January 25, 2016
COASTAL FOCUS: Upper Mid Coast
January 25, 2016

Rituals & Superstitions: Are We Crazy?

I had the fortune of fishing with a physician and his psychologist wife a few years back. We had a good trip but I must admit I suspected she was psychoanalyzing me throughout the day.

She asked me, “Capt. Mac, I notice you bait hooks on the same side of the boat as well as cast off of the opposite side. Do you always do it that way?”


“Well ma’am, the reason I do that is so you and your husband can utilize the space on one side of the boat and I the other, besides I mostly anchor off the starboard side of the boat.”

“Interesting,” she replied. “have you ever tried it the other way?”

“The OTHER WAY?” I asked. “Not lately,” I said, meaning not in the last 20 years.

She persisted. “I can’t help but wonder if perhaps there is another reason why you do it that way. Is it a ritual or is it superstition perhaps?”

“The power controls are mostly on the starboard side of the helm on this boat and I like to be close to help control any situation that might arise. If the power controls were on the port side I would reverse the setup,” I said more defensively than I cared to admit.

“So you like to be in control,” she said.

“Yes” I quickly answered, “when on the water with clients their safety is my responsibility, it’s mostly impossible to control a boat or its situation without power.”

“Power,” she said “… very interesting.”

“Yes ma’am” I almost barked back at her.

“I’ve yet to meet a person who spends as much time on the water as you that’s not superstitious. Are you Capt. Mac?”

“Not in the least,” I said.

She reached into her bag of goodies for the day and produced a banana.

“Does this, for example, cause you any consternation?” she calmly asked.

“A little,” I said. “Ahh” she said with a smile.

I continued: “I forgot mine this morning and am consternationing (a smart aleck word I made up) whether I should ask you for a bite!”  She and her husband busted out laughing, as did I, and he retorted “Well Doc, I guess the session is over for Capt. Mac. I guess he won’t be on your couch anytime soon.”

As the day progressed, we did talk a lot about the scientific and non-scientific basis for superstitions and rituals. 

I believe I’m not superstitious at all, nor do I have unbending rituals.

Take my boat anchor for example, I’ve had it for close to 25 years; it’s as much a part of my fishing as any piece of fishing gear I own.  It is an old Super Hooker brand Danforth style anchor and I have lost it multiple times. But I always marked the spot with a floatie or my GPS and, donning mask and snorkel, I always went back and found it. It doesn’t even closely resemble the anchor that I bought… it’s been filed to keep the flukes sharp for digging in hard shell bottoms and the stock and shank have gotten their own special attention as well. I catch more fish with this anchor and, trust me, I have tried without it and at the end of the day I end up cleaning fewer fish.

My anchor helps me catch fish, so please don’t touch it! I get razzed about my anchor by other guides and one time as I launched my boat to go retrieve it from yet another apparent watery grave, another guide and friend hollered as I launched with no fishing rods on board, “Well, here we have the great Capt. Mac. He’s such a fantastic guide he can forget his rods and still catch fish!”  Everyone within ear shot laughed.

“I didn’t forget my rods! I’m going to find my anchor!” I proudly stated.

“OMG” was the response from the now-I’m-not-so-sure-he-is-my-friend-friend.

“Leave that rusty, ugly, worthless thing on the bottom of the bay where it belongs. I will buy you another one, just so I don’t have to look at it every time I see you!” 

“HHMMMPPPFF,” I grunted and powered away from the dock. 

I have a fishing net I have similar fondness for but, alas, it recently broke beyond repair so I retired it. It hangs fondly in my fishing garage. 

You can see, while I am determined not to have superstitious, ritualistic, and similar maladies, I guess, God forbid, I do have a few idiosyncrasies, just like 99.9% of other avid anglers.

I have been fortunate enough to travel pretty extensively and always make it a habit to talk to local anglers in whatever city, state or country I am in. I have found that we (anglers) all are pretty much the same in many, many ways.

I also am proud to announce that our foreign brothers and sisters suffer from their own set of, shall we say, “syndromes.”

If you are one of us and share similar infirmities, you might find the following interesting. Below are some of the quirky beliefs I have run across in my travels:

• Having a woman on board is plain and simple bad luck

• Never say the words alligator or pig while on board. It’s as bad as breaking a mirror or having a black feline cross your path;

• Whistling brings gale force winds;

• Never start a fishing trip on Friday Sunday is much better for the fishing gods;

• Never cross paths with a red head — I know one guide who will not buy bait from a particular bait stand for this very reason;

• Bananas on board are bad luck. In fact there is some basis for this one. It seems research shows in the days-of-old wind powered ships transported bananas to other countries. However local vermin such as rats, mice and poisonous spiders often accompanied the cargo and, being attracted to the fruit, brought disease and death during the ship’s voyage. Also fermenting bananas give off methane gas, so when crews were trapped below deck breathing the fumes could be deadly;

• A dog seen near fishing tackle is bad luck;

• Dolphins seen near boats or ships in any form is good luck;

• Fishing poles / rods brought into an angler’s dwelling the day before a fishing trip would not catch fish;

• Talking loud while fishing will cause fish not to bite;

• A walleye guide in Minnesota cut the Fruit-of-the-Loom tag out of his underwear believing it was related to the bad luck banana theory;

• In Morayshire, Scotland it was unlucky to start a voyage unless blood had been shed so just for fortune’s sake fights were started to achieve the desired results;

• Hats. Most anglers I know wear one for obvious protection reasons but many, and I do mean many, believe a certain hat brings them good luck much to the chagrin of our/their spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends, for the smelly old fishing cap is often hanging within nose range of said living spaces;

