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A hawg by any other name

Names of fish vary across the country and can often create confusion.

Freshwater drum are called "Sheepshead" in some parts of the country. In Oklahoma, frequently sunfish are mistakenly referred to as "Perch." Fishes of Pennsylvania even prints that in some places, northern pike might be called "Snot Rockets."

Do you drink "Soda" or "Pop?"

Even if the common name of the fish can be agreed upon, fisheries biologists use different names still to describe the sex of the fish.

Andy Moore, Supervisor at the Rathbun Fish Hatchery/Research Center, e-mailed that male walleye are called "Bucks," and, crossing species analogies, female walleye are sometimes "Sows." Female salmon and trout may be referred to as "Hens." In saltwater, a male mahi-mahi is a "Bull," a female, a "Cow."

Depending on which size unit communicates best for a species, a fish may be referred to as a "25-incher," i.e. trout, or a "5-pounder," i.e. bass. Rarely satisfied with a mere "keeper," professional tournament anglers often seek a "kicker."

These terms communicate little of an emotional attachment by the angler. Except perhaps for "Snot Rocket," which could go either way I guess.

Then there are fish names uttered in the heat of the moment or perhaps while artfully telling the fish story later. And not just by the angler; witnesses can't help but chime in.

"Whopper," "Lunker," and simply, "Big 'un" are frequently used to describe trophy-sized bass. My grandfather uses the term "Monster." Others may lavish praise on large fish by declaring it "A Beauty."

In an attempt to get a better handle on these handles, I contacted Dr. Frank Carpenter, Former Chief Behavioral Sciences NASA JSC and Consultant to the International Space Station. (I happen to know he fishes, too.)

"Why does the angler feel the need to further name a fish?"

Here are a couple possible explanations:

1) To understand.

"The first step of understanding is to come up with a name," he wrote. "Understanding serves a need to not be threatened by an unknown event, species, etc. Knowledge is power."

Thus by simply calling something a vague "Monster," the angler has at least a slight understanding of the mouth his fingers are about to venture into.

2) To own.

Dr. Carpenter explained, "The use of a 'happy moniker' for a pleasurable large fish landing could infuse ownership even though briefly."

Simply by calling it a descriptive name somewhere between hook set and release back into the water, the angler has, at least theoretically, provided brief care and experienced a fleeting emotional attachment to a pet bass.

John Wayne's dog in the classic movie "Big Jake" was "Dog." But I don't think even John Wayne could get away with stating something blatantly obvious like, "Pilgrim, that is a big bass." No. He would have to come up with something more descriptive to capture the moment. "That's a mighty pretty pony, Pilgrim."

Oddly, for many anglers the biggest compliment we can pay a trophy bass is to call it something swine related.

These include the vastly popular "Pig," "Porker," "Sow," or the phonetic "Hawg."

A large crappie may be called a "Slab," perhaps in reference to bacon.

Overweight trout can obtain a shape to earn the title "Football," which used to be called a "Pigskin."

A big fish may be said to have "shoulders," a cut of pork.

Pro Angler Casey Ashley might call a big bass a "Grunt," while everyone has had the disappointing experience of catching a "Runt." Lures can also get in on the suey slang: "pig and jig" is a popular choice, as is a pork rind trailer.

Curious about this relationship, I contacted Dr. Jason Ross, Associate Professor of Swine at Iowa State University.

"If large bass are referred to in terms of pig references, does the opposite also occur? Are pigs ever referred to in fish-related terms?"

Paraphrasing, "Nope."

Anglers' language is continually growing. A whole menagerie of alternative fish names are now in an angler's repertoire.

"Whale" has been around a long time. "Toad" is relatively new.

The use of "Mule" is fairly common, but Dean Rojas may say "Donkey" sometimes, though I'm not sure how he decides to use which.

Further with animal anologies,, if you force a fish to the boat rapidly, you have "Horsed" it. If you don't catch anything, you have been "Skunked."

I overheard Gerald Swindle telling a story about hooking a "Gorilla" at Lake Guntersville and asked if he had any other terms of endearment for big bass.

"Oh sure!" he grinned, "you've got your 'Slobber Knockers,' 'Ying Yingers' (from the sound of the line) ... Then there is 'Clyde.' Very elusive — The biggest bass in the lake. No one ever catches 'Clyde.' Sometimes someone may catch 'Nadine' though. That's 'Clyde's' Aunt."

Mark Zona has also pushed the naming envelope.

If he catches a "Chunker," that is a "base hit," he told me during a phone interview. "Not out of the park."

A much more girthy fish he may call "The Slaunch," named for a character in his past greatly into "icing and fried foods."

Zona's "Fence Panda" is derived from famed El Salto Lake where a particularly large bass may have been caught from a submerged fencerow. He also has tweeted gems such as "Beast Kong."

But many other creative names uttered by Zona find themselves on the floor of the editing room.

"In the heat of the moment," he said, "while fighting some repulsively big creature, in victory or defeat, I've used every no-good name in the book. Even slight profanity. I've invented words.

"The best names can't be premeditated. Something offensive in the euphoric accomplishment rattles right off the tip of the tongue. Every fisherman on the lake wants to catch something incredibly obese ... the biggest chicken-wing eatin' sombitch in the lake."

I wonder what the next trophy fish name will be. Will another animal analogy rise to the surface, or will it be nonsensical?

My money is on anglers finding yet another pig reference. Is there a name for an unusually large hog? I mean, once you've already been born with the "Pig" title, how do you top that?

Any suggestions, Dr. Ross? Paraphrasing again, "Nope."

I prefer those terms that are "inspired," born in a quirky, timely, stressful but elation-filled second, forever changing our angler language. But sometimes inspiration needs a little push.

I humbly propose: "Sui Generis" (Latin for "of its own kind") and cannot wait to try it. Or maybe I've just been sitting at this desk too long.

Andy Whitcomb, a freelance writer and designer, can be reached through his Web site, justkeepreeling.com.