Halloween can’t be beat for tales of the spooky, scary and just plain weird, and there are no better ghost stories than ones that involve boats. So pack some candy and a cooler, grab your rods, and set out on a late season eerie fishing outing near some of these haunted boating destinations.
Friday Harbor, Washington
Friday Harbor in the Pacific Northwest is a charming town with restaurants and galleries but some of its many buildings, which date back to the 1880s, are said to be haunted. Unearthly spirits haunt the Serendipity bookshop that was once a private residence. A woman with black hair dressed in a duster coast has been spotted near a window and may have been a member of the family that resided there in the 1940s. Her likeness was found in a photo album by the shopkeeper.
That’s just one tale of terror making the rounds of the small island town. If you’re into haunted houses with your fishing adventure, head to Washington where the protected San Juan Islands serve up fishing with great views, fantastic sea life and superb cuisine.
Point Honda, California
Still considered the worst peacetime U.S. naval disaster, the tragedy at Point Pederales (known to most as Point Honda) is the final resting place for seven destroyers that ran aground in California on September 8, 1923. Under the command of Captain E. H. Watson (first-time fleet commander), the convoy was running south along the Pacific Coast at high speed (20 knots). At 21:00, the squadron changed course as they approached the Santa Barbara Channel and one by one, they piled onto the rocks in an area known as the Devil’s Jaw. Six ships were destroyed, two were damaged and five survived. Twenty-three sailors died in the disaster. There is a memorial at the site near the city of Lompoc.
Although an inhospitable section of a rocky coast, the fishing in the Santa Barbara Chanel is quite good if you tuck in south of Point Arguello. Be sure to check the weather forecast and avoid fog, darkness and any ghosts that may not have moved on.
Catalina Island, California
Farther down the coast, just offshore from Los Angeles, is an island so haunted, a whole book was written about it (Haunted Catalina: A History of the Island and Guide to Paranormal Activity). Santa Catalina is SoCal’s nautical playground but it’s also host to plenty of ghosts. The main (and really only) town is Avalon, where an entrepreneurial sort leads walking tours of the streets at night. At the other end of the island, Two Harbors (called the Isthmus by locals) has its own cast of ethereal characters. There is no town here per se, just Harbor Reef Bar, some coin-op showers, a campground and hundreds of moorings in the crescent-shaped harbor. But there’s plenty of paranormal activity. A red wooden building, now a yacht club, is the old barracks from the Civil War Days. On the hill above, the Banning House Inn is said to be haunted by a White Lady. She’s been spotted coming down the stairs to visit her lover in the barracks below. Periodically, some have reported an inexplicable smell of tobacco and fish in the area.
The waters around Catalina are a sportfisher’s paradise. With the warm waters of summer come tuna and Halloween is a perfect time to fish this local hangout.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina
Lighthouses provide ample opportunity for active imaginations to conjure up stories of strange goings-on and plenty of them are said to be haunted. Cape Hatteras lighthouse has its own unique phenomenon—a ghost cat. The lighthouse has been a part of the North Carolina coast for over a hundred years. The tallest brick lighthouse in North America, it’s often photographed by vacationers. Once moved inland to avoid being washed away, this black and white lighthouse is in Buxton. For the past 150 years, people have seen a large (think 20 pounds) cat roaming the grounds and when the lighthouse was relocated, the cat came along. The ghost cat is said to be so real, it feels as if it’s rubbing up against your legs and purring but don’t try to pick it up—it’ll vanish in a flash. Sometimes the cat is accompanied by a ghost man in a yellow slicker.
Cape Hatteras fishing is renowned. Species that may swim by include marlin, Yellow and Bluefin tuna, mahi and sharks. Just watch your catch in case kitty’s hungry.
Execution Rocks, New York
In the middle of Long Island Sound is a pile of rocks on which stands Execution Rocks Light, a 55-foot tall lighthouse that hasn’t been manned since it was automated in 1979. During colonial times, prisoners were chained to the rocks at low tide, subsequently drowning when the tide came up. Who devised this particularly cruel form of death is unknown but it certainly was creative and macabre. As if that were not enough, a serial killer named Carl Panzram is said to have killed ten sailors here, dumping their bodies near the rocks in the summer of 1920.
