What Does "Gone Fishing" Mean?

Jim B.

"Gone fishing" is an English idiom that is used in reference to someone who is completely unaware of all that is going on in his or her immediate surroundings. The person described in this manner has checked out from reality and may be daydreaming of just simply ignorant of the people and things in the vicinity. In other cases, the term can be used to describe someone who has taken an opportunity to get away from the rigors of daily life. This expression first found footing in America in the 20th century and is taken from the signs commonly placed on local store windows indicating that the shopkeepers weren't around to do business.

"Gone fishing" can often refer to daydreaming.
"Gone fishing" can often refer to daydreaming.

There are times in the English language when certain words or phrases are used that have a different meaning than their literal definitions. This is because they have been used in certain situations or circumstances for so long that their meanings evolve. Such phrases are called idioms, and these idioms are useful in spicing up everyday speech.

It was once common for shop owners to take a day off to go fishing.
It was once common for shop owners to take a day off to go fishing.

In its most literal sense, this phrase refers to someone who has consciously removed himself from a situation. When the stress of modern life becomes a bit too much, an idyllic retreat can be just what is needed to regain a sense of calm. As a result, some people may take some time away from their routines to find a brief bit of relaxation, and this expression represents those getaways. For example, "I've worked hard all week and I need a break, so if anyone asks, I'm gone fishing."

"Gone fishing" might be used to describe a couple's getaway.
"Gone fishing" might be used to describe a couple's getaway.

There are some occasions when the person who is described in this manner has mentally checked out of a situation without even knowing it. Perhaps the pressures of life caused this involuntary retreat, or maybe the person in question has just blanked out for a moment. As an example, consider the sentence, "He just stares off into the distance when you talk to him; it's like he's gone fishing."

Back in the days when local shops could be run by just one person, it was common for the owner and proprietor of such a business to take a day off to go to the local fishing hole. In those instances, the owner would place a sign on the door to say that he'd gone, indicating that the shop was closed. That is the likely origin of the phrase, which gained traction in America thanks to some popular songs that contained the phrase.

Someone who has "gone fishing" might just be spending the day enjoying nature.
Someone who has "gone fishing" might just be spending the day enjoying nature.

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Discussion Comments


I need help with meaning of this idiom; "The one who goes fishing, will hunt." How do I interpret that? Thanks


@eidetic - Those two phrases are pretty similar, and I've definitely heard them used interchangeable. I personally like "gone fishing" a little bit better, because it really conveys how much the person isn't paying attention to whatever is going on.

Going out to lunch is just temporary, but if you go fishing, usually you're gone for a couple of days!


When the phrase "gone fishing" is used to mean someone has mentally checked out of the conversation, I think it's similar to the phrase "out to lunch." When you say someone is "out to lunch" it also means they've mentally checked out of the conversation, as if they've actually gone away to have lunch (or go fishing, whatever the case may be.)


@JessicaLynn - I've seen those signs used as decoration too! That just goes to show you how entrenched that phrase is in every day English. Everyone knows what "gone fishing" means, even though it usually doesn't mean the person has actually gone fishing.

I think it's funny the phrase originated from it's literally meaning: people closing up shop and spending the day fishing. Now if a small business owner closes up shop for the day, they're more likely to stay home playing on the Internet or something!


@Perdido - I've never seen a "Gone Fishing" sign on a business, that's for sure. I have seen them in little wooden plaques in people's houses though. I usually see these in houses that have country themed decoration, and the plaque almost always has a painted picture of a man fishing on it.


@cloudel – This is one of my favorite idioms. None of my friends have ever actually been fishing, but sometimes, they do stare blankly ahead and appear to be absentminded.

To me, when we use this phrase among our group, it is even funnier than when people out in the country who go fishing all the time use it. It is just so random, and it always gets us giggling.


I think that this idiom is funny when it refers to someone who has mentally left the building. This is because I know how fishermen behave while out in their fishing boats.

They sometimes go for hours without saying a word to each other. They always say that the quieter you are, the more likely you are to catch a fish. Fish are apparently scared away by voices.

My dad used to go fishing whenever he had so much on him that he just could not talk about it or think about it anymore. When there just didn't seem to be any solution to his problems, he checked out for awhile and went fishing, and he usually came back in a more peaceful frame of mind.


I have never seen a “Gone Fishing” sign in my life. I live in the city, where everyone is always trying to make more money and get ahead, so taking time off to go fishing and letting everyone know about it is just unheard of here.

I think it would be really nice to be able to close up shop for a day and head out to the lake. However, I know that I need the money that I would lose by being closed. It's sad, but I doubt I will ever get to just spontaneously “go fishing.”


I live in the South, and when business owners around here put up this sign, they leave the “g” off of the end. So, it reads, “Gone Fishin'.”

No one around here really pronounces the “g” at the end, anyway. We have certain quirks to our accent that are acceptable here, and sometimes, even our signage denotes those quirks.

We really don't see a whole lot of bigger businesses with “Gone Fishin'” signs, but they are popular with small grocery store owners and even a few cafe owners.

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