From the Boathouse: Noodling with a piscatologist and a lake gull in a sailway


Topic de la semaine or topic du semaine is the inclusion of new words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Now, I know that I will receive numerous emails with the correct françaises en disant for my translation of "topic of the week," as my French is very rusty or rouillé. While my email inbox nears its limit, I will have fun reading all the variations with your corrections.

But I digress. Some added boating-, fishing- and nautical-related words caught my attention.

I want to start with my personal favorite new word that describes the activity when you intentionally stick your hands underwater to feel along the banks, any roots, for a hole in the lake or river to try to catch a prize catfish. This practice has gained popularity in the Southern states, and I think you have to be crazy because you just might catch a water moccasin, snapping turtle or a beaver in lieu of a catfish.

Have you guessed the word yet or have you done this activity in the past? This endeavor is noodle, a noun, or noodling, a verb. Keep in mind that the goal is for any critter in the hole to chomp down on your bare hand as if it were bait. Once your hand is inside the catfish's mouth, then you try to reach in further to grab the gills, and eventually pull the bottom feeder out of the hole to the surface. A bad day of noodling includes the loss of a finger or two, or being pulled underwater by the weight of a huge catfish clamping down on your arm. You can thank reality TV for this new word.

While on the topic of fishing, do you know that piscatology has been added to the dictionary? This word by definition is simply the science of fishing, so I presume that piscatologists are now studying noodling at many Southern universities. I cannot wait to read the thesis in a few years.

Moving on with new words from fish to birds, I hope that everyone knows what a seagull looks like. If not, walk along the beach and look for the large white bird with brown and tan speckles trying to steal lunch from someone's "pic-a-nic basket" like Yogi Bear.

You have found a seagull, also commonly known as a skyrat. I bet you did not know that the seagull officially has a newly named inland cousin, the lake gull, which by coincidence is a large white bird that lives near lakes. So, stop referring to the inland birds as seagulls, and with confidence tell your friends that the seagull-looking bird is actually a lake gull, as defined by Merriam-Webster.

Another term, which I have not heard nor read in any literature, is "sailway." Do not confuse sailway with the song "Sail Away" by Randy Newman or "Come Sail Away" by Styx.

Sailway is a noun that signifies an area, river or an ocean on which boats and ships can sail.

Really, isn't that technically called navigable waters? I guess we are dumbing down the nautical nomenclature to the lowest common denominator for those who cannot pronunciate clearly or do not want to learn the nautical vocabulary. Yes, "pronunciate" is a word that originates from merging "pronounce" and "enunciate."

I digress again.

The normal discussion aboard a vessel is similar to, "Skipper, the waters are navigable for us to sail on this course," while referring to a course on chart or chart plotter. In the 21st century with our new words, I imagine that the language has changed to "Skip, sailway over yonder," as the mate points a finger in the direction to go.

Finishing off my top picks of new words is "riverkeeper," synonymous with "baykeeper" and "coastkeeper."

All three refer to a person or an organization committed to the water quality, environmental concerns and safeguarding of a river, lake, bay, sound and ocean coastal areas, plus any upland surrounding areas.

And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Capt. Mike Whitehead's Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sunday. The show is also available as an app.

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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