Last Updated on November 30, 2021
Have you ever stood in the fishing aisle of a sporting goods store and listened to the old-timers tell their tales? I have spent countless hours doing this, but before I became the fishing guru I am today I couldn’t determine whether they were using slang or speaking in tongues.
All I could do back then was stand there, smile, and nod along despite having
zero clue what the old-timers were talking about. I started having flashbacks to high school algebra when they tried to convince me that X could stand for a number (I still deny that this is possible).
After years of study, I have finally mastered the lexicon of fishing. To spare you the torture of plastering a big, dumb grin across your face while you pretend to comprehend the expert anglers’ jargon, I’ve compiled this indispensable glossary for your reference.
Memorize it now – nothing is more important than fishing terms.
Action: The measure of a fishing rod’s performance standards – essentially the point at which it bends when tension is applied to the line. When fishermen go looking for some action, it’s decidedly less risqué.
Angler: An individual who spends inordinate amounts of time and money attempting to outwit an animal with a brain the size of a pea.
Artificial Bait: Man-made bait used to catch fish. Dough baits like PowerBait are an excellent example. Heck, even regular old bread dough constitutes man-made bait.
Artificial Lures: Man-made lures used to catch fish. Crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits are all artificial fishing lures.
Backlash: When you create a bird’s nest out of your fishing line in your baitcasting reel. Backlash also describes your wife’s reaction upon discovering you paid more for your rod and reel than you did for her cubic fauxconia engagement ring.
Bag Limit: The number of fish you are legally allowed to keep, somewhat like the maximum number of women you can date at the same time in the same area code. (Although I typically keep that number at a safe and constant zero.)
Bail: The rounded wire on a spinning reel that spools your fishing line. Also the thing your cousin asks for when he calls you from jail at one in the morning.
Baitfish: A small fish, such as a minnow, that gets eaten by predators. It’s the circle of life.
Bar: A shallow area that protrudes out into the water, or the place where your cousin is no longer welcome until he provides $600 for professional stool relegging.
Barb: The sharp point on the end of a hook that angles outward to keep the fish’s lip from shaking loose. Some hooks are barbless to facilitate the catch and release process.
Beds: A small area where bass lay their eggs and subsequently become extremely possessive of. Also the leading cause of bed head.
Bite: The big event all anglers are perpetually waiting for; the moment a fish decides to ruin the rest of its day.
Black Bass: A term used to describe several different bass species including largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. None of these fish are actually black, which casts doubt on the descriptive abilities of anglers.
Bobber: The floating device that keeps your bait at a specific depth and indicates when you have a bite.
Brackish Water: Describes naturally occuring water that is more saline than freshwater, but not as saline as sea water. Brackish water typically exists around estuaries and may give habitat to freshwater and ocean fish alike.
Braided Fishing Line: A resilient yet small diameter fishing line. It’s often used as the mainline with a connected mono or fluoro leader.
Brush Pile: Man-made structures that provide underwater shade and shelter to fish species including bass and crappie. It’s easy to lose a lure at a brush pile, so it’s best to rehearse your curse words before casting near one.
Bottom Fishing: Fishing using weights that keep baits near or on the bottom. Popular for catching catfish.
Channel: In fishing terminology, the word “channel” commonly refers to the deepest area of a creek or river. Geologists have their own definition for this word, but they are nerds.
Chum: Chopped up fish and other morsels that game fish find appealing. “Chumming the water” means you’re treating an area with bait in order to guide fish to your waiting lines.
Clarity: How deep you can see into the water. Not to be confused with a clarinet, which is your cue to leave the country if your kid ever brings one home from school.
Cove: A small bay or inlet on the coastline, where you can catch an astounding number of fish under the right conditions. Not to be confused with a cave, a feature where you can catch rabies.
Cover: Natural or artificial objects on top of a body of water under which fish prefer gathering. Also the kinds of songs that bands with names like “Arrowsmith” and “Blind Leppard” play at seedy bars.
Cricket: Your lure, typically a jig. Also a source of moral instruction for sentient puppets.
