Outdoorsmen come from a broad range of backgrounds, and while we may not fall into the same income bracket, most of us are cut from the same cloth. We tend to be fairly passionate, easy-going types that enjoy the company of others with similar interests. We also like to tell stories. Fishermen, in particular, are known for their ability to, shall we say, embellish things a tad bit.
This innate characteristic has led to generations of outdoorsmen that have honed their anecdotes to the point of legend. As a well-known story teller, I can tell you that special words are often required to assure maximum interest from the audience. Unique words, many of which cannot be found in any dictionary, are regularly a part of the narrative.
For example, “toad” is often used to describe big fish, including bass. I assume it refers to the potbelly characteristic of many trophy-proportioned fish. Real toads, as in the amphibian, have a rotund, if not downright chubby profile, so it makes sense. One could also make the connection that toads are known to burrow or hide underneath debris, such as bark and leaves during the day and only come out at night to feed – much like big fish.
Many times, an impressive, made-up word skitters off course and ends up being used to describe something else. Toad is a good example of such a word. I’ve heard hunters refer to big turkeys and deer as toads in the past as well. I totally understand what they mean, but the average person likely scratches their head after hearing the word toad used in that context.
Allow me to explain. If a guy said, “Hey man..Billy Jed stuck a toad last night right at legal”, this would mean Billy Jed arrowed a big buck at dusk the night before. While we’re on double entendres (…are they really, though?) – anglers also use “stick” or “stuck” to describe hooking a big fish.
Notice I quoted Billy Jed. This is another important element of good story telling: You don’t just use a regular name like Jim or Bob, you use Jim Bob. See how that works? Though the relatively unusual name of Jed is acceptable for stories, when you add Billy to the front it’s soaking with connotation. “Billy” is often used to describe hillbillies. I know a lot of really great guys named Billy that are not hillbillies, and quite a few great hillbillies, too. But, when you add Billy and Jed together something truly special occurs. No offense to any Billy Jeds that run across this column, but I guarantee the guy in my story is a full-blown hillbilly. Pure magic.
Also, when you add “Old” to any name, the image transforms. Old anything means it’s probably likeable and when referencing a person, it’s a safe bet they possess a lot of wisdom. Old Jed, for example, may seem granpa-ish? You don’t call a 25-year-old, Old Jed. It doesn’t work that way.
Back to the nicknames. I use “tank” to describe big fish often, and especially when referring to bass. There are many other terms used to describe largemouth bass, including, but not limited to: Pig, hog, hawg, bucketmouth, bigmouth, mossy back and green bass. While smallmouth bass share terms, such as lunker and the aforementioned swine words with their large-mouthed cousins, they own terms, such as bronzeback, brown bass and smallie.
You know, when it comes to smallies, things have become awfully cute as of late. The term “smalljaw” drives me nuts for some reason. I’ve also heard them called mules and donkeys as well. Donkey incidentally has often been used to describe big whitetail bucks as well and I suspect this is where the term originated. There we go again, using our favorite words to describe bigness for multiple critters. By the way, if you add swamp to donkey, ie. “Billy Jed done stuck hisself a Big Ol’ Swamp Donkey” – well, that one is hard for anybody to miss.
River anglers have taken nicknames to another level. Now that salmon runs are kicking in around the Great Lakes, my Social Media fees are filled with photos of big salmon with cutesy monikers. Chinook or king salmon have been referred to as “kings” forever, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. Years ago, I started to hear “chins” which is okay I suppose. Now things have gone completely off the rails with guys using a variety of terms, including, boots, kangs and noids. Allow me to break those down for you.
Boot is a very derogatory term for a fish of any species that is not the target, or is in poor condition. Again, this tag is most often used by stream anglers for old king salmon, spawned-out steelhead, and pretty much any crusty old walleye. It’s easy to imagine the origin of this nickname - a fish that fought like an old boot and maybe even looks like one. But in fact, as I understand it, the original usage referred to the habit of lightly kicking or, booting the unwanted fish back into the river without picking it up.
Kangs is nothing fancy, just dumb. Kangs makes me want to throw my computer through a window. No really, stop saying kangs. “Getcha some kangs Bro.” Yer killin’ me smalls.
Last, but not least, Noids started years ago about the time a well-known pizza chain had an irritating ad campaign with a little annoying character named The Noid. The Noid ruined pizzas. This is important and I’ll come back to it. The noid connection to salmon is partly scientific as salmon are classified within the family Salmonidae. Collectively, with the other fish species found in that family, they are known as “salmonids” and to some folks, salmonoids - though I would have never referred to them as salmonoids in ichthyology class and risked exposing myself to certain ridicule from the professor.
While that’s a solid etymology, I happen to think the real reason noid started was when an angler, likely an extremely-irritated fishing guide, was fed up with the circus that follows the king salmon run (I can totally relate). Many of the folks you see on the river during those runs are reminiscent of the clownish creature in the pizza commercials. Consequently, said angler started using the epithet, noid.
This is a home run of a nickname with multiple meanings, but unfortunately, much like smalljaw and kangs, I can’t do it. It’s annoiding.
Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at email@example.com.