Fishing Proverbs and their Origins

There are many different fishing proverbs that have been in use for centuries or more. But where did these familiar sayings come from? What do they really mean? In today’s blog post we collected two different fishing proverbs and researched the origins of each of them. Most of these origins are muddled and oftentimes confused for ancient sayings but this isn’t always the case.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Show him how to catch a fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”

For instance, the well known fishing proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Show him how to catch a fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” has often been attributed to an ancient Chinese proverbs, although it’s also been mistakenly said (by the reputable Oxford Dictionary of Quotations of all places) of being from this past century. Actually, both are very, very wrong, although the Oxford Dictionary is closer on the timeline. The proverb originated from a British novel in the 19th century. A young woman named Anne Isabella Ritchie wrote a book called Mrs. Dymond in the 1880s. This book included this passage: “He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” While it is possible that it could still be older than that, it was most likely coined by Anne Ritchie in her novel.

Of course, what does this proverb even mean? Simply put, the proverb is a metaphor about teaching people how to take care of themselves. As we know, fishing is a great sport but also a great skill to have. If you were ever on a boat and couldn’t get to food but had a fishing rod with you, you’d be able to feed yourself. Someone who doesn’t know how to fish might struggle with feeding themselves in that case. So teaching someone the skill of fishing, or any skill at all, is much more likely to help them than giving them in the long-run then a short-term handout.

Onto our second proverb, which might even be more familiar than the last one. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning,” is something many have heard anytime they’re on the coast, planning to swim, or on a boat. But where did this proverb originate? Is it true? And what does it exactly mean?

Well, this proverb is from one of the oldest written sources – the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3). Shakespeare also said something similar in his play Venus and Adonis, “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

This is an old proverb that has been popular and in use for centuries if not longer than that. People have been using the sky to predict any changes in weather and the sea since sailing began. And it was a necessary precaution, both sailors and farmers depend on the weather for safety and sustenance.

So they looked to the sky and came up with weather lore. But is that proverb correct? Is a red sky at night a sailor’s delight and is a red sky in the morning sailor’s warning?

Well, according to science… sort of.

Red sky at night, sailors delight.


When there’s a red sky at night this means that the sun, that would be setting, is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. But what does that mean? Basically this indicates that the upcoming weather will be good. There will be a high pressure and stable air coming in from the west allowing you to have a nice day of sailing and fishing on the sea, making it a sailor’s delight.

Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

However, if you wake up and see a red sunrise that might mean all the good weather has already passed by. The high pressure system probably already passed by and now you might be only getting a low pressure system, coming from the east. Also, a very, fiery red typically means that there is moisture in the air. And if there’s moisture in the air, there’s a high likelihood that means it’s going to rain and possibly even badly storm. Which, of course, indicates a sailor’s warning.

So watch the sky when you out on the water, but don’t worry. On the Kona Fishing Charters, we’ll make sure you don’t have to worry about the weather. The only thing you should be concerned about are the awesome sportsfish you’ll be catching. If you’re interested in Kona fishing charters, call us at (808) 960-1424!