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23 Jan 2011

Updated July 9, 2009: Catching Big (N)Ono on Banana Boat

Catching Big (N)Ono on Banana Boat

Breaking ancient fishing superstitions with supernatural means


Catching Big (N)Ono on Banana Boat

Breaking ancient fishing superstitions by supernatural means; beautiful rainbows

HAIKU, Maui, July 9 - Riding an elephant in a jungle was one of my boyhood dreams.  It came true three years ago in Thailand.  Going deep sea fishing was Elizabeth's childhood dream.  She got to live it yesterday off the southern shore of Maui.  And what a trip it was... full of unexpected twists and turns of the plot, not just of the hook and fish.

The alarm went off at 4AM.  Outside, I could hear the light rain falling.  Everything was still pitch black.

"Do the fish ever sleep?" I grumbled out loud during a wet drive from our home in Haiku, on the northern coast of Maui, to Lahaina, a port town and a big tourist trap on the southwestern side of the island.  We are used to rain at any time of the day or night on the north shore.  But it was drizzling even as we were approaching Lahaina.  And that is unusual.  Bad omen?

"Wonder if we are going to have a wet fishing trip?" I said Elizabeth, thinking out loud.  "Is there any other kind?," a silent voice within answered my rhetorical question.  I chuckled.

High up in the sky above Lanai, a full moon was also chuckling.  La Luna had good reasons to smile.  Only hours ago, she had been freed from an eclipse in Capricorn (female earth sign) by the Sun in Cancer. 

The full Moon was still smiling down at us from high up over Lanai as we sailed out of the Lahaina harbor, a little after 6AM on July 8 (left shot).  At the same time, the Sun was trying to climb over Haleakala (volcano) in the east (middle photos).  When it finally succeeded, the Sun gave birth to a small rainbow to the south, off Kahoolawe island (right shot).  It also colored the clouds over Lahaina orange (far right).

It was a serene early start to a possible adventure on a boat captained by a blonde-haired Eric, and casting Johnny, a native Hawaiian, as the deck hand (you can see him in above pictures).  Besides the crew of two, there were six hopeful fishermen on board - a young newlywed couple from Seattle, a lesbian couple from Oklahoma, and two heterosexuals from Haiku.

"Oh, so you're local," exclaimed Eric, the captain, when I answered his question about where we were from.

"Which means we had the farthest to drive," I added.

Eric laughed.  "You're so right.  Tourists always stay close by."

Johnny, the deck hand, then gave us the instructions and the "rules of engagement."  There were six fishing rods and six of us.  We were each assigned a random number corresponding with a rod.  I was #5.  Elizabeth was #6. 

"When the fish bites, I'll call the number," Johnny said.  "Whosever number that is, you'd better get your but right away into the fishing chair (as demonstrated by Elizabeth in the right shot).  Then he proceeded to show us how we need to hold the rod and how to reel the fish in.

Johnny is a mild-mannered young man, maybe in his early twenties.  Although he must have given this pitch hundreds of times, he was still enthusiastic and patient answering each question.  When he was finished, the first little drama unfolded on board. 

You see from the above picture that Elizabeth is wearing a red life jacket, obviously not as a fashion statement.  Being an uncertain swimmer, after Johnny had finished with his instructions, she asked him if he would get her one.  The two of them went back into the cabin.

The next thing I saw was a furious Johnny tossing a banana into the ocean.  "Bringing bananas on a boat!" he shouted full of disgust.  "Ridiculous!"

Johnny explained that having bananas on board brings bad luck to fisherman.  That's one of the Hawaiian superstitions.  Later on, I found out that it is actually a worldwide superstition, only practiced a little more vigorously in Hawaii.  The young woman from Seattle said that she had read on the web that even bringing the Banana Boat sun screen on board is considered bad luck.

Meanwhile, Eric, the captain, whom you can see in the left frame with his back turned to the camera, spun around and joined Johnny's invective.

"Hey, Bob, I can't believe you brought bananas on a boat," he was razzing me, having immediately shifted the blame from Elizabeth to yours truly.  "And you're a local, too."

"Spoken like a true gentleman," I thought.  "It is not polite to yell at a lady, so he is now blaming me for the bananas."

I just smiled back.  Not being a fisherman, I knew no more about the "no bananas on boats"-rule than did Elizabeth.  So when she told me she would pack a couple so we can snack on board in lieu of a breakfast, I thought it was a sensible idea.  We were about to spend at least four hours at sea, and having at least something in our tummies seemed like a good idea.

