Fishing Glossary - Chris Ellis

Fishing Glossary - Chris Ellis

One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a successful steelheader is grasping the lingo that most successful steelheaders use. Just about every sort of hobbyist group has terms and phrases that only make sense to others with that same hobbyist group.


Change the camera angle and the fish has a head bigger than the fisherman.


For example, my wife is a horse nerd, and she’ll say things to other horse nerds that leave me scratching my head. I have no idea what it means when she says “I was going out to tack Roscoe up to longe before the reining show, and I saw he’s been cribbing again.” or “He was way too forehand to hit his flying lead change, so I tried to collect him…” Likewise, I doubt she knows what I’m talking about when I talk poker with my friends. To me, “I was sitting on suited connecters from cutoff in a four-way limped pot, so I smooth call. Then the button fires 4x…” makes total sense. To her it’s like trying to smell the number purple. What follows is my attempt to guide beginners through the ar-cane world of Steelheaders’ lingo. Being able to learn these terms and casually drop them into conversation will allow you to blend right in with any group of seasoned steelhead fishermen, and give the appearance of being one of them.

Steelhead: A mythical creature rumored to exist in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions. Many people, even some people you trust, may have claimed to have seen or even caught one. But the photos are grainy and detail is lacking. See also Sasquatch and Chupacabra.

Trip: 1.) A journey, undertaken by one or more anglers, to travel to a river where steelhead are rumored to live for the stated purpose of catching one or more steelhead. 2.) One of the many methods by which an angler can fall while fishing; usually accompanied by either significant splashing, a broken rod, or both.

“Fish on!”: An excited phrase typically cried out by anglers upon setting their hook into a rock or, in crowded waters, into an-other angler’s line. Often followed with compound expletives.






Wife: 1.) The person charged with making sure that prospective steelhead anglers don’t become actual steelhead anglers. 2.) The person who accompanies you on a fishing trip for the first time, lands a steelhead within the first 10 minutes of the trip, then asks why you never catch any. 3.) Someone who tries to convince you that things like school clothes for the kids and electric bills are more important than that 12th side drifting rod.

Children: 1.) Small humans living at your home who require attention and groceries. 2.) Fishing buddies who get cold, want to throw rocks in the water, ask lots of questions, and sleep all the way home.
Rod: An unnecessarily expensive piece of linear graphite used to cast, fight fish, and tangle in overhead limbs.
Reel: A line storage device, attached to a rod, used primarily for generating backlashes.
Line: 1.) A threadlike substance stored on a reel, and to which lures and swivels are tied. 2.) An earnest-sounding excuse presented to a wife concerning the purchase of multiple $4 spinners or $7 plugs.
Hook: Clever advertisements dreamed up by the manufacturers of fishing tackle, designed to convince anglers that there is actually hope of catching a steelhead.
Guide: A person who takes you for a boat ride, at considerable expense, to tell you stories about how good the fishing was yesterday.
Driftboat: A Fiberglass, wooden, or welded aluminum apparatus used to collide forcibly with rocks and collect rainwater during wintertime fishing trips.

