5 Common Fishing Idioms

Ah, summertime, it makes you think of beaches, picnics, and fishing. Many commonly used English phrases come from fishing–let’s take a look at their original meanings.

1. Off the hook

Fishing meaning – This refers to the fish that got off the hook before it could be reeled in; the fish that got away.

How we use this in everyday English – “To let someone off the hook” means that you are not going to hold him (or her) responsible for something.

Example: Bob offered to drive me to the airport, so you’re off the hook for Sunday.

2. Open a can of worms

Fishing meaning – Originally, bait shops sold worms for fishing in cans, which were easy to open but difficult to close (because the worms kept wiggling out).

How we use this everyday English – When someone makes a comment or does something that seems to be simple but then causes problems.

Example: I asked her about her boyfriend, which really opened a can of worms because it turned out that they had just broken up.

3. Hook, line, and sinker

Fishing meaning – Parts of a fishing rod. The hook catches the fish, the line is the string and the sinker is the weight attached to keep the line under water. When a fish takes the hook, part of the line, and the sinker, it is completely trapped.

How we use this in everyday English – “To fall hook, line, and sinker” for something means to be tricked into believing something completely.

Example: I told my boss I was sick and she fell for the excuse hook, line, and sinker.

4. Hooked on

Fishing meaning – To be caught on a hook

How we use this in everyday English – There are two ways you can use “hooked on”. One meaning is that someone is completely captivated by something. The other meaning is that someone is addicted to drugs.

Example: I am completely hooked on this new TV show. I can’t wait until the next episode!

5. Reel in

Fishing meaning – To bring in a fish attached to a line by turning a reel.

How we use this in everyday English – To attract someone to something.

Example: The smell of freshly baked bread coming from the bakery never fails to reel in the customers.


Bracha Rubin
Bracha is a Pedagogy & Curriculum Associate at Voxy and a born-and-raised New Yorker. She graduated from Columbia College with a degree in Linguistics, and is beginning a speech-language pathology master’s degree program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Bracha is passionate about language and language learning, and especially enjoys discussing pronunciation and grammar.