We Southerners have a knack for saying funny things. Our vocabularies are filled with uniquities, ranging from the simple “fixin’ to” to the complex “caddywompus.” And there’s no pastime more Southern, and more full of those tricky terms, than fishin’. Most of us were handed a reel before our first bike, our earliest memories filled with the trek through brambles and reeds down to the creek, our daddies and granddaddies at our sides to coach us through our flicks and grab the wriggling fish off the end of the line. The vocabulary that accompanies our regional pastime is extensive and to outsiders nearly incomprehensible. But for those of us who grew up in the South on the banks of fishing holes and in rusting, hand-me-down boats, these are as commonplace as “y’all.”
A bream buster may sound like a joke, but the useful fishing tool, alternately called a bream or crappie pole or rod, is anything but funny. It’s the most elementary of fishing poles; a long metal (modern poles are made of fiberglass) pole is extended over the water with a simple line and bait. When a fish latches onto the bream buster, the fisherman simply pulls the pole in, extends his nearby net into the water, and deftly scoops out the disabled fish.
Poppin’ bugs isn’t an activity, it’s a noun. Anglers use poppin’ bugs to dupe their prey: the lure sits atop the water, much like the water bugs frequently found in Southern waters, attracting the fish to the surface. The unassuming fish ingests the tasty-looking treat, only to find he, in fact, is the one about to be eaten.
Fishermen utilize jug fishing to catch a whole mess of fish. Usually used for catching catfish, jug fishing is another simple system. The fisherman attaches a line with a weighted end to a plastic jug or bottle, hooks lying in wait along the length of the line. The angler sets out a variety of these rigged jugs in a lake or creek and returns later to check his lines, usually filled with fish. Jug fishing is so popular in the South that it’s regulated by the Department of Natural Resources, and some places have outlawed the practice, claiming it’s damaging to the natural fishing environment.
Some of the best bait for our fishermen? Catawba worms. The black and yellow worms, also known as catalpa worms, are found feeding on the leaves of Catawba, or Indian Bean, trees. With a swift bite of the head and an inversion of the caterpillar’s body, the deft fingers of the fishermen turn the humble worm into the best bait this side of the Mississippi.
And the mack-daddy of all our dialectic fishing terms? Noodling, also known as—get ready—graveling, grabbling, catfisting, cat-daddling, hogging, dogging, deepthroating, gurgling, tickling, and stumping. Though some of these might sound like the kinds of things you wouldn’t want to say around your grandmother, if she’s got a skillet ready we don’t think she’ll mind. Southerners use noodling to catch catfish. After the fisherman finds a catfish hole, he shoves his balled fist into the lair and the catfish defensively latches onto the arm, offering the fisherman the ideal grasp on his gills. He then pulls the forty-pound fish from its hole and raises it to his boat, where the fish will travel to that predestined pan.
Yes, we Southerners certainly have a vernacular rivaling that of our neighbors, but if that’s what it takes to make it to the fish fry, we don’t mind at all.