• Never net the first fish of the day. Always horse/lift it over the gunwale as netting the first fish guarantees a bad fishing day;

• Kiss the first fish ( I’ve been known to do this on slow fishing days);

• Never catch a fish on the first cast it guarantees bad luck;

• No romantic encounters the night before a fishing trip (early morning action is, however, ok);

• How about “red skies at night sailors delight; red sky at morning sailor take warning”? This one also has some history. It originated in England where weather conditions come from the ocean. If the air is clear, sunsets will be tinted red. In the morning red light will be reflected by the clouds to the west, which means moisture in the air and possible storms;

• Rings around the moon means rain is coming. Based in some fact, the rings were caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, and meant moisture which could invoke rain;

• One fellow wouldn’t be caught dead in a church but after each fish he caught he would say a very low key prayer to the Lord and at the end of the fishing day he always had an offering to the fish, be it bread, ham, deer sausage or even a can of his favorite beverage. 

Strangely enough burials at sea have very few superstitions associated with this interment process. Ocean burials have been going on since man started frequenting watery reaches of our planet.

One process, as an old Cajun from  Louisiana told me, seems a bit superstitious. Back in the day, when demise occurred aboard ship, the sail maker was recruited to make a shroud to entomb the body. He handily sewed the deceased into the shroud and would sew the final stitches through the nose of the deceased.

Many believed this sealed the spirit into the body for its final journey into the hereafter. Others believed it was to insure the person being sewn up was indeed dead. It seems a few were heard moaning just as they hit the water, waking from whatever comatose state they were in. 

No matter how much science we apply we still perceive the seas, oceans and vast lakes as mysterious and treacherous places. Rituals and superstitions are passed down from generation to generation, or shared from close friends and acquaintances.

A Gallup poll several years ago attempted to quantify just how common these practices were. The poll found 1 in 4 people were superstitious or 1.7 billion people (of 7.125 billion people worldwide). Suffice to say, a bunch of these are anglers, either by trade or by hobby. Is it the brave soul who turns his or her back on these old rituals or superstitions?

Would you be willing to see what happens the next time you reject these century old practices? Is that wisdom or foolishness? I am not trying to lead you into the hocus pocus of the supernatural. When great psychological minds have sought answers to this phenomenon, some pretty solid facts arise. 

Psychologists found the ritualistic and superstitious activity we engage in often leaves us with a positive attitude, pleasant and happy feelings and even relief. It brings brightness to our soul, applying positive energy, resulting in an ultimate outcome of happiness. Our whole being forecasts good will and even success. Our health is reinforced in positive ways and our body language projects the way we feel. This doesn’t sound like black magic to me! It’s really pretty basic • what we think is what we become. 

I will still cherish my anchor and continue to fish with it as long as I can. I will still pitch pennies into a wishing well not because these actions invoke some supernatural power … it just makes me feel good!



February is probably the coldest month of the coastal year. The best advice is to think soft • that is soft baits and soft plastics. Though this has never been proven, I believe a fish’s mouth becomes much more tender during these colder months. Examine the next fish you catch during February and you might just find very red if not bloodshot looking lips especially on black drum and redfish who have sub-terminal, inferior mouths (mouths on the bottom of the jaw line). Bait is not at all plentiful, so black drum, redfish, and even trout foraging on shell bottoms or sandy reefs opt for softer baits due to tender mouths.

Copano Bay • The deeper parts of Smith Channel are a good place for trout using salt water assasins in watermelon and black colors. Wading the Italian Bend shoreline is a good place for some keeper reds and trout using free lined live shrimp or Berkley gulp shrimp on a light jig head.

Aransas Bay • On high tide Paul’s Mott Reef is good for reds using cut mullet or mud minnows free lined or on a light Carolina rig. Some black drum may be found on Long Reef using a silent cork and peeled shrimp. The deep edges of Nine Mile Point are a good place for some keeper trout using Jerk shad in new penny colors on a 1/8 or 1/16 ounce jig head.

St. Charles Bay • The mouth of East Pocket is a good place to set up for reds using mud minnows or cut mullet. Free line is best here or a very light Carolina rig. The mouth of Little Devils Bayou on a changing tide is good for reds using cut menhaden or cut mullet.

Carlos Bay • Carlos Trench is your best bet for keeper trout especially on the colder days. Fish the deeper water the colder it is, and the shallower shell edges if the weather warms up. Deep running lures like rattle traps in blue and white work well here, or soft plastics in morning glory and glow chartreuse colors. Drifts across Carlos Lake are good for some keeper trout using live shrimp and/or Berkley gulp shrimp under a clear bubble cork.

Mesquite Bay • Wades down Third Chain Island are a good tactic for reds using sand eels in new penny and electric chartreuse colors. Brays Cove is a good place to drift across for trout and a few flounder. I like 1/16 ounce jig heads here with white grubs. Jigs tipped with shrimp or squid is good for flounder. Drift slowly and anchor / set off immediately when you get a bite.

Ayers Bay • The shoreline of Rattlesnake Island is a good place for black drum and some sheep head using a silent cork and peeled shrimp. Ayers Reef is a good place for reds using cut mullet and/or mud minnows under a silent cork or free lined.



Location: Here’s Wishing You Tight Lines Bent Poles and Plenty of Bait!

Wades from the LBJ causeway to Newcomb Point are good for trout and some reds using soft plastics in the following colors: new penny, electric chartreuse and gold. Spoons work well here – gold with inlaid red is best. Move very slowly and be far enough away from the shoreline to cast 360 degrees.

Contact Capt. Mac Gable at
Mac Attack Guide Service,
512-809-2681, 361-790-9601

[email protected]


Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected] 

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