Fishing Terms Every Angler Should Know
Nov 13, 2020 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Fishing, just like any activity, has its fair share of unique terms. From gear and techniques to basic fish anatomy, there’s a lot you need to learn and memorize. So, if you don’t know your priests from your poppers, read on. These are the fishing terms every angler should know. 

angler inspecting his gear on a boat

Action

One of the key performance components of a fishing rod. Determined by a rod’s shape and material, action dictates how much and where the rod will bend. It also affects the speed at which a rod will go from loaded (bent) back to its original position. 

Anal Fin

The fin on the ventral (lower) side of the fish, and the closest one to the tail. Important for telling different species apart.

fishing terms: an infographic showing different fins on a fish

Angler

One who fishes.

Artificials

A common name for artificial lures, and an alternative to live or dead bait.

Backlash

Synonym for bird’s nest – or your worst nightmare. Backlash happens when the lure you cast slows down, but the spool doesn’t. This typically happens on baitcasting fishing reels.

Bag Limit

An official fishery-appointed restriction on the number of fish you can take on a given day. 

Bail

Part of a fishing reel that locks the line and prevents it from unspooling.

a closeup of a spinning reel on a fishing rod

Baitcaster

One of the most popular types of fishing reels.

Barb

A sharp, pointed tip sitting just behind the point of a fishing hook. Its purpose is to stop the bait or a fish from coming off.

Bimini

An open-front canvas that lies on top of the helm of the boat to keep the driver protected.

Bobber/Float

A floating piece of plastic that attaches to the fishing line. A bobber allows you to present your bait at the exact depth you want.

a closeup of a fishing boober floating in the water

Brackish (Water)

Water that is mostly fresh, but with some salt. You’ll mostly find them at the ends of tidal creeks.

Braid

A strong, super-thin type of fishing line.

Bycatch

Any fish or marine creature involuntarily caught while targeting a different species. Bycatch usually happens on large commercial fishing boats, and presents a major conservation issue. 

Bottom Feeder

A fish that feeds near the bottom of the sea. Duh.

Bottom Fishing

A fishing technique that involves lowering a weighted hook or lure near the bottom of the water column. Here’s a complete guide on how to do it.

pike fish swimming near the bottom

Butt

The end of the handle section of a rod.

Caudal Fin

The tail fin of a fish.

Catch-and-Release

The practice of releasing your catch while it’s still alive. With more and more species becoming endangered, knowing how to release your catch unharmed is increasingly important.

A man in a blue shirt and a cap releasing a Redfish off the side of a boat into the sea

Chum

Chopped baitfish thrown over the side of the boat to attract game fish.

Circle Hook

A conservation-friendly type of fishing hook.

Cocktail

This is a term you’d use to describe two or more types of bait on the hook at the same time.

Cold Front

An advancing edge of a cooler mass of air, replacing at ground level a warmer mass of air. Cold fronts have a huge effect on fishing.

Cover

A general term for pretty much anything a fish can use to hide. Examples include floating pieces of timber, a weedbed, concrete pillars, etc. 

Dacron

A synthetic material that is a common component in braided lines.

Two spools of braided fishing line, one purple and one green

Dorsal Fin

The first, or the first two fins on the back of a fish. 

Downriggers

Devices you can fit to a boat to lower your bait underwater and spread them out. They’re very useful for deep sea trolling.

Drag

A mechanism inside a fishing reel that puts pressure on the line being pulled, similar to a brake.

Drifting

A technique that involves fishing from a boat while floating along with the wind and tide.

Drop-Off

A sudden drop in the water depth.

Ebb Tide

A seaward water movement that happens during a tidal phase of lowering water level. The opposite of flood tide.

FAD

Short for “Fish Aggregating Device”. FADs are floating objects designed to attract pelagic fish. 

Ferrule

The end connection between multi-piece rod pieces.

Fishfinder

An electronic device used to detect fish and underwater structure. 

Fish On!

This is what you cry out when you hook a fish. Lets everybody onboard know about what’s going on, so that they can get out of the way. Also, very satisfying to shout out loud.

an angler battling a fish from a boat

Free-Spool

When a fishing reel is in “free-spool” mode, the line can unreel without tension.

Float

Synonym for “Bobber”.

Fluoro(carbon)

A type of fishing line. Because of its near-invisibility underwater, it’s often used as a leader. Don’t know what a leader is? Keep reading.

Flybridge

An open area on top of a boat that provides unobscured views of the surroundings.

Gaff

A pole with a sharp hook at the end. Used to pull fish from the water to the boat. You can’t use a gaff if you’re planning on releasing the fish!

Gills

Organs that allow fish to breathe underwater. You can see them if you look behind the gill coverings, which are located on both sides of a fish’s neck.

a closeup of fish gills on a Snapper

Grand Slam

A coveted angling achievement of catching at least three specific fish species in a single day. You can check out the various types of Grand Slams here.

