The Mountain Laurel
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What's In A Name?

By Spike Knuth © 1995
Information Officer
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Issue: Winter, 1995

Editor's Note: We know there are a lot of different, local slang names for the same fish; most being regional in their locality. We thought you might like to know some of the many slang names and the official ones as well. If a person catches a fish, at least they ought to know what it is! We bet you've heard even more names for the fish listed below. The middle of the winter is a good time to dream about the big ones that aren't going to get away in the spring. After all, it won't be long until it's time to dust off the old fishing pole and head for that favorite secret fishing hole.

Did you realize that a black bass was neither black nor a bass? That a walleyed pike is not a pike? That a white perch was not a perch? Confused? Most people are!

The many old and local names of fish have been confusing for many years. I remember my uncles back in Wisconsin referring to crappies as calico bass! They also called large coppery-topped, silvery-sided bluegills caught from very deep water, roaches. They probably did so because there is a fish in Europe called the roach, which has similar colors, and the name likely came over with the grandpas.

When I came to Virginia, I found that crappies were called specks, speckles, freckles, silvers or silver perch. I found also, that all sunfish types were thrown into one category knows as "bream!"

What confusion! And what confusion it must be for some anglers to properly understand some fish regulations if there are so many name variations. It's important to get the names right in order to be in compliance with the law.

The black bass, or more properly, largemouth, is not a bass, but a sunfish! Along with the smallmouth and the spotted bass, it is a member of the family Centrachidae. Also included in this family is the rock bass and the warmouth bass, plus those polar panfish species, the black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, common sunfish and redbreast sunfish, and the lesser known longear sunfish, green sunfish and flier.

To further confuse things, these species have common names that have been in use for many years. Redears are commonly called "shellcrackers"; Common sunfish are known as "pumpkinseeds" (pronounced punkinseeds); redbreast sunfish are referred to as "yellowbellies" (at different times of the year) or "longears"; long-eared sunfish as "stumpknockers"; and rock bass as "redeyes" or "goggleyes."

Well then, what is a bass? The true bass family, scientific name Morone, includes the stripped bass striper, rock or rockfish); white bass (stripes or silver bass); and the white perch (blue-nose or stiffback). It also includes the yellow bass found in the Midwest, which resembles a white bass but has brilliant yellow hue on its sides.

The walleye (pickerel in some parts of Canada is in the family Percidae or perch, along with the yellow perch (ring or raccoon perch), and the sauger (sand pike), which is found in far southwest Virginia in the Tennessee River drainage.

The true pike family - Esox - includes the chain pickerel (chainsides), northern pike (jack) and muskellunge (musky).

Some other fish with local names that could be confusing include the bowfish (grindle, grinnel or dogfish) and the gar (billfish).

It's difficult to stop using those old familiar names, but in order to better understand fish regulations and bag limits, it would be a good idea for all anglers "to sing from the same sheet of music" and to learn the proper names of these warm water species.