Saturday 4 July 2015


I wouldn't call myself superstitious, but I do often talk of luck in fishing, and I often ask someone fishing if they've had any luck.

Over summer I thanked Jim for a landing net he'd passed on to me, and told him of the trout I had landed with it. He said he was pleased that the net had proven lucky for me, as it had had for him in the past.

At least half-hearted superstition seems ingrained in most fishers. Denis Pain has a chapter titled 'Always Appease the River Gods,' in his book ... The Hours Spent in Fishing, where he tells of one season where he went against his usual rule of releasing the first trout of the season - keeping it to feed friends - and the bad luck that he had for the rest of the season.

A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, tells of some old beliefs using trout, including:

  • Administer an ailing cow a live trout. (1852)
  • Put a trout's head into the mouth of a child with whooping cough and let the trout breathe into the child's mouth. (1866)
  • Put a live trout on the stomach of a child with worms as a cure. (1866)
  • Bind a trout with bandages around the bowels of a child with worms and leave overnight as a cure. (1879 - The writer remembers this being done to a boy about seven years old, circa 1830)
  • Let a trout swim in cow's milk and then drink the milk as an infallible cure for whooping cough. (1922)
  • Take a pie dish full of cider to the River Rea and catch a decent sized trout and drown him in the cider. Fry the trout and make the patient eat the fish and drink the cider to cure whopping cough. (1932)

... and another cure for whooping cough - drink beer in which a live fish has been drowned. (1883)

The same book tells of cod fishermen believing that if a ling was the first fish pulled up after a boat has reached the fishing-ground it must be thrown overboard immediately to avoid bad luck (1886). During herring fishing, the scales of the fish must not be washed off the boat, neither must they be cleaned off the fishermen's sea-boots. If this is done good luck flees away (1885). The first hook baited is spit upon, and then laid in the scull (1886).

The Concise Maori Handbook, by A. W. Reed with A. E Brougham, informs us that the first fish caught with a new hook or line was dedicated to the ancestors of the fisherman, and that mauri were often used to help with the luck of a fishing voyage.

'Mauri' is essentially the life element of, for example, a forest or a lake, and assures the abundance of life abiding within. The name is also given to a talisman that represents the given life element. The talismen (often stones) were jealously guarded and secreted in a forest, near the banks of a river, and by the sea shore. If they were removed, the life principles departed and the food supplies could no longer be obtained.

I haven't had Jim's net with me for a while, and also haven't caught a fish for a while. I think I'll start taking his net out with me again and see what happens.