The one and only Mooch with his favorite fruit. Courtesy photo.

The one and only Mooch with his favorite fruit. Courtesy photo.

The Great Northern California Banana Battle
By Paul Lebowitz

Joel Lotilla is something of a NorCal legend. Known as Mooch to his friends for his bait-begging ways, he's a big, fun-loving guy who always has smiles to spare. A certain yellow fruit too, purported to bring bad luck to fishing craft.

"I'm known as a guy who gets a bag of bananas and hides them on others' kayaks at tournaments. It's all done in good fun. Everybody laughs at it; nobody takes it seriously. They're kayaks, not boats!" Lotilla says by way of explanation.

In fact, Lotilla feels the sweet tropical fruits are good juju for 'yakkers. "I 'bananaed' one guy, call him P-Spark, he was the only one of us out there that day to get a sturgeon. Another guy likes eating them. 'E K' thinks they're great for breakfast; he's always asking for another," Lotilla says.

Welcome or not, pranking invites retaliation. Lotilla remembers one o'dark thirty morning in particular. Just about ready to launch, he dropped a pair of rods into the flushmount holders on his kayak. Oddly, they didn't quite fit. Puzzled and no doubt not quite awake, Lotilla pushed harder.

"I couldn't get them all the way in there. I didn't realize the problem until smashed banana started squirting out!" he says with a rueful chuckle.

Compared to what was about to happen, the slimed sticks were nothing. Lotilla was at another NorCal Kayak Anglers tournament at the time. These things are incredible; the potluck feasts that follow the fishing are full-on culinary throw-downs. At this one, a 70-pound roast suckling pig was the center attraction. Little did Lotilla know, he'd meet Mr. Piggy again early the next morning.

"I opened the hatch of my kayak and I swear I screamed like a girl. The pig's head was in there and looking right at me. It was totally Godfather," Lotilla says through a burst of laughter.

"I'm done; I can't top that," says the reformed prankster of his surrender. But he still can't shake the reputation. "When someone finds a banana, they always point the finger at me. I can't defend myself!" the former banana battler says.

Here's looking at you! Joel Lotilla

Here’s looking at you! Joel Lotilla's little friend peers out from his hatch. The surprise passenger was retaliation for one too many bananas hidden in his buddies' kayaks. Courtesy photo.