Dink: A small fish. “All I ever catch are dinks.”
Down Riggers: Heavy weights that help sink your lures and baits quickly to the bottom.
Donkey: The term used for a “big a** bass” by some anglers. (We’d never use that kind of language in a family-friendly fishing glossary.)
Drag: A function of your reel that allows the line to spool off to prevent it from snapping. To learn more about drag, locate your nearest “drag bar” and tell the patrons you’re “looking for a good time,” i.e. seeking more information about fishing reel functionality.
Drift Fishing: The poor man’s way of finding fish. Drop your bait down and just float along until you get a bite!
Drop-Off: A sharp increase in water depth. Could be the edge of the Earth, so be careful!
Electronics: The slang term for your sonar, fish finder, or other fish locating technology. Similar to a Zoom meeting, except you’re connecting to fish instead of surly coworkers with dead, emotionless eyes.
Fish Finder, aka Fish TV: An electronic device that detects objects below the water’s surface, including fish. Some anglers say fish finders have ruined the art of fishing. We agree with them until a fish finder manufacturer buys advertising on this website.
Finesse Fishing: Using lighter tackle and fishing slower, often with soft plastics. Trout, which are picky little devils, often require finesse fishing.
Fluorocarbon: A premium fishing line that is virtually invisible underwater (aka fluoro).
Fly fishing: A type of fishing where you use the weight of the line instead of the weight of the lure to cast. Fly fishing requires specialized gear including reels, rods, waders and tackle. It’s kind of like the telemark skiing of fishing.
Forage: The food the fish you are targeting are eating. Matching your bait, fly or lure to whichever forage the fish are currently hunting for can bring immense success!
Gaff: A large pole-mounted hook used to pull very large fish on deck. Using a gaff often precludes catch and release, as fish with deep, gaping holes in their bodies typically fare poorly in the wild.
Game Fish: The broad range of fish that most anglers target. Bass, sunfish, and catfish are often considered game fish. This term varies from state to state.
Hammer: A nickname for a darn good angler. Also my nickname, but for other reasons.
Hawg: A big fish, usually over 4 pounds. “She said she caught a hawg. We thought she was talking about her boyfriend at first!”
Honey Hole: A sweet fishing spot, not to be confused with that bar on I70 that has all the pickup trucks with Confederate flag bumper stickers parked outside.
Hump: In bass fishing, a “hump” is a section of lake bottom that gradually rises to form an underwater island of sorts. Also that thing your dog does that you hate.
Ice Fishing: A brilliant sport developed by fishermen who can’t wait until spring to begin harassing fish again.
Inactive Fish: A fish that cannot be compelled to bite, typically because the water’s temperature or oxygen level is too low or he’s just a jerk who loves wasting your time.
Jig: A hook with a lead head covered by a skirt or hair. Also the dance an angler does after landing a hawg.
Juice: The best spot for fishing in a body of water. Also found driving white Broncos during comically slow police chases.
Keeper: A fish worth keeping for dinner or taxidermy, or someone you can just barely tolerate long enough to marry.
Laydown: A tree lying horizontally in the water. You can also yell this phrase at your dog when he’s being an idiot, but your dog will probably interpet it as encouragement.
Livewell: The place in the boat where you keep the keepers so they don’t die before you return to land.
Lunker: This is another name for a big bass. These bass remind me of my ex-wife: They take my bait, break my rod, and then they empty my wallet! At least no lunker ever tore up my Jimmy Buffet T-shirt collection. (I miss you, “License to Chill, Margaritaville” shirt.)
Lure: A man-made object that imitates the target species’ food and entices them to bite.
Mono: The disease you get from kissing beautiful women right on the lips, or shorthand for a monofilament fishing line.
Moon Phases: Refers to full moon, half moon, and quarter moon, all of which have a different effect on bass behavior.
Our Hole: A community fishing spot where friends and neighbors gather to drink, tell jokes, brag, and occasionally catch fish.
