By Elliott Stark
As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. In the fishing world, there is generally more than one way to say just about anything.
If someone wants to refer to a big fish the following, depending on where the person is from, would be perfectly acceptable means of expressing the size of the creature: hog, lunker, sow, mogan, tank, slob, gorilla, donkey, cow, monster, fatty, huge!, giant, pig, a full-grown one, a real one—and those are just the ones that are fit to print (there’s a certain Australian exclamation that is outstanding, too). The following is a breakdown of sportfishing slang.
People: Anglers, Charter Guests, and other Non-Captains
Googan – an inexperienced fisherman that doesn’t know what he is doing. When it is ascribed to a person, it is generally done so with a fair bit of contempt. It is the universal term.
Jack Bag – a googan in North Carolina.
Shmiiii – a crustier name for a googan. It is used by South Florida guys and comes from the Smeagol (pronounced Shmeegal), the awful little creature from Lord of the Rings who’s always after “my precious.” It was provided to us by Capt. Matthew Miller from Pensacola.
Slapper/ Squeezer – Australian terms for someone who is a tool bag or otherwise too much to deal with. The terms, which may be used interchangeably, refer to a male person who is known to either squeeze or slap a certain part of his body quite often. It may also be used to describe a googan.
Potlicker – A term used in the Gulf of Mexico to describe people with googan-like tendencies. According to Bryan Case, owner of Venice’s Honey Badger Fishing, if you…. Only fish for trout under birds…. Change your oil wearing gloves… Use live bait while bass fishing… Bring an AR-15 deer hunting… or, if your mom makes brownies and you get the dirty bowl out of the dishwasher and lick it…. You might be a potlicker.
Lump – a Hawaiian term for a charter guest who gets on the boat and shows no energy. A lump just sits there all day and doesn’t talk to the captain or crew. Helpful Harry – a Hawaiian term that describes the opposite of a lump. It is a charter guest who comes aboard and wants to do everything in the cockpit.
When we asked our New England contributor for fishing slang words used to describe someone that is generally unlikeable, he replied, “Up here we are pretty blunt. If some-one is an a_hole, we just call them an a_hole.“ Speaking of those who are generally described with contempt…
This scenario plays out in marinas all over the world, every day. A sailboater comes ashore and walks up to the marina office. “How much is your fuel?” he asks. Upon hearing the answer, he unleashes a loud, annoying whistle the kind that suggests he believes the price to be too high – and that because it requires no fuel, his manner of propulsion is superior.
Immediately after whistling he asks, “Where’s your pisser?” What do you call such a person? A Whistle Pisser! Other names for sailboaters include: WAFIs – wind-assisted f ’ing idiots, NAFs – Non Angling F___s, blow boaters and cruisers.
Captains: The Big Skipper, Inhabitant of the Big Chair
Gilligan – an older term used to describe a captain who is nice enough, but generally clueless with many goofball tendencies. Origin – Gilligan’s Island.
Big Fish Bert – a captain who claims that ever fish he sees, especially those he releases, is extralarge. If this person is a charter captain, he may be engaged in tip chasing.
Clam Lipper – a captain, who after locating a body of hungry fish, forgets how to use his radio, failing to inform his friends and dock mates of the action. Hot Shot – an older term for a captain that backs in very fast and carries himself arrogantly. High Hook – the captain who caught the most fish on a day, trip, or season.
Marlin and Other Billfish
Flopper (Costa Rica), Jumper – a free jumping sailfish or marlin.
Mud Dart – a billfish that dies upon release, sinking out and sticking nose-first in the mud on the bottom.
Window Shoppers – fish that appear in the spread, but do not produce a bite.
Rat – a little marlin or swordfish. Capt. Steve “Stymie” Epstein tells us that in Hawaii a rat might also be called a cheese eater. The term is sometimes used to describe male blue marlin. Beakies – Australian slang for billfish.
Diablo – Translated directly, diablo is the Spanish word for devil. In Panama, diablo is used to refer to marlin. This name makes quite a bit of sense, given the power of marlin fishing captivate and enamor fishermen. When considering this power of marlin and thinking about the legends of people who have sold their souls to the devil, the name suits quite well. Que venga el diablo!
Another fascinating term that relates to marlin fishing in Panama is Chupacabra. While you may think a Chupacabra is a goat-eating monster, the term also refers to live bait-eating porpoises. How, you may ask, do you know if the porpoise approaching the live bait is a Chupacabra or a regular porpoise? You have to wait to see if the damned thing eats your bonito!