If you can concentrate on fishing while hearing the phantasmic screams of men drowning slowly, then Long Island Sound is a great place to wet a hook.
Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana
On the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, the Manchac Swamp is full of alligators, but that’s not all. Beware Rougarou of the bayou, the blood-sucking Cajun werewolf lurking among the cypress trees. If that doesn’t scare the pants off you then consider the spirit of Julia White (also known as Julia Brown or Black), a voodoo priestess who prophesied her own death and that of many others. She ended up being right when in 1915, a Category 4 hurricane (before hurricanes were named) killed 275 people in the area. She is said to haunt the wetlands that are now a bird sanctuary.
Whether you’re fishing the lake or birdwatching in the swamp, keep an eye on your surroundings because there’s bound to be ghoulish mischief about.
Galveston Island, Texas
Galveston is a long stretch of land jutting out onto the Gulf just south of Houston. It’s a vacation destination but it’s also among the top haunted cities in the U.S. for a variety of reasons that include piracy as well as the Great Storm of 1900. That year, a Category 4 hurricane came ashore and wreaked so much havoc, it’s still considered the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Between 6,000 and 12,000 people died and due to the circumstances, many were not properly buried. Even those buried at sea washed back ashore and the smell of rotting bodies was known for miles around. At the time, the island city was only eight feet above sea level and was no match for the 15-foot surge that followed.
Fishing in Galveston or East bays is great, just keep clear during September, the worst hurricane month of the year.
Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
Three thousand miles south of Hawaii, Truk (also known as Chuuk) Lagoon is a renowned diving destination primarily due to the tangle of destruction that lies below the surface. In 1944, more than 50 Japanese warships and aircraft carriers were sunk here by the Allies. Now an eerie undersea museum, the lagoon serves up a view of life at sea from decades ago. Swimming through the wrecks, many of which have become barnacle-encrusted reefs, you may see crew cabins, boiler rooms, gas masks and airplanes. The ghost fleet is a burial ground for 400 Japanese sailors many of whose remains were still visible when Jacque Cousteau came to make his1969 documentary, Lagoon of Lost Ships.
Fishing here may be challenging for two reasons: first, you don’t know what your line could get tangled on and second, you don’t know what or who you’ll bring up.
Vltava River, Czech Republic
Although landlocked, the tiny country of the Czech Republic in Central Europe has lots of ponds, lakes and rivers, all of which are said to be ruled by Vodnik, a male spirit up to no good. Vodnik lives under water but sometimes wanders about on land on the lookout for unsuspecting fishermen to pull into his watery world and drown. The soggy fellow is usually portrayed with a long beard and perhaps smoking a pipe (how does that work?). His daughter, Rusalka, fell in love with a real man and her fate has been detailed in plays, operas, ballets and children’s stories for centuries. Since he’s part of Slavic mythology, Vodnik is known throughout Eastern Europe under different names but his intent is usually the same.
The worm may not be the only thing to drown if you fish in the Vltava River that flows through Prague or any other Czech waters.
A place where my own hair has stood up from phantasmal phenomenon is Sydney, Australia, a cosmopolitan city in the heart of a magnificent harbor. There’s no shortage of ghost stories on nighttime Sydney walking tours. Thinking we could have some fun on a ghost tour, we opted for a walk through The Rocks, an old neighborhood of historic laneways in the shadow of Sydney Harbor Bridge. This was once a slum of sorts with a large population of seamen and local purveyors of every kind of good. Standing in the dark near an excavation under a modern building, I could swear I suddenly felt a cold breath on the back of my neck. No cocktails involved. I scooted back to the crowd of other tourists and strayed no longer.
Boating in the harbor is an experience not to be missed and if you toss out a line, who knows what will surface.
Looking for more Halloween fun? Check out these spooktacular stories:
- Halloween Decorations for Your Boat: Dockside Trick-or-Treating
- Boating Superstitions
- Friday the 13th: Boaters Beware
Editor's Note: This story was originally published in October 2017 and updated in October 2018.