Panfish: Despite its name, this is not a fish that looks like a frying pan. It is instead a fish small enough to be fried in a pan, but also legally large enough to keep. Bluegill, crappie, and sunfish are all examples of panfish. Butter, salt, lemon – bliss, baby.
Pattern: What the fish are doing on a given day, and also the type of male baldness that precipitated my decision to buy a Camaro.
PFD: Personal flotation device, or “pretty freaking dinky” fish.
Pier Rat: An angler who only fishes from a pier.
Pig: A big ol’ bass. “Did you see that 8 pound pig Wes caught the other day!?”
Pocket: Not the pocket on your pants, but a small indention in the cover or shoreline where fish often congregate to feed.
Point: A finger of land jutting into the water. “She told him to fish the point, so he’s been pointing to fish on his electronics.”
Power Fishing: When you’re fishing quickly with lures such as a crankbait or spinnerbait. Your Uncle Jim Bob is not “power fishing” when he dips car battery leads into the lake; he’s cheating, but he’s still a good dude at heart.
Professional Overrun: Backlash for professionals.
Reaction Bait: A lure designed to force fish to bite out of instinct or reaction (as opposed to hunger or enticement) such as jerkbaits, crankbaits, and other moving baits. Kinda like pushing your sibling’s buttons.
Riprap: Large rocks piled along the shoreline to prevent erosion, not a rap about ripping your pants.
School: A large group of fish that is actively feeding, which can produce enough keepers for the day in only a few casts. Also a large building where adults with halitosis torture children with concepts like “math,” “science” and “attendance.”
Seagull: The annoying guy who parks his boat right up your butt. “I could smell the Axe body spray on this seagull who was just a few inches away from crossing my line with every cast.”
Sight Fishing: Seeing fish before you try to catch them.
Snag: When your hook accidentally catches something it’s not supposed to, such as a submerged log or your friend’s earlobe.
Soft Plastic Lure: An artificial lure that can be rigged on a Carolina rig, Texas rig, drop shot, or many other types of rigs. They imitate many different creatures such as worms, crawdads, minnows, Loch Ness Monsters, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Spawn: The time of year fish get to making babies! Fish become extremely aggressive and fun to catch during spawning seaason, and females are often the biggest they will be all year.
Spincast: A “princess” fishing reel with a special button that helps you cast one-handed. Perfect for when you need your other hand free to hold a beer or point at important things. “Look, Frank! It’s the sun!”
Spinning Reel: The next level after graduating from your princess spincast reel. It has a bail that you open to cast and close to reel.
Standing Timber: Living or dead trees that are oriented vertically to the water. “I caught the toad of the day up yonder in the standing timber.”
Structure: Objects along the bottom of the water that fish use for safety. “My new boat became structure when I forgot to insert the plug.”
Suspended Fish: A fish (typically a bass) that is neither rising nor sinking in the water column, and accordingly difficult to catch.
Tackle Box: A cheap plastic box that holds thousands of dollars worth of valuables – aka a place to keep your fishing hooks and lures. Don’t store your live bait in there!
Terminal Tackle: Tackle that is attached onto or near the end of a fishing line including swivels, sinkers, hooks and bobbers.
Transition: When the habitat changes. This could be a change in water depth or a change in bottom consistency, such as mud to rock.
Trolling Motor: An electric motor used to quietly propel a boat so as not to upset surrounding fish. Useful for getting the drop on unsuspecting game wardens as well.
Topwater Lure: A lure that fish blow up on! Poppers, buzzbaits and walking baits are all examples of lures designed for use at the top of the water.
Wacky Rig: When you turn your soft-plastic worm sideways to help it dance better. May have a better chance at attracting fish, but more likely to get snagged as well.
You now have the equivalent of a master’s degree in fishing slang. Go ahead and take this glossary to your local college, inform them you just read the whole thing, and aggressively demand a diploma; or, barring that, a complimentary corn dog from the cafeteria. If they laugh at you or threaten to call security, it is only because they are jealous of how worldly you have become.
Did we fail to mention your favorite fishing terms slang? Let us know in the comments below!