Is this a
sea mullet, a kingfish, a roundhead or a whiting? The answer
is "yes." It all depends on where you catch one. Photo
by Joe Malat
A few weeks ago one of our readers asked if I could write something
about the variety of names a species of fish may have in different
regions of the coast. Oddly enough, I wrote a column about that
very topic for the Chesapeake Angler several years ago. If any
of you were reading this magazine in 2007, the following might
seem a bit familiar.
In the pre-dawn darkness, several anglers shuffled on to the
Nags Head fishing pier.
Four of them, one Outer Banks local and three visitors, settled
within earshot of each other, and began rigging up tackle. "How
was fishing yesterday?" one of them said to the group.
"Not bad," responded an angler from Delaware. "I
had some nice kingfish," he replied. The others were perplexed,
not sure of the species.
"That's pretty good, but me and my brother caught enough
whiting to cook up a mess for dinner," responded another.
"At home in Georgia we don't usually catch 'em that big,"
he offered. The other fishermen weren't sure what fish he was
talking about, but no one offered a challenge.
"I didn't catch many fish, but I had a roundhead that must
have weighed two pounds," the visitor from Virginia said
proudly. Again, no response from the group.
While the others were rigging, the local baited his hooks with
bloodworms and made a cast into the breaking surf. His rod bent
"There he is!" he hollered, setting the hook and soon
swung his prize over the pier rails. As the silvery fish flopped
on the deck, the other three fishermen, almost in unison said,
"That's what I caught yesterday!"
The North Carolina angler walked over to pick up his fish and
said, "Boys, that's what we call a sea mullet!"
All were correct. Each had their own name for the same species
of fish. These long, slender bottom feeders have many aliases.
So do many other fish. Most are regional names, but they can
be confusing to a rookie angler, or someone who might be new
to an area.
False albacore are often called albies, Alberts, or Fat Alberts.
There's a distinct difference between false albacore and "true"
albacore. Both are tunas and both are excellent sport fish,
but the correct name for the albies we catch along the Outer
Banks is little tunny and they are found primarily in nearshore
waters. The dark red and strong tasting meat is less than desirable.
True albacore are highly prized and are the albacore tuna that
we see canned in the grocery store.
On many seafood restaurant menus dolphin are frequently referred
to by their Hawaiian name, "mahi-mahi", probably to
reassure diners that they are not enjoying one of Flipper's
cousins baked, broiled, fried or blackened.
Anglers also have different names for them. "Gaffers"
are so big a gaff is needed to bring them in the boat. Small
dolphin are called "bailers" because they can easily
be pulled out of the water and over the side of the boat. When
you hear a charter boat mate say "we bailed dolphin"
that means his party caught one after another of the smaller
size fish, which is not uncommon when a school of them is located.
North Carolina's official salt water state fish is the red drum,
but Virginians call them channel bass. Anglers from Florida,
Georgia and South Carolina call them redfish, but they are also
known as spottail bass. In North Carolina we call the little
ones puppy drum, medium-sized reds are referred to as yearlings.
Some anglers call the big fish, over forty pounds, old drum.
Whatever the name, they are a wonderful and exciting fish to
What about the flatfish we see in the waters of the Outer Banks?
Any one that you catch could be a summer flounder, a southern
flounder, or rarely a Gulf flounder. Most of the flatties we
catch along the Outer Banks are summer flounder, called a fluke
by our northern fishing buddies. The really big ones are called
"doormats", an appropriate description if I ever did
I haven't had much first hand experience with doormats, and
if I ever catch a doormat it will be a fluke in more ways than