"Don't worry about it, Eric and Johnny," I said, "today, you will find out how wrong superstitions can be."

I don't know why I had a premonition that we would catch something and that it would be big.  I just did.  So when I said that, it wasn't just empty bluster.  Much later on, I understood why I had that feeling.  And it scared me...

Meanwhile, as the sun was slowly rising, we were "trolling for fish," the way Johnny put it (read... sailing aimlessly around the sea).  To pass the time, I was telling Elizabeth some fishing stories I had read.  Since I've had no personal fishing experiences, I could not tell a "tall fish tale."  So I talked about Hemingway's famous short novel, "The Old Man and the Sea," for example, published in 1952, for which this late American author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

For the longest time, nothing happened.  I was bored stiff.  And so seemed everybody else on board.  If Elizabeth is looking as if she is sun-tanning on deck in her lifejacket (left), it's because she was.  There was nothing else to do.  More than two hours into the trip, there was not even a single bite.  Meanwhile, other boats around us were catching fish, some even two at a time.

As a result, I was catching the flak from the crew.  Both Johnny and Eric blamed me and our bananas for our "bad luck."  And I kept telling them the same thing... "just you wait."

So to provide at least some sort of excitement, Eric and Johnny showed us a flying fish they were planning to use as bait.  "It hit a buddy of mine in the stomach while he was fishing," Johnny said.  "That's how we got it."

Answering my question, Johnny also told us that the fish never sleep.  He said one Blue Marlin had been tagged around the Big Island one day, and was traced off the coast of Mexico a week later (over 2,600 miles).

But such occasional respite from boredom only served to lengthen the time in between.  After more than three hours on the boat, everybody looked dejected, even Elizabeth.  There had been two nibbles at the No. 1 and No. 2 hooks, but the fish had slipped away.

"Was your dream to actually 'catch' a fish?," I asked her.  "I thought you said you just wanted to have a deep sea fishing experience.  Which is what you are having."

She begrudgingly agreed.  "But I wanted both," she said.

So I could see that in her own mind, the "experience" also translated into a fish steak in a frying pan on our stove at the Rainbow Shower.

"Don't worry," I said.  "We'll catch something before this is over.  You know what they say, 'it ain't over till the Fat Lady sings'."

Elizabeth nodded wearily.  "I know you are trying to console me, but it isn't helping," her body language was saying.  "It's probably those damn bananas.  Wish I had known about it."

I felt sorry for her.  But deep inside, I was routing for the fish on this deep sea fishing trip.  For, killing for sport is the pits in my books.  I feel the same way about hunting, even though my father was a professional hunter who taught me to shoot at a young age. 

"Can I tell you a secret?" I said to Elizabeth.


"I am actually on the side of the fish," I confided.  "I love sailing.  So to me, it is more than enough to spend half a day at sea, enjoying the sights, sounds and the scents of the ocean."

She nodded again.  But I could tell she was still hoping for her fish fillet.

So I looked down at the bottom of the floor where my water bottle was resting against my left foot.  I summoned a vision of the bottle being a fish being pulled on board our boat as we were approaching the Lahaina harbor. 

"Wonder if I can WILL something like this to happen?" I thought.  I had done such telepathing before under different circumstances, with amazing results, but never at sea.

Less than a minute later, there was loud commotion on the boat. 

"No. 3, No. 3, get in the seat," shouted Johnny, as he practically flew down the stairs from the upper deck.  "You've got a bite."

The No. 3 turned out to be the chunky young man from Seattle.  He was the only one on board with some prior fishing experience.  So he did not need much coaching on how to reel the fish in.  A few minutes later, Johnny had hooked a large Ono and pulled it into the boat.  Then he clubbed it to death (left).  The No. 3 was elated (right).  He was he was so ecstatic that he was salivating.  So were Eric and Johnny. 

"What a great catch this Ono is," Johnny said.  "It's probably a 20 to 25 pounder."

"It's the best catch of the day so far," Eric said, who had been in radio contact with captains of other fishing boats in the area. 

Suddenly, instantly, magically... despondency yielded way to jubilation. 

"Remember what I told you about the bananas?" I reminded them.  "Next time you go out, make sure you stock up your boat with them," I added jokingly.

But inside, I was sad.  And frightened.  For, I felt responsible for this brutality that had just occurred on deck.  I hated the sight of the beautiful fish being clubbed to death.  I kept trying to console myself by saying that that Ono had to have eaten a lot of smaller fish in order to become as large as it was.

