Fishing Folklore and Sayings

The Lure of Angling Lore

By Adapted from work by Charles V. Mathis
March 31, 2016
Cat Fishing
Kuban girl/shutterstock

For centuries, anglers’ charms, omens, beliefs, and superstitions have explained—or excused—the results of a day on the water.

When the boat’s leaving the dock, if a cat begins to purr, fishermen are pleased: It’s said that cats love fish and can smell them from afar. 

Similarly, when a cat tries to ankle-polish a grizzled fisherman who is seaward-bound, his haul will be bountiful. 

A black cat on the deck of a ship of its own free will is considered good luck. However, many commercial fishermen claim that a cat carries a gale in its tail or can excite a storm by licking its coat the wrong way. 

Superstitious fishermen refer to small ripples on the surface of the ocean as “cat’s paws,” while a great disturbance of the water is called “cat’s skin.” 

Birds are not necessarily a fisherman’s friend. Dreaded is a crow flying across the bow.  

Many skippers are superstitious about setting out. Leaving the dock on a Friday can mean bad luck. And a ship that is watched until it is out of sight may bear the worst kind of luck: It may never be seen again.

Never board a fishing vessel with a suitcase or wearing gray gloves: All hands may be lost. 

However, if possible, drop a cake of ice overboard when preparing for a trip: It means good luck and a big catch. Another item to toss overboard is a penny: It will bring the wind.

If at all possible, avoid letting a boat captain spit in the water ahead of him. He will drive away the fish. But spit into the mouth of your first catch, and you’ll greatly increase the day’s haul. 

When baiting a hook, you can double down on your luck by reciting this ditty while doing it:

Fish, fish, fish, come bite 

my hook;

You’ll be the captain and 

I’ll be the cook.

When you do catch and cook your “captain,” do not consume it from tail to head: That’s unlucky on land or sea. 

Heard any more fishing folklore, sayings, or quotes? Add them to the list below!

Click here to learn the Best Days for Fishing and more fishing tips.

Reader Comments

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In spring, when lilacs are in bloom, weakfish are in the bay.


It is bad luck to bring a banana on board a fishing boat.

Cows and Fish

I have seen this work. When cows are lying down, stay home. When they are up eating, the fish are biting. However, this does not apply to salt water.

When the dogwood is blooming,

When the dogwood is blooming, the fish are hitting top water.

Fishing folklore

If the wind comes out of the East fish bite the least, from the West fish bite the best, from the North seek forth, from the south blows the hook in their mouth.

Fishing folklore

My Great Aunt Myrtle used to say it was a good time to go fishing when the cows were lying down


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