Green’s Dictionary of Slang

fish v.1

[? SE fish for compliments]

1. (US campus) to toady, to ingratiate oneself.

[US]T. Hutchinson Diary I 261: He courts me a good deal, and fishes [DA].
will of Charle Prentiss in Hall (1856) 200: I give to those that fish for parts, / Long sleepless nights, and aching hearts.
[US]J.S. Popkin letter 17 Oct. in Hall (1856) 201: The good conduct which I have advised you [...] may expose you to the opprobrious epithet, fishing.
class poem in Hall (1856) 202: And since his fishing on the land was vain, / To try his luck upon the azure main.
[US]A. Peirce Rebelliad 35: Who would fish a fine to save! / Let him turn and flee.
[US]B.H. Hall College Words (rev. edn) 199: fish [...] to seek or gain the good-will of an instructor by flattery, caresses, kindness, or officious civilities.
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 35: fish, v. To try to get a favor from. [...] To curry favor with instructors.
[US]P.G. Cressey Taxi-Dance Hall 101: They’re such easy ‘carp’ I figure [...] I need the money more than the others, and I might just as well be the one to ‘fish’ them. [Ibid.] 102: ‘Fishing’ and the ‘sex game’ become for these girls the accepted way of earning a living.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 47: Joe went back to Poundamore Downs [...] offering to take the motherless Marigold to give her into the care of her grandparents. Oscar declined the offer, but paid the steamer-fares for which Joe was fishing when he made the offer.
[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 223: We fished real close and felt each other up. She had a couple of kids from some other cat, so she was hip on what a man dug.

2. to interrogate.

[UK]H. Nisbet Bushranger’s Sweetheart 185: Of course he came to fish you about Walker.

SE in slang uses

In phrases

fish or cut bait

either carry out what you’re doing to the fullest extent or let someone else more competent get on with it while you take a secondary role; note cit. 2004 which is a comb. of this phr. and shit or get off the pot phr.

[US]N.Y. Times 11 July 8: Ex-councilman MERRITT was in favor of indorsing the nomination: they must either fish, or cut bait, and as they were not large enough to fish they must be content to cut bait for Tammany.
[US]Congressional Record 5 Aug. 5226/1: Now I want you gentlemen on the other side of the House to ‘fish or cut bait’ [DA].
Denver Post 26 Apr. 4/2: [poem title] Fish, Cut Bait, or Go Ashore.
[US]N.Y. Eve. Post 15 Jan. 6: A visitor said the other day that it was to be wished that Senator Hanna would either ‘fish or cut bait.’ But the shrewd Ohio man will probably maintain for a time his ambiguous position [DA].
[US]Green Bay Press-Gazette 30 June 8/4: Our duly appointed delegates at the Philadelphia convention must have realized that they had to either fish or cut bait [DA].
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 241: Fish or cut bait. Spill or button up.
[US]Maledicta 1 (Summer) 9: The main thing is to [...] get down to the treal linguistic nitty-gritty; to fish or cut bait.
R.L. Taylor Instrument Flying 255: You are at the Decision Height (DH) and you’ve got to make up your mind—either fish or cut bait!
[US]E. Weiner Drop Dead, My Lovely (2005) 123: Megan and Greg told Jeffy to shit or cut bait.
[US]F.X. Toole Pound for Pound 55: So you gonna fish or cut bait?
fish (out) (v.) (also fish up)

1. to obtain, to produce.

[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 10: He fished out this old Mr. Howard [...] and got him to come and keep school.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ It’s Up to You 46: No matter in which direction I dipped, I was sure to fish up a ring.
[UK]Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves 33: I fished it [i.e. money] out, and pushed it across.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 13: I fished out my master keys.
[US]C. Cook Robbers (2001) 4: Eddie fished the packet from his T-shirt pocket.

2. (US Und.) to rob.

[US]N. Algren Somebody in Boots 300: Norah would take him and then fish out the till.