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River Gage: An online resource created for the joint purposes of artificially and unreasonably increasing anglers’ spirits for the next day’s fishing trip and ensuring that every other living, breathing human being within 100 miles fishes the same river that you do.
Fishing Rig: 1.) The vehicle you own, regardless of its dimensions, drive train, or mechanical soundness, when your buddy calls you about going on a fishing trip. 2.) The vehicle your buddy owns when you call your buddy about going on a fishing trip.
Boat Ramp: A place that people with no spatial awareness or understanding of basic physics, and who possess the driving skills of a chimpanzee on Quaaludes, go to practice their trailering skills, most frequently on days when the river is in perfect shape and there are already several boats that have launched before you and are headed downstream.
Net: In larger sizes, a device used to knock fish off of an angler’s hook immediately prior to landing. In smaller sizes, a device slung around the shoulders by an elastic cord, designed to snag on brush and then snap violently forward and strike directly between an angler’s shoulder blades.
Your Lunch: The preferred diet of your fishing buddy.
Waders: 1.) Theoretically, a waterproof garment worn to ensure that one’s pants remain dry while one wades. 2.) In reality, a garment used to accumulate and transport leaks.
Knee-deep Water: Water that reaches approximately to an angler’s belt.
Hip-deep Water: Water that reaches approximately to an angler’s armpits.
Rock: 1.) Items located on riverbeds whose purpose is to snag up an angler’s tackle. 2.) Items, usually pointy, found immediately under an angler who falls down.
Slip float: The usual order of events when an angler steps on the icy or fish slimey floor of a driftboat and goes overboard.
Sinker: Same as a slip float, only when the angler is not wearing a PFD.
Thermos: An elongated round item that can be applied to the floor of a drift-boat and used to create either a slip float or a sinker in the absence of ice or fish slime. See also fish whacker or 1 liter bottle of Pepsi.
Spinner: An attention-hogging slip float or a sinker with a sense of flair, who excessively choreographs his slip float or sinker routine.
Braided line: Line designed to cut an angler’s fingers when snagged up.
Shrimp Scent: Foul-smelling fluid used primarily to spill and leak out inside of your buddy’s fishing rig, especially if his fishing rig is also his wife’s car.
Treble Hook: An extremely sharp item whose purpose is to ensure that fingers bleed when reaching blindly into vest pockets.
Fluorocarbon Leader: Line meant to ensure that, once purchased, steelhead fishermen can no longer afford fuel to put in a fishing rig.
Bead: Small, brightly-colored, spherical item with many uses. A bead’s primary use is to spill en masse and onto the floor of the driftboat when the angler sneezes or the oarsman hits a rock. See also Lil’ Corky.
Nightmare Jig: The dance that your cousin Dave does after a few trips to the keg at your cousin Mike’s wedding reception. Most frequently associated with the song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”.
Hook File: A tool designed to either 1.) Remain at home when an angler really needs it, or 2.) Remain in an angler’s boat, vest or pack and collect rust.
Needle Nose Pliers: A crude implement used to wear holes in the pockets of jeans.
Polarized Glasses: Eyewear which permits the angler to see up to 99.9% of the fish he can’t catch. Raincoat: 1.) An item of clothing left at home on rainy days. 2.) A depository for treble hooks and shrimp scent.
Fingerless Gloves: Hand covers, sold in pairs, which inevitably become separated from one another.
Lucky Hat: The lid you were wearing that one time when you almost got a bite.
Fishing Hole: A particular area on a river where steelhead anglers go to lose lures and use things like waders and polarized glasses
FIDO: An otherwise attractive fishing hole that is at the bottom of a particularly deep, nasty canyon. An acronym for “F**k It. Drive On.”
Log Truck: An incredibly frightening monster which inhabits forest roads. Typically encountered at extremely close range and high speed while negotiating a slick and narrow corner.
Chromer: 1.) An extremely bright, ocean-fresh steelhead. 2.) Any steelhead you claim to have caught when there are no known photographs of said fish. 3.) An angler who doesn’t quite veer far enough into the ditch upon encountering a log truck, and who becomes a smear on the log trucks front bumper.
Burner: 1.) A dark, spawned out steelhead. 2.) Your thumb when you decide to be a hero and clamp down on a baitcasting reel’s spool when fighting a runaway steelhead. Easy hike: A near-stream journey closely matching the Bataan Death March in misery and duration, only with more nettles and blown-down trees.
4:00 AM: 6:32 AM.
Early Afternoon: 6:32 PM.
Six, Eight Pounds: 1.) Approximately what you determine that your buddy’s 32-inch steelhead weighed. 2.) Approximately what you determine that your 22-inch steelhead weighed.
Twenty Pounds: 1.) Any steelhead you’ve caught that is more than 34 inches long. 2.) Any hooked steelhead that breaks your line.

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Great Lakes Angler


Hen: A female steelhead.

Buck: A young, male steelhead angler who has caught between two and 30 steelhead, and as a result knows all there is to know about steelhead fishing. Often named Carson, Dakota, Hunter or Brayden. Their call (“Dude! Dude? Duuuude…”) is very distinctive.
Bass: Fish thoughtfully provided to those too dull-witted or impatient to fish for steelhead. See also ditch pickles.
Editors Note: Please comment below with some of your favorite steelheading terms. Let's keep this going!






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These are good for a chuckle.

Jim Bradbury

They are all good, IIII have heard it all after having fished for over 70 years. Keep up the good work. Love to read all the stories.

George Jameson

Knuckled: the initiation of all first time fly fishing steelheaders when they reach down to grab the reel and come back with bloody knuckles and broken line. Also what all veterans pray for and “accidentally” forget to warn them about, like there wasn’t enough already.

Gregory Novak

This is the funniest thing that I have read in a long time. The problem is it’s all true. Tight Lines- When your fishing line is caught in a tree.

Joe Zaklikowski

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