Fly Fishing and Mental Health

Fly Fishing and Mental Health

Despite the growing numbers of fly fishers, the benefits of fly fishing are often overlooked compared to other sports and wellness trends. Fly fishing is great fun, but there are much deeper health benefits of fly fishing, too.

It’s the perfect activity if you want to get outside, get your body moving, and boost your mood. Not only is it a total body workout that helps improve your physical fitness, but it is also a great way to de-stress, stay fit, and boost your emotional state.

In this article, we’re going to take a close look at the health benefits of fly fishing.

Mental Health and Anxiety in Modern Day Life

We’re living in an age where mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are becoming an epidemic. Studies have shown that one in five adults in the US has a mental illness. [1] The statistics are shocking: More than 40 million adults are living with some form of mental health issue in the US alone. The WHO states that there are over 300 million people in the world living with depression and over 260 million who have some form of anxiety disorder.

When it’s broken down into age groups, millennials are the most likely to suffer from anxiety or depression. 25.8% of 18-25 year-olds reported having a mental illness in the past year, compared to 22.2% of 26-49 year-olds and 13.8% of 50+ adults. [2]

Age Group 

Prevalence of Mental Health in the Past Year (2017)

18-25 25.8
26-49 22.2
50+ 13.8

With these sobering numbers in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why more and more people are looking for a way to manage their psychological health. Practices such as yoga and meditation are rapidly growing trends, with well-known health benefits. Between just 2012 and 2017, yoga practice increased from 9% of US adults to 14.3% of the population. In the same way, the percentage of people practicing meditation in the past year jumped from just 4.2% in 2012 to 14.1% in 2017 – a significant increase in such a short time. [3]

Spending Time in Nature

The Link Between Mental Health & Fly Fishing

With greater awareness about mental health, people are actively looking for a way to take initiative and manage their wellbeing. But the benefits of fly fishing are still little known and under-appreciated. As fly fishers, we have personally experienced the huge impact that fly fishing has on our psychological wellbeing. There’s nothing like getting out on the water, and the fresh air can do wonders for your mood if you feel tired or depressed.

But it’s not all just anecdotal information. Studies have shown that the health benefits of fly fishing are significant for your physical and psychological wellbeing. Let’s take a closer look at how fly fishing could benefit you.

Mental Health Benefits of Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a fun hobby, but at the same time, it is also beneficial in many different ways. Here’s how fly fishing can improve your wellbeing and reduce your stress levels.

Meditative State

Meditation and mindfulness are on the rise lately, with around 14.1% of the US population regularly meditating. [4] When you’re fly fishing, you enter into a state that closely resembles meditation. Fly fishing requires you to be highly focused – you don’t have the time to worry or think about anything that is stressing you out.

You need to concentrate fully on the moment and be alert to what the fish are doing. It’s a rare moment when you can zone out from the constant flow of thoughts buzzing around in your head, and just be. The rhythmic motion of casting for fish also contributes to this calm, meditative state.

So, it’s not a surprise that 63% of anglers say that relaxing and unwinding is one of the main reasons they go fishing. Being outdoors is the second most common motivation to go fishing, with more than 58% of anglers stating that it’s very important for them. [5]

Reason for Fishing

Very Important

Quite Important

Not Very Important

Not at all Important

Relax and unwind 63 % 27 % 8 % 2 %
To be outdoors 58 % 33 % 7 % 2 %
For solitude 19 % 23 % 35 % 24 %
To be with family 39 % 30 % 19 % 13 %
To be with friends 32 % 41 % 17 % 10 %
Fishing competitions 2 % 3 % 11 % 84 %
Fish for sport 48 % 34 % 12 % 5 %
Fish for food 33 % 28 % 25 % 14 %

Spending Time in Nature

Getting outside can be therapeutic in itself [6], producing lower activity levels in your brain’s pre-frontal cortex than usual. This means that you can break out of a cycle of negative thoughts, leading to lower levels of cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone.’ Combine this with the rhythmic movements of casting and retrieving and the increased focus, and it’s clear that fly fishing is the perfect activity for fighting depression and other health issues.

