Jig with a pretty skirt.jpg

Illustration by Kenneth Boone

One of the most intriguing aspects of the American fishing culture is the talk. If you know an angler well enough, you’ve probably heard this strange chatter that could be mistaken for another language. It sounds familiar to the non-angler only because it’s English. Yes, the fishing talk around here is English, but most certainly a different dialect; one possibly derived from too much down time on the water. Here are some terms you may have heard among us fish heads that undoubtedly seemed peculiar:

Work a Bait: Some might picture Geppetto carving away at a fish-catching gem in his spare time after finishing up with Pinocchio. In fact, ‘work the bait’ refers to how the angler retrieves an artificial bait to give it life in the water. 

Walk the Dog: Sounds strange coming from an angler who’s confined to a space smaller than 24 square feet, but when an angler says he’s walked the dog, it means he fished a bait (like a topwater) by moving it side to side.

Skipping Docks/Skipping Bushes: These may sound like competitions in an episode of Redneck Games. ‘Skipping’ in fishing refers to how an angler gets a bait underneath an object that is hanging over the water. Fish love to hide in the shade, and skipping is a technique to get a bait into those areas. It does have a high degree of difficulty, so it really should be included in the Games. 

Jig: Not a new dance move from Fortnite or a woodworking tool; this is jargon for one of the fish-catching-est (new word?) baits ever for bass anglers. A jig is a molded lead head on a hook. Some are very small for panfish. Jigs for bass are much larger with big hooks and are known assassins for big bass. They usually have a ‘skirt.’ See the next word ...

Skirt: Ha! I just Googled ‘skirt’ on my personal device and got pages and pages of clothing sites. Hearing grown men talking about the color of their skirts might conjure up an interesting visual. It gets even more confusing when one pants-wearing angler says something like ‘that’s a pretty skirt’ to another. And talk of how an angler trimmed his skirt could surely draw strange looks. Skirts are actually the group of silicone or rubber strands that hang from a jig, a spinnerbait or a buzzbait. The colors of the skirts are a combination of the colors of strands that make it up. Fishing skirts are key components that, for some reason, appeal to larger fish.

Blades: Not as one would presume coming from an angler. Could be referring to the knife used to clean a catch, but more than likely, this term refers to the spinners on a spinnerbait (a jig with spinners); also, referring to a metal piece on a buzzbait that makes it buzz on the surface.

Burning a Spinnerbait: Please don’t picture any fire here. A spinnerbait is like a jig, but it has spinners (blades). This term refers to a type of retrieve where the angler reels a spinnerbait as fast as he can without the blades losing contact with the water, which is referred to as  ‘blowing it out,’ meaning breaking the surface, which makes it quit spinning correctly.

Swimming a Jig: This is like burning a spinnerbait but with a jig. 

Creature: Any soft plastic bait with appendages that will not fit into the category of worm, lizard, swimbait (shad) or crawfish.

Deadsticking: Surprise! ‘Deadsticking’ has a good fishing-based explanation on Wikipedia. This is a term used to describe the art of doing nothing when presenting a bait. Just a hook with no weight on an artificial bait. The angler casts it out and lets the bait sink to the bottom … very … very slowly. This is a technique akin to watching paint dry, but it’s one of the most effective techniques in bass fishing. Anyone, from the first time angler to the pro, could enjoy success with deadsticking. 

Soaking a Bait: This term could draw a chuckle from a non-angler. How else would you catch a fish? In fact, ‘soaking a bait’ refers to leaving the bait (usually an artificial worm, jig or creature), in one place on the bottom for an unusually and uncomfortably long time waiting on a fish to take it. It works well, sometimes, if the fish aren’t very active.

Milk Run: This is one of my favorites because my Dad used to say it before we took off in a local Lake Martin tourney. There is no milk involved; just an angler describing how he hit all of his best locations in a series to glean what fish he could from those favorite fishing holes before time’s up. 

Toad, Hammer, Pig, Giant, Beast, Slaunch, Donkey, Bigs, Stud, Mossback: All of these terms refer to a big fish. These, or any number of terms, could be belted out uncontrollably as an angler hauls in an exceptionally large fish. 

Flotilla: Lake Martin is no stranger to this one. For non-anglers, a flotilla would indicate a party on the water, involving several boats. For anglers, a flotilla occurs when word gets out about a really good fishing spot. 

Pattern: This is the method by which anglers choose to locate and catch fish.

Bent Pole Pattern: The precursor to a flotilla. The ‘bent pole pattern’ refers to an angler that watches other anglers from afar to figure out where and how they are catching fish. 

Bath Tub: A slow bass boat.

Graphing: Looking for fish on electronic fish finders.

Numbers: GPS locations that might come from graphing or might indicate a good fishing spot in general.

Stick, Stud, Hammer: This is actually a compliment. These terms are used to describe a very good angler. 

Seined a Spot: No commercial netting, only small dip nets involved here at best. This means an angler caught everything from a particular location. It often is used by a tournament angler who couldn’t get to his spot, referring to another angler who was on the bent pole pattern. 

For the non-angler it might be wise to print this article as a cheat-sheet for conversations with fishing friends. At a minimum, dropping one of these terms or phrases at the right time could raise a non-angler’s presumed fishing IQ at least 20 points around the water cooler.

Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.