On the Water: Behind the Banana Ban

Gabriel Grenci III, 9, caught his first striped bass onboard Mike Ajello’s Susan A last week with his proud grandfather Capt. Harry Clemenz looking on. Annie Clemenz

    This is a good time to confront fishermen’s fear of bananas, that is, the reason they are never brought aboard a boat, any boat, but especially a fishing boat if you want to catch fish.
    Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett always heard the myth but paid it little mind, until one day while on Gardiner’s Bay with a friend after false albacore.
    “We got off Cartwright Shoal south of Block Island and the water was boiling with falsies. It was biblical. I cast a Yo-Zuri lure and hooked up immediately. One after the other. I wanted to take one home to eat, so I bled it and stuck it in the bucket and opened up my bag to have some lunch. I pulled out a banana and the fish disappeared. We never saw another fish for the rest of the day.”
    The banana ban is not uncommon among fishermen. It’s a practice handed down from the days of wooden ships and superstitious men who, of course, had good reason to be frightened of the sea. It’s said the banana superstition has its roots in the crates that held the bananas taken on as provisions on long passages. The banana crates also held all manner of critters — spiders, snakes — that found their way into the bilge, where they multiplied. Easy to understand how a crew otherwise bedeviled by mountainous waves, scurvy, and tyrannical captains might draw the line at tarantulas and snakes.
    So, assuming anglers have left their bananas at home, and if it’s true that the best fishing occurs after a full moon, there should be good news coming from offshore and the bay side. Surfcasting on the ocean side of Montauk and East Hampton has been slow going despite the numerous sightings of large striped bass swimming lazily through and around the legs of weekend bathers.
    John Alexander, an artist from Amagansett, climbed aboard his stand-up paddleboard and swept his way from Accabonac Harbor to Napeague the other day and saw “thousands of bass, all in the size category 30-to-32-inch,” according to Bennett.
    It was in that area, along the beach at Devon, where Chris Foster, a photographer, took a predawn shot of C.D. Clark with a nice striper caught on a fly. “Those fish have been down there for two months. They haven’t stopped, even with water temperatures coming up. Not only there, but Barnes Landing and Albert’s Landing,” Bennett said. The challenge is getting out of bed in time to get to the beach by 4:30 a.m.
    Bennett reported that “fluke fishing is just nuts off Napeague, unbelievable, but you go through 30 shorts [fluke under 201/2 inches] to get a keeper. People are starting to catch sea robins. They’re an overlooked fish, a great fight on a snapper rod.”
    Also on the north side but farther east in Fort Pond Bay, Montauk, fishermen angling from the town’s “Navy dock” at Eddie Ecker park have been catching giant porgies schooling in the bay. The big porgies are swimming in company with a number of exotic species, including triggerfish. Southern species make a habit of hitching a ride here with the Gulf Stream.
    Paul Melnyk was hanging at Paulie’s Tackle in Montauk on Tuesday. He too reported fluke and porgies on the north side in Fort Pond Bay, as well as bluefish action at Culloden Point on the east side of the bay. Bluefish were also being taken around Montauk Point at the top of the tide, Melnyk said.
    Chris Miller of the West Lake Marina in Montauk reported steady landings of yellowfin tuna over the weekend. “Nothing fantastic, but steady.” The Flying Dutchman steamed 65 miles west of Atlantis Canyon and returned with five yellowfins in the 50-pound range. Ron Cattina Sr. and Jr. took their Gotafly boat to the waters of Block Canyon, where they too found yellowfin.
    The bluefin tuna that were feeding south of Block Canyon have moved on. Early last week, commercial fishing boats working the bottom for sea scallops to the area known as the Dump reported numerous bluefin sightings, but it seems they have continued their migration north into the Gulf of Maine.