Jig

A weighted type of fishing lure.

Jigging

A fishing technique that features sporadic up and down movements of the rod to imitate natural movement of a baitfish.

Keeper

A fish so nice, you’ve got to keep it.

Lateral Line

A sensory organ running along the side of the fish. The lateral line helps fish detect and communicate with other fish. It’s usually pretty visible, and can be very useful when trying to identify a specific species.

Two anglers posing with a big King Mackerel
King Mackerel have a very distinctive lateral line

Leader

A durable fishing line that’s not easily detectable underwater. It typically connects your hook with the main line. 

Ledge

An underwater structure, similar to a reef.

Livewell

A tank of water for keeping your catch or live bait in. On many boats, the livewell features a steady flow of fresh surrounding water, which helps keep the fish alive.

Lunker

A very large fish.

Lure

A type of artificial fishing bait used to attract fish.

Mainline

The main fishing line on a fishing reel.

Mono(filament)

An affordable and easy-to-use type of fishing line.

Outrigger

A pole that extends out from a boat to allow you to fish with multiple lines without the risk of tangling. Outriggers are a common sight on trolling boats.

a trolling outrigger

Overcast

Casting further than the fish you’re trying to catch in order to let the bait drift naturally towards it. 

Panfish

A common name for any game fish that can fit a pan but is still of a legal size to keep.

Party Boat

A large vessel that can take more than 6 people on a fishing trip.

A party boat with a large group of anglers on board heading to the fishing grounds

Pectoral Fin(s)

These are the fins on a fish’s side. They allow the fish to change their direction to the left or the right.

Pelagic

Relates to either the ocean’s water column or the fish who live there. Pelagic fish are fish who live neither too close to shore, nor too close to the bottom. Examples include Tuna, Barracuda, Sharks, etc.

Pelvic Fin(s)

A pair of fins located on the bottom side of a fish. Not all species have them.

Pier Rat

Not an actual rat! A pier rat is an angler who spends most of their time fishing from a pier. If you see an actual rat on a pier, we advise that you think of a name for it.

a pier angler adjusting his fishing gear

Plastics

A common name for plastic fishing lures.

Plug

Another type of fishing lure that features two or three treble hooks. 

Popper

A fishing lure designed to jump along the water’s surface in order to imitate a wounded baitfish or insect.

Priest

A club used to incapacitate a restless fish. A bit morbid, we know.

Reel

A cylindrical device mounted on a fishing rod that’s used to stow, cast, and retrieve a fishing line from.

Rocket Launcher

A row of metal rod holders typically located on the hard top above the helm. Looks awesome.

Tackle

A common name for pretty much all your fishing gear. Gear attached to the end of your fishing line is called “terminal tackle”. These are your hooks, weights, swivels, etc.

Tagging

Marking a fish by attaching a tag to it, so that it can be identified on recapture or even tracked.

This Shark has been given some real space-age tagging tech (Flikr, OCEARCH / CC BY 2.0)

(Pound) Test

Refers to the strength of a fishing line. A 20 lb test line is a line that can withstand up to 20 pounds of pressure without deforming or breaking. 

Transom

A flat platform at the stern of a boat that supports the engine.

Trolling

A fishing technique that employs dragging a hooked lure or bait through the water from a moving boat. To learn how to do it, check out our complete guide.

Setting the Hook

Pulling the rod in a jerking motion in order to lodge the hook in a fish’s mouth. Has to be done at just the right time.

an angler setting the hook in the fish's mouth

Shoal

A group of fish swimming together.

Sinker

A weight attached to a hook or lure. It allows longer casting, lowering the bait more quickly, and placing it at the right depth.

two boxes of fishing sinkers on a table

Spincaster

A simple fishing reel that features a metal nose cone, which hides all the important components of the reel inside.

Spinning Reel

One of the most popular types of fishing reels. It boasts an open-face design, a drag adjustment on top, and a metal bail.

Spoon

A curved concave metal fishing lure that moves through the water in uneven motions.

Strike

Synonym for “setting the hook.”

Swell

A wave coming from offshore that is not affected by local winds.

Swivel

A metal rotating link that connects two components of a fishing rig – in most cases, two fishing lines.

a closeup of a fishing line on a swivel

Ventral Fin

The fin located on the front of a fish’s abdomen.

Waders

Waterproof boots worn to keep the angler dry. Can be knee-, waist-, or even chest-high. Wading – fishing while standing in the water. 

Walk the Dog

A topwater fishing technique that involves retrieving the lure in a zig-zag pattern.

So there you have it. Fishing terms can be tricky to memorize, but this list will hopefully set you on the right track. All you have to do now is catch some fish!

Now, let’s hear from you. Are there any must-know fishing terms we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below!

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