Fishing Terms Explained – Do You Speak Fishing?

Do You Speak Fishing? Learn the Lingo if You are Just Starting Out!

Fishing terms explained - Glossary

Once you buy your first fishing rod and reel, you will soon wonder if you entered a foreign country, at least in terms of language.

Fishing, whether the spincasting or fly-fishing variety, hosts a lingo all its own in some instances. At other times, it actually proves quite intuitive.

To help you navigate this immense, slang-speckled body of a language, the following glossary should equip your tongue with all you need to convey to a clerk what you are looking for at the tackle shop, understand what a fellow angler is telling you and share stories with your fishing buddies once you get back home from a trip.

We separated this glossary into two sections, spin or bait and fly fishing, because the two methods are so different. Some terms in the spin or bait sectiion also apply to the fly section.

Spin or Bait Casting

This is your basic, most-popular method: Sinking a line with sinker, hook and bait or lure into the water. It can also include just a line and surface lure—i.e., a plug or popper—that floats atop of the water or intermittently dives and then resurfaces.


—Dragging your lure or bait behind a moving boat.


—Dragging a bait behind your boat without the propulsion of a motor, but only the force of a current or tide.


—Remaining stationary on the bank or in a boat while casting your lure or bait into a moving current that carries your offering downstream.


—Casting your line into the water with bait while sitting on the bank or in a stationary boat and keeping your rod tip still.


—The act of finding bottom with a lead-headed lure called a jig, reeling it up to a desired distance from bottom, to then bob it up and down with your rod tip while the boat is still or moving in the current.

Sight casting

—Seeing fish in the water and casting your lure to them.


—Mostly a steelhead-fishing or salmon-fishing term when river fishing, plunking is much like still-fishing, but always from the river bank rather than in a boat, and always with bait as well.


—The part of a reel that halts line from free-spooling (see definition immediately hereafter). On a spinning reel it is a chromed, semi-circular ring that flips from one direction to another during the casting routine while it is connected to a horizontally running guide or eye on a bait-casting reel.


—When your bail remains open and line uncoils freely from your reel’s spool (the part of the reel that holds the spool of line).


—A section of fishing line that connects the main line to the bait or lure at the end. It is most commonly lighter line than the main one.


—This is a mechanism used for fighting fish that creates resistance in the spool so that the line stays tight but allows the fish just enough tugging strength to run when it wants. A dial or lever on the reel usually engages the drag, which helps an angler to effectively keep a fish hooked until it reaches the hand. Too much drag can snap a leader while too little can create slack and allow the hook to wiggle free of the fish’s mouth.


—A strike from a fish attempting to consume your lure or bait.


—Mostly related to still-fishing, this is when a fish pecks at your bait without being hooked or until you are able to set the hook.


—Mostly illegal with a few exceptions on particularly designated waters, this is the act of throwing fish-attracting feed into the water where you are still-fishing.


—Again, mostly illegal with a few exceptions, this consists of jerking your rod back to sink your hook into the side of a fish in order to bring it to hand or your boat deck.

Snagged or Hung Up

—When your hook, sinker, swivel or other part of your line gets stuck in rocks, an underwater log or branch, thick weeds, pier pillar or similar.


—The number of fish, as dictated by state law, an angler can keep and take back to camp or home.

Barbed and Barbless

—In the former, a hook with a barb at its point; in the latter, a hook without a barb on its point.


—A triple-hooked lure or hook with three barbed points.

Fly fishing

fly fishing


—A type of fly line or fly that sinks beneath the surface of the water.


—A type of fly line or fly that floats on the surface of the water.


—A fly design or “pattern” that imitates a particular species of insect, crustacean or minnow.


—An insect in the water that originates on land and does not fly—e.g., ants, beetles, grubs.


—A submerged swimming insect without wings that at times resembles a very tiny shrimp.

A Hatch

—Recently born flying insects that fall to the water and spur feeding activity by fish.

False Cast

—When a fly line is not cast forward but back or sideways to gain momentum before thrusting it forward into the water.

Roll cast

—A fly-casting method used when so much vegetation exists on the back cast or false cast that the fly risks snagging in the brush. The angler lifts the rod tip high enough to form a near-loop, while the end of the line remains in the water, and quickly whips the rod tip downward to roll the line and fly off the water in order to send them farther from where they started. You can only raise your rod to a certain height, making this a very short-distance cast.


—An undesirable dry-fly condition in which the fly leader or line catches current while the remainder of line sits in still or slow-moving water.


—A female insect that deposits its eggs into the water for hatching.


—Point of vulnerability (POV) pertains to the place where a fish is feeding, whether on top of the water, in its film, beneath the surface, or near bottom.

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