It’s all in a Nickname

Sometimes it’s tough to figure out just what the heck a fisherman is talking about. Fish names vary by region, but they also shift around quite a bit within the region. Proper names and common names are usually the culprit, and it’s a head scratcher when someone reports a big pod of blackfish in Massachusetts Bay and a Connecticut angler says “I thought that Blackfish lived in and around rocks and jetties?” Sometimes it can get very funny, much like the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First.”

Some of the names seem to come from natural events. One of the various names for Little tunny is an appleknocker. That came about from the time of year when the fish departs the coastline, which is when the apples fall from the trees. Squeteague is the Native American name for Cynoscion regalis, a fish that inhabits bays and marshes. It’s known as a weakfish because hooks pull from their soft mouths, tide runners because the fast-swimming fish move in large schools along the surface. Redfish, or drum, get their name from the sound they make during mating season. And the Redear sunfish comes by the name shellcracker honestly; they eat snails and other freshwater mollusks by cracking their shells.

Here’s a start to a list of fish that come to mind. It’s a fun way to start, and I’m sure if it were chronicled fully then there are likely to be more nicknames that common names. That, to me, is part of the fun of it.
  • Blackfish: Pilot Whale
  • Lake Trout: Togue (Maine)
  • Squeteague: Weakfish, Tiderunner, Grey Trout, Sea Trout
  • Dolly Varden: Bull Trout
  • Menhaden: Bunker, Pogey
  • Chum Salmon: Dog Salmon (AK)
  • Bluefish: Blue Dogs
  • Herring: Buckies
  • Brook Trout: Square Tails
  • Striped Bass: Rockfish, stripers, linesiders, brown dogs, old pajamas
  • Little Tunny: False albacore, albies, appleknockers
  • Skipjack: Skippies, mushmouths
  • Redfish: Drum
  • Redear sunfish: Shellcrackers

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at