Santiago and Manolin recognize the role that luck plays in pursuing their livelihoods as fishermen. After forty days without a catch, Manolin's parents told him that Santiago "was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky" and forced him to begin fishing with another boat, which had a good catch when he joined them.
Santiago tempers his belief in luck, however, with confidence in his skill as a fisherman with many years of experience, knowledge, and tricks. He sets his baits carefully and with planning.
I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck any more. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.
When the big fish shows interest in Santiago's bait, the knowledge of the habits of the marlin is essential, but a little superstition also contributes to the moment.
"What a fish," he said. "He has it sideways in his mouth now and he is moving off with it." Then he will turn and swallow it, he thought. He did not say that because he knew that if you said a good thing it might not happen.
Luck plays a role in the lives of Santiago and Manolin, but skill is the more important factor.