Posted by: Tom K.
February 16, 2012

Tom K.

It’s all in a Nickname


Sometimes it’s tough to figure out just what the heck a fisherman is talking about.  Fish names vary by region, but they also shift around quite a bit within the region. Proper names and common names are usually the culprit, and it’s a head scratcher when someone reports a big pod of blackfish in Massachusetts Bay and a Connecticut angler says “I thought that Blackfish lived in and around rocks and jetties?”  Sometimes it can get very funny, much like the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First.”

Some of the names seem to come from natural events.  One of the various names for Little tunny is an appleknocker. That came about from the time of year when the fish departs the coastline, which is when the apples fall from the trees.  Squeteague is the Native American name for Cynoscion regalis, a fish that inhabits bays and marshes.  It’s known as a weakfish because hooks pull from their soft mouths, tide runners because the fast-swimming fish move in large schools along the surface.  Redfish, or drum, get their name from the sound they make during mating season. And the Redear sunfish comes by the name shellcracker honestly; they eat snails and other freshwater mollusks by cracking their shells.

Here’s a start to a list of fish that come to mind.  It’s a fun way to start, and I’m sure if it were chronicled fully then there are likely to be more nicknames that common names.  That, to me, is part of the fun of it.

  • Blackfish: Pilot Whale
  • Lake Trout: Togue (Maine)
  • Squeteague: Weakfish, Tiderunner, Grey Trout, Sea Trout
  • Dolly Varden: Bull Trout
  • Menhaden: Bunker, Pogey
  • Chum Salmon: Dog Salmon (AK)
  • Bluefish: Blue Dogs
  • Herring: Buckies
  • Brook Trout: Square Tails
  • Striped Bass: Rockfish, stripers, linesiders, brown dogs, old pajamas
  • Little Tunny: False albacore, albies, appleknockers
  • Skipjack: Skippies, mushmouths
  • Redfish: Drum
  • Redear sunfish: Shellcrackers

Tom Keer is a freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He regularly writes for over a dozen magazines, and is the contributing editor of Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America and a columnist for The Upland Almanac. His book a “Flyfisher’s Guide to the New  England Coast” was published by Wilderness Adventures Press in 2010. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com

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