the gear was ready, they would come together to drink to good luck. 

5. Pineapples Bring Good Luck

Pineapples are intertwined with the fishing community. They are said to bring good luck and hospitality. The captains of trade ships from New England brought back pineapples from their trips to the Caribbean and placed one on the gates in front of their homes.

This was a sign that the captain had safely returned. Over time, pineapples became a general symbol that brought success.

Beware of Local Fishing Superstitions

This list only displays a few of the possibly hundreds of fishing superstitions that you can find worldwide. Superstitions are practiced with great sincerity, especially in remote areas where fishing is the heart of the community. Don’t ignore them, even the silly ones are not to be ignored.

Recommended reading: Beginner’s Fishing Gear Guide