Blue Marlin – Man in the Blue Suit, blue one, line burner (Australia). White Marlin – Skillie (east coast)/ whitey, white one. Striped Marlin – stripeys, spanglies (Australia – named after the Star Spangled Banner). A Fixed wing is a black marlin in Australia. Chucker – Hawaiian term for spearfish. According to Capt. Chris Donato the term originated many years ago when a fisherman who was in the movie business was covered up by spearfish. Referring to the large number of spearfish, he said they were like “spearchuckers” a term for movie extras.
Sailfish – The sailfish is an interesting creature, one which has spawned an interesting language of its own. In places where sailfish are the kings of the offshore world (South Florida, Guatemala and tournaments in Costa Rica, for instance) they are referred to in glowing terms.
Spindlebeaks and dredge finders come to mind. Interestingly, in places where marlin are the target of choice, there are quite a few derogatory terms for the sailfish. There are those, especially when not looking to complete a grand slam, who actually hate catching them. Bad terms for sailfish include the likes of: sea turd, garbage bag, sea rat, and dirty diaper.
Grander – a thousand pounder. Tonner – the mythical 2,000-pounder. Big Juli – Australian term for a very large marlin who has been hooked many times, but never actually caught. Big Moes – Hawaiian term for big marlin, provided by Captain Marlin Parker of Kona. Erville – an Australian term for the largest marlin anyone has ever seen. It is a mythical creature that has never been caught. It is named for a dinosaur-like marlin statue in a shopping center in Cairns.
Tutu – the Hawaiian term for grandmother. It is also used to describe a big marlin. Dozer – a big marlin.
Slang Related to Tackle, Hardware and Electronics
Streakers – marks on the sonar of a tuna or other fish rising (to eat a bait or lure). Chirping/Marking – marking fish on the sonar.Gaffs, etc – steel, axes, picks (Australia), the Poco Tag stick – in honor of the famous tournament in Texas, of course. Harpoon – the brass mullet (North Carolina), dart, poon. Once a fish is harpooned or gaffed, it is stuck. A flyer is a flying gaff. If you’re a flounder gigger, you may feed the fish the five-eyed shrimp. If you’re going to kill a fish, you may choose to grease it, whack ‘em, stroke ‘em, hang ‘em, or ice ‘em.
When it comes to fishing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, Captain Jason Buck describes how captains refer to platforms and drill ships offshore in the same way they’d talk about deer camp. “I left the gate open for you,” is what a departing captain might say to one arriving when they have been catching a lot of fish at the rig recently. If the bite has stopped at the rig, he might say, “The gate is closed.”
Center rigger (and the bait that is fished out of it ) – stinger (Hawaii), WWFB – way, way f ’ing back (North Carolina). The backfield is another North Carolina term that refers to the long rigger and the shotgun.
Marlin lures – jigs (California), baits (Hawaii), plastics, or plugs. Fishing with lures is known as dragging and snagging or pulling plastics.
Gingerbread – an old school term for teak on a sportfisher.
Slang Related to Successful Fishing
Garring Out – A Florida panhandle term that is used to describe a day when you’re destroying your world. When you’ve killed a limit of everything possible and have blood pouring out of the bilges etc.
Shampooed – Capt. Daniel Spencer provided us with a North Carolina saying attributed to Capt. Billy Baum. When you have a blue marlin’s head and shoulders on the teaser you’re being shampooed. Baum also described
fishing on the Gulf Stream as being on I-95, because once you’re on it you’re moving northbound no matter what you do.
Covered up – a term for when there are lots of fish in the vicinity, when all of your lines are bit, and you’re having a hard time keeping bait in the water for very long. While covered up descries having a lot of fish in the area, a
rod that is hooked up (especially a chicken rig with multiple hooks) is loaded up. Ate up with it – the term used to describe someone (especially a boat owner or a member of his or her family) who is consumed with fishing and wants to do it every chance they get.
Gunnelled up – a term used on the east coast of Florida to describe what happens when you set the hook on a large grouper and it doubles the rod over and takes line. Dumping – a northeast term for a fish taking line. If a fish takes all the line on the reel, you have been spooled. Tight, Get tight – hooked up on a fish.
Once you get tight, when the rod loads up you are bent, bent over, or bendo. Una vaina bien – a term used in the Dominican Republic to describe something good.
Kurt – A North Carolina term that originated from fishing with a heavy-set guy… named Kurt. When you’re meat fishing and you ask the mate, “How are we doing?” in regards to keeping a fish, if he says “We’re Kurt.” It means you’re over the limit… and you’re heavy.
There are also a number practices and rituals that may induce fish to bite. The dunkaroo – with someone holding your feet, do a headstand and place your head in a bucket of ice water for 10-seconds. Then shotgun a beer. This of course, will make the marlin bite. The fish whistle – a medicinal practice involving the use of cannabis cigarettes to call in the marlin. Those who enjoy fish whistles commonly dream of catching square groupers.
