The line between ritual and superstition is fine and often blurry.
Many anglers will say they’re not superstitious yet admit to adhering to some well-worn patterns or rituals on their day of fishing. Some are downright superstitious and not afraid to admit it.
But – superstitious or not – all anglers we spoke with had quick responses when we asked about their superstitions.
“My only superstition is to not have any rituals or superstitions at all,” said Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour angler Fletcher Shryock of Newcomerstown, Ohio. “They may exist subconsciously, but as an angler, I have enough things to worry about, and I don’t want to add anything extra to the plate. Before a tournament, I just try to tell myself to keep an open mind and stay focused on the present. Staying in the moment helps keep me organized for the day and creates less stress. It also helps me remember every day is different.”
Two-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner Jamie Hartman echoed the sentiment. “I have no superstitions. And I couldn’t even make one up.”
Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour angler Brett Hite of Phoenix, Arizona, has a superstition related to his boat. “I like to have a clean boat before practice starts. I think it makes me fish better,” he said, laughing. “You look good, you fish good.”
Several anglers confessed to having some slightly unusual superstitions. Two-time Bassmaster Elite Series champion Brandon Cobb was able to leave one of his behind when he transitioned to Bassmaster tournament rules that outlaw the use of nets.
“In the past, when I fished tournaments that would allow you to use a net, it had to be properly stowed in the boat’s net storage compartment. If it wasn’t stowed, you were not going to catch fish.”
Two-time Bassmaster winner Seth Feider is well-known for his flowing hair and substantial mustache. They’re also part of his superstition.
“I have the same pair of underwear I wear every day for tournaments, so I put those on, and then I shave everything down on my face, except for the mustache.”
Fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pro Lee Livesay shares a grooming superstition with Feider.
“I shave three days before the event and never shave during the event. You just don’t want to be the baby-faced, sunburnt guy on camera the last day!”
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tennessee, has only one superstition on the water: “I try to not be a superstitious guy,” he said, “but it seems like if I carry a few different hats in the boat with me, I’ve been known to take out a different hat and keep swapping them out until I start catching some fish.”
Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour angler Jeff Kriet shares a “wardrobe superstition” like Feider: “I only wear blue or black underwear,” he said. “Never red!”
Elite Series pro Chris Groh subscribes to the benefits of two defined rituals. “I like to do a quick meditation session, preferably in the boat or truck for five minutes. On my way to the ramp, I play a “game-time” CD – Art of Flight Soundtrack. No matter where it is, track-wise, it’s all good, and it really puts me in the zone.”
Put 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion Ott DeFoe in the camp with those who don’t believe in superstitions. But he does have a ritual.
“I don’t have any superstitions,” DeFoe said, “but before a day of fishing, I re-tie and rig every rod except for soft plastics. I wait until the morning of the event to put them on the hook.”
DeFoe’s good friend and travel partner, Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, South Carolina, has a similar attitude about superstitions: “My philosophy is, if the fish knows when I have a banana in my boat or what color underwear I’m wearing, I don’t want that fish in my boat—he’s smarter than me!”
So, what about those bananas in the boat?
No bananas in the boat! It’s a common superstition among anglers. Supposedly the yellow fruit caused ships to sink back in the 18th century and, in current times, may or may not cause fish not to bite.
Tournament pro Mark Daniels Jr. of Tuskegee, Alabama, subscribes to the anti-banana philosophy.
“Can’t have a banana in the boat – at all. I do like to have my coffee every morning on my way to the ramp,” he said.
Starting the day with coffee is relatively ubiquitous among anglers. It must be the early mornings.
What does the “greatest of all time” think?
Kevin VanDam has 25 career tour wins, four Bassmaster Classic championships, seven Angler of the Year titles, and is widely considered the best bass angler of all time. He does not subscribe to the bananas-in-the-boat theory – or any other superstition, for that matter.
However, years ago “Kevin VanDam’s lucky cookies” were a frequent topic of conversation.
“That was never meant to be a superstition,” he said from his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “My wife, Sherry, started shipping cookies to me on the road just as something she could do to send a thought from home. It wasn’t a superstition, though. How you finish in a tournament is determined by the decisions you make on the water, not by the power of some supernatural force.”
If anything, VanDam is clearly and firmly anti-superstition and believes they can negatively affect results.
“You can’t let things get in your head that really have no bearing on the outcome,” he said. “You see it all the time, especially in big tournaments. I try to focus on the variables I can control. I’m not going to let something outside my control ruin my day.”
Like DeFoe, however, VanDam does have preparation rituals regarding the next day’s fishing.
“I prepare the day before, so I don’t have to do any scrambling around in the morning,” he said. “I will re-tie baits or change out hooks the night before.”
What are the takeaways?
Whether superstitious or a believer in rituals, all tournament anglers seemingly strive to be as prepared as possible. Sharp hooks, fresh line, music cued up, appropriately dressed, or having the cleanest boat at the ramp, preparation is a common theme among successful Mercury pros.
Whether a banana is welcome on board remains up for debate.