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Going Bananas

They’re sweet, nutritious, and might even help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of strokes.

But bananas are not the perfect food they’re made out to be.

Ask any fisherman. More than likely, you’ll be told that the sleek and slender fruit has one major imperfection: It does not sit well with the fish gods.

“You bring bananas and you’re going to get a lot of bites, but you’re going to lose a lot of fish,” says Kenny Llanes, 60, captain of On the Fly on the big island of Hawaii. “You’re going to get broken lines and your reel is going to freeze up. A lot of unusual things are going to happen if you bring bananas on the boat.”

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Llanes is not alone in thinking that way. In fact, with the summer fishing seasons well underway, a quick survey of skippers found that others with an aversion to bananas come in bunches.

Take Bouncer Smith of South Florida, for example. Bananas have been smuggled aboard his 33-foot sportfisher and on one such occasion his steering gave out. He found and chased the banana smuggler around the deck, chastising the poor fellow for ruining what could have been a good day of fishing.

You have to watch out for Smith, who appears to have gone overboard with his banana fetish: He gives wedgies to unsuspecting clients he suspects of wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear.

“Typically, when customers arrive in the morning, the first thing I do is interrogate them,” Smith said. “First, I check for bananas, then I check for Banana Boat sunscreen products, then for Banana Republic shirts and blouses, then for Starburst strawberry-banana [candies] and, most important of all, for Fruit of the Loom labels.”

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When told that label doesn’t picture any bananas, Smith pointed out that it used to, before he had the company’s vice president of sales aboard and, after a horrendous trip, talked him around to his way of thinking.

The banana has been missing from the label for two years, Smith says, but he still doesn’t trust it.

“I’d say it’s a 50-50 split among fishermen,” he said. “There are believers and there are nonbelievers, and if you’re a believer the results can be devastating.”

It’s unclear when and where bananas became the forbidden fruit of fishermen and other seafarers. Some trace the phenomenon to the early Polynesians, who refused to carry bananas on long voyages because they ripened so quickly, emitting gasses that hastened the spoilage of other produce.

Another story centers on an unspecified time somewhere in the South Pacific, when consumption of bananas was restricted to royalty. According to legend, a group of lowly fishermen stole some bananas and paddled to sea, where the evidence, or peels, could be easily disposed of.

A typhoon struck, killing the fishermen and destroying the homes of their families, leaving the rest of the islanders unscathed.

Whatever its origin, the banana superstition has taken deep root and appears here to stay.

In Southern California, it’s more of a joke than anything else. Or is it?

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“I never personally take bananas on a fishing trip,” says Pete Gray, avid angler and co-host of the radio show, “Let’s Talk Hook-Up!”

“I’m not sure if the superstition is true, but what if it is? I need all the help I can get and I don’t want to upset the fish gods.”

John Doughty, of J.D.'s Big Game Tackle on Balboa Island, says that marlin fishermen, most of them wealthy and seemingly intelligent, are among the strongest believers. And that if the coming tournament season is anything like past seasons, competing anglers will “sneak around during the wee evening hours from boat to boat, hanging bunches of bananas beneath the bow pulpits.”

Those on the receiving end will then spend the next day at the fishing grounds, unaware of the fruit dangling in front of them, wondering why they’re not catching anything.

Doughty’s scrumptious-looking banana lure--"They retail for $29.95 and come with a 10-fish guarantee"--is a hot seller as a gag gift but has actually caught marlin, he says.

In Hawaii, where the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament ends today, the banana is powerful taboo in the minds of many.

Capt. Kent Mongrieg of the Jacque-Apito does not allow them. He became a believer years ago while working in Alaska where, he says, the superstition is even stronger. Mongrieg’s charter had enjoyed a fine day, limiting out on huge halibut. On the way back to port, to show there was nothing to the so-called jinx, one of the passengers brought out a banana and flaunted it.

“Five minutes later, we blew an engine,” Mongrieg says. “We threw a rod and limped home on one engine, and the guy just kind of humbled himself into a corner. He got the cold stare from everybody all the way in.”

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Llanes, born and raised in Hawaii, said he had a father-son combination out last week and they went seven hours without a strike. Llanes then discovered that each had brought a banana so he barked, “Either eat the bananas or throw them away.”

Five minutes later, they got their hooks into a 211-pound blue marlin, and five minutes after releasing the marlin, they hooked and eventually landed a 212-pound yellowfin tuna.

