Why Fishermen Are Called Anglers: Same Thing or Different?

fishers holding gear walking by the shore

Fishing is an activity that is done both commercially and recreationally. Whether you fish for business or pleasure or don’t fish at all, you may wonder why fishermen are called anglers sometimes. 

Many people use the terms interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference between the two. 

An angler is a fisherman who uses a rod, reel and hook to catch fish. The term angler originates from the angle found at the intersection of the rod and the line that leads down to the hook and bait in the water. Though all anglers are fishermen, not all fishermen can be called anglers. 

Here’s what you need to know to understand the difference between an angler and a fisherman.

How are Fishermen and Anglers Similar?

Understanding the difference between anglers and fishermen helps to first learn how they are similar. Both terms are used to describe people who catch fish, and they can both be used for men and women. 

Whether you are a fisherman or an angler, you will need a license to do the activity in most states. 

The type of waters you fish – saltwater or freshwater – has no bearing on the difference between angler vs. fisherman. But there is still a significant distinction between the two terms.

What Is the Difference Between a Fisherman and an Angler?

Ultimately, the only difference between a fisherman and an angler is the type of equipment you use to catch fish. You can call yourself a fisherman if you routinely catch fish from either saltwater or freshwater. Whether you use nets, rakes, or rods and reels, you are a fisherman. 

However, this does not mean that you are an angler. If you use nets or rakes to catch fish, you aren’t an angler. You’re simply a fisherman.

This reasoning leads to a simple conclusion. If you are an angler, you are also a fisherman; the terms can be used interchangeably in this case because you are still fishing when you are angling.

In contrast, you can’t call yourself an angler just because you like to catch fish as a pastime. Fishing and angling are not synonymous if you use a net or a rake to catch fish. 

The best way to tell the difference between an angler and a fisherman is to think of angling as a type of fishing. The term is narrower, so you must meet more specific criteria to call yourself an angler, but it still falls under the umbrella of fishing, so it can be used as a synonymous term in particular circumstances.

Infographic that shows photos of different types of fishermen and indicates which are anglers
All anglers are fishermen, but not all fishermen are anglers.

What are Anglers?

The significant distinction between anglers and fishermen is how they catch fish.

The term angler only refers to people who use rods and reels to hook fish. If you use any hook to catch fish, you can call yourself both an angler and a fisherman. 

All fishermen use one of the following three methods to catch fish:

Rakes: Rakes are used to pull clams and oysters onto a boat from the seabed. While rakes are not practical for catching fish, they are still considered fishermen’s tools because they aid in removing seafood from its natural environment.

Nets: Nets are used to catch fish and other types of seafood. Commercial fishermen are more likely to use nets, but they can also be good tools for recreational fishermen.

Rod, Reel and Hook: The vast majority of commercial and recreational fishermen use a good old-fashioned rod and reel to catch fish. An angle is created at the end of a rod between the rod and the line that leads to a hook and bait. This angle inspired the term angler. Any fisherman who uses a rod and reel to catch fish can be considered an angler.

Therefore, an angler is a fisherman who uses a specific tool to catch fish. The method people catch fish is the sole determiner of whether they are considered anglers or fishermen. All anglers are fishermen.

Is Angling Just Fishing, or Does It Have Other Meanings?

The most common definition of angling refers to fishing. However, some people use the word colloquially for other definitions. You may occasionally encounter people who refer to angling as slanting an object or scheming with friends, but the only formal meaning of the word refers to fishermen.

Understanding the term’s true definition can help you use it correctly in both casual and formal conversations. 

However, you should also understand that angling is not a synonym for fishing. You can’t accurately use the two terms interchangeably because fishing is a much broader term than angling. Think of angling as a specific type of fishing to better understand when to use the term. 

Is a Fly Fisherman an Angler?

Fly fishing fly up closeFly fishing is a specific method of fishing that uses a lightweight hook that resembles an insect. It is different from other types of fishing that use a rod and reel because the lure skims the surface of the water to attract fish rather than hooking them in a single spot under the water.

Although fly fishing requires a different casting technique than traditional fishing with a rod and reel, it still uses the same equipment. You still use a hook and a lure attached to a fishing line that is fastened to a rod and reel. You can consider yourself an angler because you still use a hook for fly fishing.

If you participate in this specific form of fishing, you can use the terms fly fisherman or angler interchangeably. As long as you’re using a hook to fish, you are an angler. If you use another tool for fishing, you can still consider yourself a fisherman but not an angler. 

Now that you understand the difference between fisherman and angler, you can use the terms more accurately. Although the difference is minor, you’ll want to know it to save yourself from getting razzed by a fishing buddy.

Now you’ll know what you are talking about when it comes to fishing.