How to speak Cordovan

Here in Cordova, we kind of have a language all our own. Every day, I learn new expressions and  colloqualisms. Recently, I came across this prime example and couldn’t pass it up:

“We went out in my bowpicker to try and catch some humpie and we were really in em on the opener on the flats but we got corked so we just went back and went out the road. Guess we won’t be highliners this season.”

Calm waters in Cordova

There are several interesting Cordova vocab words and phrases in here.

For example…

  • Bowpicker – A bowpicker is a fishing boat used on the Copper River and Prince William Sound for the salmon gillnet fishery, called such because the net is dragged in over the bow, at which place fish are “picked” from it.
  • Humpie – Another name for pink salmon, called such because they develop a large hump near the head while spawning. Humpies, although not thought of as such a delicacy for dinner, are often a very valuable salmon catch because of their plenitude and the abundance of buyers.
  • Really in em – A phrase used when one has found a great fishing spot where the fish are thick and it appears they are going to have a large catch.
  • Opener – A term Cordovans love to hear! It refers to the period of time that a certain area is open for commercial fishing. Openers can last anywhere from 12 to 48 hours, and it’s usually the only time there’s an open washing machine at the town’s only laundromat.
  • Flats – A vast expanse of delta at the intersection of the Copper River and the Prince William Sound that is heavily fished for spawning salmon.
  • to Cork – A slang term used to describe the act of setting one’s gill or seine net inside the fishable area of another fisherman’s net, and in so-doing “stealing” all the fish from the other person. It’s not only illegal, but very bad form and a sure-fire way to make enemies in a small fishing town like Cordova.
  • Out the Road – A phrase referring to any area on the Copper River Highway past mile marker thirteen.  As a popular recreation area leading to the Million Dollar Bridge and both Miles and Childs Glaciers, the Copper River Highway was recently titled one of Alaska’s Scenic Byways.
  • Highliner – The term is used by fisherfolk to describe anything that is the best of its kind. Specifically, this often refers to the fisherman with the best catch of the day, week, month or season.  Although it does not usually come with a trophy or monetary prize, the notoriety and large paycheck associated with a catch this big is typically reward enough. Historically, Highliner is the name fishermen have given to a ship that is returning to port with a catch so heavy that the ship rides low in the water raising the water line.

Do you know some more good Cordovan vocab words?  Make this post better, and share them here in a comment.


7 thoughts on “How to speak Cordovan

  1. randombob says:

    “We went out in my bowpicker to try and catch some humpie and we were really in em on the opener in the flats but we got corked so we just went back and went out the road. Guess we won’t be highliners this season.”

    The issue here is that its “humpies” if your talking plural, and humpy if your talking singular…Also, you hardly ever catch humpies on the flats, so being in ’em wouldnt make very much sense. You catch sockeye, chinook, and coho there. Humpies are more commonly found in areas inside the sound.

    Also, openers don’t happen “in the flats” the correct slang would be “on the flats” though you can say “the opener in the copper river district” and have it make sense.

    Just figured I’d point it out.

    • JUNKMALE says:

      I dont think corking someone is illegal, just rude. Never seen a ticket given for it. Most fisherman arnt going to quit and go out the road either. I would be pissed if I was in em ON the flats and it was all HUMPIES!!

  2. CordovaBuzz says:

    Yeah, Jessyka! According to our dear friend, Wikipedia:
    “Skookum” has a range of positive meanings. The word can mean ‘good,’ ‘strong,’ ‘best,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘ultimate,’ or ‘brave.’ Something can be skookum meaning ‘really good’ or ‘right on! ‘excellent!’, or it can be skookum meaning ‘tough’ or ‘durable’. A skookum burger is either a big or a really tasty hamburger, or both, but when your Mom’s food is skookum, it’s delicious but also hearty. When you are skookum, you’ve got a purpose and you’re on solid ground, in good health/spirits etc. When used in reference to another person, e.g. “he’s skookum”, it’s used in respect with connotations of trustworthiness, reliability and honesty as well as (possibly but not necessarily) strength and size. Being called skookum may also mean that someone can be counted on as reliable and hard-working, or is big and strong. In a perhaps slightly less positive vein, skookum house means jail or prison, cf. the English euphemism “the big house” but here meaning “strong house”. Skookum tumtum, lit. “strong heart”, is generally translated as “brave” or possibly “good-hearted”. In the Chinook language, skookum is a verb auxiliary, used similar to “can” or “to be able”. A related word skookumchuck means turbulent water or rapids in a stream or river, i.e. “strong water”

  3. Rick says:

    Corking isn’t illegal. It’s just considered rude and of course is basically taking money out of another guy’s pocket. But depending on the situation it can be considered acceptable. Hatchery openers come to mind, when everybody is corking everybody else. Now if you’re the only boat within sight and someone sets a quarter mile away in the direction the fish are coming from, you might consider that a corking. In the good old days, anything closer than a gear length (900 ft) away was considered too close, but now on an inside opener, You might consider yourself lucky if the nearest net is 300 feet from yours. A traditional corking tho, is when you lay your net so close to the other guy, that your corks are right next to his. This may be done for a couple reasons. Greed is one reason. If you think you can make a good chunk of your season by cutting someone off, you might “slap it to him”. (there’s another term for you) At the “markers” (another Cordova-ism) It’s accepted practice to cork someone after a given amount of time, say 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, or even 5 minutes depending on the situation. But some guys get greedy and might not wait when they see the net of the guy before them start “popping”..(There we go again) The trouble with not giving the proper distance or time to the other guy is, they feel justified, and rightly so, to teach you a lesson, which will hopefully teach you some fishing manners. This is the other reason for corking someone……REVENGE! And it can be the sweetest of all corkings, especially if delivered when there are a lot of fish heading towards the other guy’s net. I know guys, (myself included) who will cork you 4 or 5 times in a row, or more if necessary to show you that it isn’t a good idea to mess with them as it will cost you money in the long run. (not to mention the effort of picking and setting your net over and over when you want to “soak it”. (my last Cordova-ism for now)

  4. Seth says:

    If you aren’t raking in Reds or killing Kings on the flats, you might head across the Sound to pick some Dogs, before returning to the flats to (hopefully) slay some Silvers

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