A day on the water with Billy O.: A tale of friendship, fishing and bananas

“Gone Coastal” column by Carol Lyn Parrish

“Be at the house at 5:45 a.m.,” said Billy O. on a warm Saturday morning as a slight breeze blew from the west and the sky was overcast.

Billy and I knew of each other in high school, but we weren’t close friends. He was a football star and I was the yearbook photographer. Twenty years later, we were at our high school reunion, telling stories of hunting alligators and fishing. An instant friendship was formed. When he invited me to go fishing with him and his family in south Florida, I jumped at the opportunity.

Billy captains the Miss Maddison with a crew of two, his 12-year-old son, Bryan, and 16-year-old daughter, Maddison. Bryan is an impressive young angler who can identify more saltwater fish species than most adults. Maddison is a lifeguard with a love of the ocean.

Our first stop was to catch baitfish. Billy maneuvered the boat into position, and Bryan and Maddison quickly cast out sabiki rigs ­- groups of several small hooks attached to the end of a fishing line. It was amazing to watch this crew in action. Bryan and ­­­Maddison pulled in line after line of baitfish, with Billy switching back and forth to quickly get the lines back in the water. When the top water swirl disappeared, we moved to another spot, and I watched the scenario play out over and over again until the baitwell was full.

As we headed offshore, we shared stories of fishing and boating. Bryan filled my head with knowledge about the different species of saltwater fish. Maddison talked about sea turtles and her goal of working in the medical field. Billy remained on the hunt for fish. He shared his knowledge of boating, wind direction, tides and seas, as well as navigating and using landmarks to determine distance – all useful knowledge every boater should know.

Billy gave directions on which rod and reel to use, then Bryan swung into action. It was apparent they had done this before. Bryan caught the first fish, a snapper too small to keep. After catching a few more snapper, we started seeing dolphins and sharks in the area.

We decided to move to the next fishing spot where we saw more dolphin. Another stop and, finally, we were right in the action. Bryan and Billy got Maddison rigged up and she landed a little tunny, more commonly known as a bonito. Within moments, another line at the bow started zinging. There is nothing like the sound of a line screaming off the reel when a fish takes the bait.

My turn. I’ll admit, I was out of practice, but Billy kept me on the fish and I got it in the boat. It was another little tunny. Fun to catch, but they are often released or used for bait to entice other species.

We were a bit bummed that we hadn’t had more luck, but Billy reminded me that the weather was working against us since the wind was blowing from the west, causing choppy waves. We hit one more spot with no action and decided to call it a day.

After a bumpy ride into a sandbar, we decided to take a swim and have a snack. With more than enough to share, I brought out my banana-date-walnut bites.

“WHAT! You brought bananas on the boat!” said Billy.

I was quickly informed that bananas are considered bad luck on a boat. Apparently, this is either an old fish tale or superstition. Who knew? Not I.

A quick survey of a few boaters and anglers at the sandbar confirmed it. They all knew what it meant to have bananas on board a boat. Even the attendant and guests at the fuel dock solidified this story. Billy then told me of a time he wore clothing with a banana on the label during a fishing trip. The label was promptly cut off prior to leaving the dock.

What’s behind the banana ban? Some speculate that: ships had to make fast trips to prevent the fruit from spoiling so there was no time to fish; that bananas float, so if a ship went down they might be the only sign; and, Billy’s favorite, huge spiders often hitched a ride in the banana boxes.

I learned a lot on my fishing trip and I will tell you this, I will never bring a banana on a boat again. Thankfully, I was forgiven by Billy and the crew and was allowed to board the boat for the ride home.

While we didn’t get completely skunked, I now know our bad luck had nothing to do with the west wind, rough waves or cloudy skies. It wasn’t because of a lack of knowledge, skill or passion for fishing. It was my banana snacks.

Heading home for the day, I was left with a newfound respect for a man teaching his children to fish and get outdoors, a renewed hope for the future of fishing and the next generation of conservationists, and a reminder that fishing and a love of the outdoors brings people together.

I look forward to many more fishing adventures with this crew… without bananas!