I grew up fishing.
There are so many Saturday’s and Sunday’s I can remember waking up early at my family’s mountain cabin, anxious to get out on the lake. We would stop at 7-eleven and buy mini donuts, we’d rent one of the bright orange boats at the dock, and then we’d start our loop around the lake, knowing where and when the best bites should hit.
These days, while the Saturday’s and Sunday’s spent fishing are much fewer and farther between, we still try to get out as much as we can. And when we’re lucky, we fish with some friends in some of the most beautiful places.
But no matter where we are or who we’re with, there are some things you’re bound to hear if you happened to walk by. We have our own kind of language when we fish, one that I had to actively pull myself out of in order to write this post. I had to imagine myself out on the lake, or in my seat on the shore, listening to the people around me say things that might not make sense to someone that’s never fished before—or maybe just someone that’s never fished with us.
Here are some of those things:
1) Fish On!
No, this isn’t a chant for the downtrodden, encouraging all those who have been shut out to keep going, to FISH. ON! This is a victory cry that announces you, quite literally, have a fish on your line. Usually we’ll pick up our pole and wait until we’ve successfully set the hook, and then yell “fish on!” It’s fun to watch our group cheer as surrounding groups slump in jealousy.
2) How did this even happen?
I can think of a number of different circumstances in which I’ve said this exact thing in a non-fishing context. Like when I followed the instructions of a recipe and ended up with something scary. Or when I tripped and fell in grand fashion for no discernable reason. Sometimes things just become a disaster and we have no idea why. In fishing, this usually involves your line becoming a rat’s nest in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps the time I hooked a fish by the tail. Or when I reeled in my pole to rebait, only to mysteriously hook my shoe in the process.
3) I’ve lost everything.
This is perhaps the saddest thing you can hear while fishing. Sure, you’ll lose the occasional fish. You’ll lose your bait, hook, swivel, jig, lure, or bobber. But sometimes, whether it be during a fight with a fish, or by reeling your line through a patch of seaweed, over a rock or under a log, you will, in fact, lose everything. In an instant your pole will go slack, and you know that when you reel in the rest of the line, there will be absolutely nothing there. Sometimes even the pole breaks too. *sigh*
4) Bitch stole my bait.
Our most common moniker for fish is *ahem* bitch. And if you ever fished, you know why. Fish can be slimy, shady little…well, bitches. They can tangle up your line, they can swim under a rock or log and make you lose everything, they can get your hopes up only to send them crashing down. Sometimes fish can be clever. They figure out that the shiny, sparkly Powerbait (or worm or mosquito or salmon egg) is a trap, and will nibble them off the hook without a trace. So when you reel in your line, curious why you haven’t gotten a bite, you find nothing but a hook, licked clean like a plate on Thanksgiving. And so, the only natural thing to say is, that bitch stole my bait.
5) *Zelda noises*
When my siblings and I were little, we got Zelda: Ocarina of Time for our Nintendo 64. To this day, it is probably our favorite game of all time, and thus, the sights, sounds, bosses, challenges, etc. are firmly engrained in all of our memories. One of which is the unforgettable sound Link makes while swinging his sword, which is a high pitched “HaaaAAAA” noise. In time, it has become one of the most hilarious noises in the world. ESPECIALLY, when we’ve been fishing for hours, haven’t caught much, and have slipped into a delirium that encourages us to use these sword fighting sounds to help us cast.
6) Do you have tinkage?
While trolling (fishing on a slow-moving boat) my family and I often use lures—mainly Thomas Bouyants and Super Dupers. These lures will “swim” around in the water, swaying back and forth, to attract the attention of the fish and ideally get them to bite. As a result, the swaying motion causes the tip of our fishing poles to twitch, or, as we like to call it, “tink.” If your pole is “tinking” it means the lure is swimming right. Thus, do you have tinkage? means “everything look good over there?” And responses to this range, from: “yup” to “oh, MAJOR tinkage.”
7) We need the Koehn death grip over here.
Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at removing hooks from fish we’ve caught. To do this however, I need to keep the fish still. And so, I’ve figured out the kind of hand strength I need to make that happen. In our circle of friends, this has become known as “the Koehn death grip.” Koehn (pronounced “cane”) being my last name. Fish have been known to gurgle while I hold them in my hand, and once I squeezed a bigger fish so hard that a salmon egg (which we were not fishing with) popped out of the fish’s mouth. Oops.
8) I need STANK.
One of my sister’s biggest superstitions while shore fishing is to add a Powerbait attractant to her bait. It adds scent and flavor to your bait so that fish will find it and bite. While making this list, I had to actively search for what this stuff is actually called because for decades we have only ever called it “stank” or “stinky stuff.” At any given time while fishing, my sister will say, “I need STANK,” and as I write this I am giggling, knowing how completely unfazed we are by this request. We just toss her the bottle and move on.
9) Should we do a fish call?
I HESITATE to tell you this because it feels like a trade secret. But then, I don’t know if there’s a single person we’ve taken fishing that we haven’t told this to, so, perhaps it’s not a secret at all. At the start of any fishing trip (morning, afternoon, or evening) we like to do a “fish call.” This makes us feel like the fishing has started and, we like to believe, summons the fish toward us. To do a fish call*, you simply make a fist, count to three, and then blow into your fist the way you might if your hands were cold. But you elongate that exhale, that way the call can reach even the biggest fish at the deepest depths. Then, you open your hand and push the call into the open.
*Shout out to everyone who just did a fish call at their desk, in their bedroom, on their couch or wherever else you might be reading this.
10) Seems like it’s time for a beer.
And finally, this one. Do I need to explain this one? I feel like I don’t. When you’re fishing, it’s almost always time for a beer.