Still, "I have to be very careful about what I wish for," I kept telling myself.  For, once again, my wish had come true.  And it happened in the last hour of our half-day trip after everybody else had given up hope.

I looked at Elizabeth.  She also seemed sad.  But for a different reason.  She was No. 6, not No. 3.  Lady Luck had decided that the fat man from Seattle would have "her" fish fillet.

Eric, the captain, came down from the upper deck to talk to us.  He was thrilled.  "Best catch of the day... by far," he repeated. 

"Thank our bananas," I joked.  Then I told him what happened less than a minute before the great fish bit the No. 3 bait - that I had just finished telling Elizabeth, "it ain't over till the Fat Lady sings."

"You're right," he said.  "We could catch another one before we get to the harbor." 

That was at about 9:35AM.  We had less than half an hour of sailing left.

"And the next one will be the No. 5," I said, pointing to the only fishing rod anchored at the upper deck.  The No. 5 was my number.  So Elizabeth would get her fish fillet after all.

No sooner had Eric climbed up to the upper deck, there was another commotion. 

"No. 1, get into the chair," yelled Johnny, again flying down the stairs to the lower deck. 

The No. 1 was the "dike" of that lesbian couple.  Except she didn't seem to remember she was No. 1.  So her partner and others practically pushed her into the chair.  She also needed a lot of help from Johnny to reel in, what turned out to be, a small Mahi-Mahi (which some people call a tuna; it is actually a Dorado - Dolphin Fish).  The fish was so small that thankfully Johnny did not need to club it to death.  He just put it on ice.  Then, as if confirming what I had previously thought of the bigger fish eating the smaller ones, out of this little "tuna" came some strange red fish - its last breakfast (right).  Johnny and Eric said they had no idea what they were.  They had never seen any such red fish before.

That's when I used a chance to ask them a different question. 

"How come you called No. 1 to the chair when, in fact, this fish was hooked by the No. 5 rod on the upper deck?" (the one that was "mine," according to the original assignments).

"Oh, that's because after we make a first catch, we change the numbers around to make it more fair for those who had not caught anything," Eric replied.

Hm... another "rule" nobody told us about beforehand, I thought.  But I didn't mind.  At least not on my account.  As you know, I was routing for the fish anyway.  I was a little pissed off, however, in that I felt I may have caused this fish to be caught in the first place "at the 11th hour" of our trip.  Which is why I had it sort of designated for Elizabeth.

"Oh well," I shrugged it off.  "You're not the one in charge anyway," I reminded myself.  "There was obviously a good reason why Elizabeth was not supposed to take that little fish home.  Who knows... maybe those little red fish that nobody had seen before were poisonous or something."

(Isn't it interesting how we can rationalize almost anything?)  :-)

Back at the Lahaina harbor, the boat owner proudly displayed our two fish by hanging them in front of the booth.  "They best catch of the day," the owner gloated, repeating what Eric had already said before.  He also added that he lived not far from the Rainbow Shower in Haiku.

"Hey, Bob, since you two are locals, you should come back and take an eight-hour fishing trip with us," the owner said, looking perfectly serious.

"Not me," I said.  "This fishing trip was her idea," I said pointing at Elizabeth.  "It was just my gift to her."

"Oh, I understand," the owner said.  "You'd probably rather be working in the yard."

"Or something like that," I thought but did not say out loud. 

"Just don't forget to stock up your boat with bananas the next time you go out," I did rub it in one last time.  "And, by the way, we also had a Banana Boat sun screen on board in our beach bag."

Everybody laughed.  "Okay, Bob, you're off the hook now," Eric, the captain said.

"That's a good one," I thought.  "Wonder if the pun was intended?"  ("off the hook" on a fishing boat).

Speaking of the Rainbow Shower's yard, before the day was over, Elizabeth and I witnessed another beautiful sunset, with full double rainbows enveloping our home and property.  By the time I got my camera out, only one rainbow remained.  But it was so large that it took two picture frames to capture it.  Later, I used them to create a new logo for the Rainbow Shower (see below).

And that's all she wrote from this fishing trip.  It was the day we broke some ancient fishing superstitions by supernatural means, and ended up being rewarded by ethereal rainbows.  What more can one ask for a full moon day on which Elizabeth's childhood dream came true?

(I know, a fish fillet, some of you may be thinking?  But that's too greedy for me...)

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