Lower Stress Levels

It’s an excellent way to de-stress, stay fit, and the fresh air can do wonders for your mood. You can head out any time of day, morning or afternoon. If you feel tired or depressed, it’s a natural way to give yourself a boost and reconnect with nature at the same time. Plus, when you catch a fish, you get that incredible rush of adrenaline and endorphins.

Fly Fishing Can Reduce Loneliness

Another underrated benefit of fly fishing is that you can connect with likeminded souls. Around 20% of the US population feel lonely, and chronic loneliness can lead to issues such as depression and even alcoholism. [6] As an adult, it’s not always easy to make friends or get to know people. Fly fishing is a great way to beat loneliness. You can head out with friends, join a local fishing club, or find local anglers on one of the fly fishing apps. 39% of anglers state that spending time with family is a major motivating factor behind going fishing, while another 32% say that being with friends is why they like to go fishing. [7]

Fly Fishing as Therapy

Fly fishing is often recommended for army veterans and cancer survivors. Even a short, 4-day fly fishing program has been shown to lead to significant reductions in stress, depression, and PTS. [8] Nonprofit organizations like Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery are doing great work in these sectors to support individuals therapeutically through fly fishing.

Physical Health Benefits of Fly Fishing

It’s long been known that regular exercise can lead to lower levels of depression and anxiety. [9] But did you know that you can burn as many or more calories fishing as when running on a treadmill? When fishing from a riverbank, you’ll burn 234 calories per hour on average. Add in some walking during that time, and you’ll burn around 267 calories. And when you factor in fishing in a stream in waders, it jumps up to an impressive 401 calories per hour. [10] That means that you could burn anywhere from 700-1600 calories in a few hours of fishing. Impressive, right?

Fly fishing is a total body workout – you’ll use your arm, shoulders, legs, core, and back muscles. It’s a great way to get fit and feel healthier without having to go through a grueling workout at the gym. Plus, it’s low impact, so you’re unlikely to injure yourself in any way when fly fishing. You can get out into the beautiful outdoors anytime, morning or afternoon, move your body, and focus your mind.

If you’re wondering why fishing while wading in water burns so many calories, it’s because you need to exert extra energy against the resistance of the water. Plus, you’ll be using your core, back, and leg muscles to hold your balance.

Casting works your arm muscles, as does rowing and climbing. If you hook that fish, you’ll need to use your shoulders and upper arms to reel it in – especially if it puts up a fight.

Health Benefits of Fly Fishing

The Wrap Up

There’s a lot to say about the physical and psychological benefits of fly fishing. It’s a lot of fun, but at the same time, it is also hugely beneficial for all aspects of your wellbeing. By spending some time fishing, you can experience an improved mood, lower levels of cortisol and stress, and reduced anxiety.

The social aspect is not something to be ignored, either. As we showed above, reducing loneliness and creating a sense of community leads to lower levels of depression. And we all know that the fly fishing community is full of friendly, helpful folks!

If you’ve been looking for a great way to get outside and improve your mental state, why not give fly fishing a try? You can get back to nature and enjoy the calm of the water and the focus of luring out that trout. There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you hook a fish, either! Fly fishing is an excellent alternative to yoga or meditation and a natural way to reduce stress levels in your brain. Let us know how you get on, and if you have any questions, post them in the comments section below.

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References

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[2] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db325-h.pdf

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db325-h.pdf

[5] https://eprints.utas.edu.au/2526/1/Henry_Lyle_Nationalsurvey.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/

[7] https://eprints.utas.edu.au/2526/1/Henry_Lyle_Nationalsurvey.pdf

[8] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315326971_Outcomes_of_a_Therapeutic_Fly-Fishing_Program_for_Veterans_with_Combat-Related_Disabilities_A_Community-Based_Rehabilitation_Initiative

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/

[10] https://captaincalculator.com/health/calorie/calories-burned-fishing-calculator/

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