Slang Related to Not-So-Successful Fishing, Going for a Boat Ride
San Cocho – the dreaded bodiless ballyhoo that comes back after you miss a bite. If the let down of missing a fish combined with the miserable sight of just a bait head flossed to a circle hook were not bad enough, now people make fun of you for having San Cocho’d the fish. Salado – a Spanish term used in Central America to describe a person who is unlucky or seemingly cursed. Translated directly it means “salted” or excessively salty. If you get 10 San Cochos in a row, maybe you are salado.
Palm Beach Release/Long Distance Release – dropping a fish quickly after hook up (but definitely before catching and releasing it). In some circles, missing a fish may also be known as practicing conservation. Knock down – when a fish knocks a bait or lure out of the rigger clip (usually associated with a bite that doesn’t result in a hook up). Skunked – what happens when you don’t catch a fish.
Douched out (Florida Keys)/Pea Soup – terms that describe green or cloudy water. When the waves are big and the water offshore is rough, terms such as nautical, sporty and rougher than shit may be used to describe the
situation. Zing pow! – what happens when you put too much pressure on a running fish and it breaks your line. The word comes from the sound made by the line breaking (right before all the curse words start).
Toothy critter – some fish with sharp teeth that either severs your line or your bait. It may be used to describe various types of mackeral, sharks, barracuda or other scourges of mono and flouro leaders. In South Florida, barracuda are sometimes known as the Abaco spotted seatrout. Sharks – the man in the grey suit (sometimes brown suit), the taxman – especially after it collects taxes by eating the cobia or tuna you’ve hooked. In the Northeast blue sharks are known as blue dogs.
Coryphaena hippurus – is the latin name of a colorful, good eating fish that goes by many names. In addition to the standard dolphinfish, dorado (Spanish) and mahi mahi (Hawaiian), the dolphinfish is known by a variety of slang terms. These include: dollies (Australia), dodos and a complicated size classification. As Islamorada, Florida’s Capt. Nick Stanzcyk relates, dolphin are known by the following classification.
An undersized dolphin (less than five-pounds or about 20inches) may be called a peanut, chicken, schoolie or a shaker (because you shake them off the hook at the side of the boat). A gaffer is approximately five to 15-pounds. A five pounder might also be a heavy lifter. A 20-plus pound dolphin is a slammer.
A super slammer is 40-plus pounds. Were that not enough, in the Keys wahoo are sometimes called zebras, queen snapper are known as goldfish. Sportfish captains who sailfish call kingfish slime (kingfish guys also hate sailfish).
Tuna likewise have various names in various parts. Rhode Island’s Capt. Jack Sprengel is a repository of Northeastern fishing slang – many of which relate to tuna. A yellow is a yellowfin tuna, a thunn or a Charlie is a bluefin, an eyeball is a bigeye and a penguin is an albacore.
Shearwaters, known as tuna birds in other parts, are called errrh! because of their obnoxious noise they make. Stormy petrels are known as butter chickens because of their habit of diving into chum slicks. On the west coast a yellowfin over 200-pounds is a cow. In Hawaii, a big tuna (over 200) may be a gorilla, though a fish over 100-pounds may be called an ahi as well.
Blue runners are a commonly used baitfish that are distributed widely. In Panama they make great tuna baits. In the Gulf they are livebaited for blues. Sailfish eat them, so do roosterfish and cubera snapper. Their variety of uses is matched only by the variety of names: hard tails (Gulf of Mexico), kujinua (Panama), runners, ghetto gogs (South Florida tournament kite fishermen who run out of goggle eyes). Making bait means catching live bait.
Marking bait, seeing a school of bait on the sonar. Run that dog refers to trolling a mullet down a seawall.
Acknowledgements: The following captains provided regionally-specific dock speak that made this article possible. Capt. Jack Sprengel (Rhode Island), Capt. Fin Gaddy (North Carolina), Capt. Glenn Cameron (Florida), Jarad “Dingo” Boshammar (Australia), Capt. Matthew Miller (Pensacola), Capt. Chris Donato (Hawaii), Capt. Marlin Parker (Hawaii), Capt. Stymie Epstein (Hawaii), Capt. Daniel Spencer (North Carolina), Capt. Nick Stanzcyk (Florida Keys), Capt. Tony Berkowitz (Cabo), Capt. Jason Buck (Gulf Coast), Bryan Case (Texas), and Capt. Dale Wills (Florida). Many others posted shared their favorite slang on social media. Thanks.