Capt. Gene Vander Hoek of the Sea Genie II, also on the big island, scoffs at what he calls a silly superstition and boasts that on July 27, 1995, with “a bunch of bananas that had been given to us for good luck,” his boat returned to Kailua-Kona with a 1,144-pound blue marlin.

Like Vander Hoek, Bill Casey of the Pacific Blue will walk the docks in the morning, picking up bananas others had discarded during ritualistic pre-trip searches, and happily take them aboard his vessel.

Bananas also are considered bad luck by fishermen throughout Mexico, but it is unclear how far down the coast one has to go before the superstition loses steam.

“Not much attention paid to it here, where bananas are a major crop, and I have seen them included in boat lunches,” says Jerry Ruhlow, editor of Costa Rica Outdoors and a Costa Rican resident for more than 20 years. “The major superstition here is yours truly. I’m known as “ el Gato Negro [the Black Cat]” by every guide and lodge operator on the Caribbean. . . . I step off the plane and eyes turn to the sky, as they know it’s going to rain.”

Down Under in Australia, Peter Prouten of Gold Coast Sportfishing says he knows of the banana jinx but pays little attention to it, as there are too many other things to worry about.

Leaping dolphins are one, as they bring a big wind, he says. Wind during a full moon is another, meaning the winds will blow for a month.

Then there is the albatross.

“I suppose you’ve heard that if you harm an albatross, you’ll die at sea.” Prouten says.

That, of course, would eliminate any worries about bananas.

Tourney Time

* Fishing has been spectacular during the prestigious HIBT, in its 42nd year off Kailua-Kona and featuring 25 teams from around the world. Forty marlin were caught during the first two days, Monday and Tuesday. Fishing resumed Thursday, with Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club of Northern California leading a team from Northern Ireland, and the final day is today.

* Tio Pepe of Hotel Spa Buena Vista was the winning vessel in the recent Bisbee’s East Cape Offshore Tournament. Anglers from the nearby Baja California town of Los Barrilles--Ray and Patty Vasquez, Gustavo Avias and Ricardo Maiz--weighed in a 309-pound blue marlin to claim a purse of $64,608.

Of 66 marlin caught, only the winner met the 300-pound minimum requirement. All others were released.

The 2001 Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Jackpot Tournament in Cabo San Lucas, the world’s richest billfish tournament, is Oct. 23-27. Details: www.bisbees.com .

Southland Bite

The big news locally has been the yellowtail bite that has been raging since Sunday at San Clemente Island. The counts dropped some Wednesday but soared again Thursday. Capt. Dan Connolly of the Toronado, out of Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach, called in 193 fish--weighing 20-37 pounds--for 23 people at 1:30 p.m.

South of the border, albacore action has rebounded considerably for those aboard San Diego’s one-day boats, who are fishing 60-80 miles out and scoring easy five-fish limits.

The top haul of the week was by those aboard the Red Rooster III, who on Wednesday decked 300 bluefin on the last day of a five-day trip at 120 miles.

A highlight for fishermen aboard the Prowler on Wednesday was the sight of a great white shark feeding on a whale carcass. Capt. Buzz Brizendine, in a live interview with www.976tuna.com , said the shark was a 15-footer “just absolutely snacking on the whale.”

Cabo Slam

After a slow start to summer, fishing has really heated up off Cabo San Lucas, and nobody knows it better than Rick Walsh, a cardiologist from Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Last Saturday aboard Pisces Fleet’s Rebecca, he caught and released an estimated 100-pound sailfish and followed that with catches of blue marlin estimated at 230 and 260 pounds, a striped marlin at 120 pounds and a black marlin at 375 pounds.

“Most people don’t achieve this in a lifetime, let alone in a day,” said Tracy Ehrenberg, the landing’s owner.

Winding Up

Whale watching from his float plane wasn’t part of the plan, but when Rod Judy took off last weekend from Keku Islands near Juneau, Alaska, he and two passengers got an eyeful.

As the plane was beginning to lift off, traveling about 50 mph, a large humpback whale breached directly in front of it.

“We were staring right into the whale’s stomach,” Burl Weller told the Juneau Empire. “It had to be at least 15 feet above the airplane. You could see under his tail. He had air under his tail.”

The pilot banked to his left while the whale fell off to the right.


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