Bananas: Fishing's Forbidden Fruit

Is a banana on the boat a silly superstition meaning nothing? Or is it the harbinger of a unlucky and possibly disastrous day on the water?

Not long ago, someone sent me a link to a video that showed an angry (some might say abusive) deckhand’s tirade against one of his clients out for a day’s fishing. The level of outrage is so over the top that, if I didn’t know better, I could think the angler had casually dropped a $2,000 rod-and-reel over the side.

But I did know better.

It was all about a banana.

The video shows the boat quietly trolling blue water when the deckhand spots a hapless chap innocently eating a banana. The reaction is immediate: The mate launches into the kind of invective that would have a censor cutting words as fast as he could hit the bleeper, and then he grabs the banana from the man’s mouth and tosses it out to sea.

“Get all the bananas off the boat! Get the f---ing bananas off the boat!”

I feared that by the end of the video, the cringing angler would be tied up for a keel-hauling.

Anyone who knows saltwater fishing knows this is not some isolated incident. For many skippers, the fear that a banana — or simply some visual representation of the fruit — might end up on their boat borders on paranoia.

And with good reason, they’ll be quick to point out, and regale you with endless examples of incidents that absolutely prove beyond any doubt that one banana or a piece of banana bread or a tube of Banana Boat sunscreen on board will ruin the fishing day for everyone on the boat.

On the other hand, there are certainly anglers and charter captains who will, as certainly if less emotionally, insist this silly superstition warrants no concern whatsoever, and care no more if a banana comes aboard than if a strawberry, mango or even an eggplant does.

What strikes me is the passion with which true believers pursue their convictions. Many skippers have “no bananas” advisories on their websites and remind patrons of that as they come aboard. (In a few cases, the whole banana-ban business has actually become a primary part of their shtick.) Some crew even search everything anglers carry onto the boat.

Is such behavior simply wise insurance? Or is it fanaticism?

The answer of course depends on what one believes, and in that sense, I find it difficult not to think of the whole no-bananas custom in terms of religion. To believe requires faith; some have it and some don’t.

Most captains either believe that bananas will ruin a fishing day (or do worse) or they don’t — though some maintain that while they’re not sure, why tempt fate?

Me? I’m just one fisherman, but no, I don’t buy it. (Do I hear gasps?) Like Mr. Spock, I find the whole thing highly illogical.

But trying to argue the validity of the belief is as pointless as, well, arguing about the existence of a supreme deity. Sure, I could point to skippers who have often made great catches with bananas on board, but so what? That won’t change the true believers’ minds.(Though I do think about days when an anti-banana skipper can’t put his anglers on fish and determines the cause is a banana on board, versus similar fishless days when no banana can be found on the boat, and wonder what, then, caused that bad luck?)

Of course, if I fish on the boat of a no-bananas disciple, I would never try to carry aboard the offending fruit or even hum the Minions’ banana song, simply out of respect for others’ deeply held beliefs (not to mention the fact that to do otherwise could risk coming to blows).

I hope all anglers would do the same on any chartered trip or when out on friends’ boats where bananas ain’t wanted — their boat, their rules. But I also hope skippers and mates can dial it down a bit when they do discover the forbidden fruit on board. Keel-hauling just seems a bit more than necessary.

Adrian E. Gray