Fly Fishing: Are There Mental Health Benefits?

I want to write this article highlighting how fly fishing can be very beneficial in a myriad of ways. Because of how many people live their lives today, fly fishing can augment many people’s lifestyle. The sedentary and indoor life many people lead causes many health issues, and with COVID-19 lockdowns, the mental health issues only got worse.

In an article titled “The State of Mental Health in America,” the Mental health America organization produced key findings regarding the 2023 statistics on mental health in the United States. According to the survey data, 21% of adults are experiencing a mental health issue, which is over 50 million people. Over half of these people do not receive any type of treatment. These mental health issues are prevalent in our youth as well. About 16% of youth ages 12-17 reported having at least one major depressive episode per year.

Almost 3 million young people suffer from severe depression. It’s clear that the status of mental health amongst American’s is becoming worse. And, according to the statistics, many people who need treatment are not getting it because they cannot afford it. It is my opinion though, that fly fishing can be a cheap input into people’s lifestyles if they feel a need to curb the symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Fly Fishing: A Good Stress Relief?

While it doesn’t replace talking with a doctor, it is a good habit to pick up nonetheless.

With COVID-19 came lockdowns, financial stress, social ostracization, and other factors that only bolstered the mental health issues running rampant. For school-aged children who already spend too much time indoors, it meant spending all day inside for days at a time with no peers or friends to see face to face. Similarly, with adults moving to a work at home version of their job, if they were able to remain employed, meant diminishing work relationships and stressful at home relationships with their spouses.

All this to say, COVID did not help anyone combat any anxiety, depression, or similar mental health struggles they deal with on a day to day basis. All this points to the fact that fly fishing is a great hobby to adopt.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, people missed what they took for granted everyday: Outdoor time. So now that we are back to normal and able to be with other people inside and outside, many are looking for a way to get outside. Not being able to go outside, see friends, or do many of the things normal to us clearly had a negative affect on people across the world.

A hobby like fishing allows us to get outside and enjoy nature and make up for time lost during COVID- it allows people to step away from their phones and improve their overall wellbeing.

If you don’t enjoy running, hiking, or going to the local park, fishing is a fantastic way to get that outdoor time without getting bored. Fly fishing is much more accessible than you might think. You don’t need a big trout river in Montana to enjoy the sport. Any local body of water that holds fish will do. Besides just being a great outlet to spend time outside, it is my opinion and the opinion of others that fly-fishing is therapeutic.

Comparing Fly Fishing w/ Meditation

A Harvard study from 2015 compared fly fishing to meditation which has many scientifically proven mental health benefits. The repeated motion of casting while standing in a river with flowing water, all with one goal in mind- allows the brain to focus in a relaxed way that drops cortisol levels- which is a stress hormone.

In the same study, experts tested the sleep and stress levels of veterans who experience PTSD, and they noticed after fly fishing, the participants’ stress levels decreased and sleep quality increased.

Speaking from experience, fly fishing is not for everyone. However, you will never know until you try it out. When I am fly fishing, I am not really thinking about anything else. I am focused but relaxed. My casting motion, where I am casting, and how I plan on catching a fish are the three thoughts bouncing around in my head.

It is a great way to clear your mind and focus on one task which is essentially what meditation is.

Physical Health Benefits

The plus side of fly fishing goes beyond its meditative abilities. I was surprised to find out the physical health benefits of fly fishing. It makes sense as to why I am exhausted after fishing for 8-10 hours.

Standing up all day alone is more exercise than many Americans get. But, standing and casting in a moving river does a lot for your waistline. Fly fishing for a couple of hours is an easy full body workout almost anyone can do.

Wading in a moving river and constantly casting gets your whole body moving and burning calories. It is estimated that the average person burns about 150-550 calories per hour when fly fishing in a river or stream.

A New Community

Another great aspect of fly fishing is the community it brings with it. It’s in my experience that fly fishermen are always easy to be around and always have some cool stories from being on the water. Whether their background is saltwater fly fishing in Louisiana or fishing the White River in Arkansas, these guys and girls are easy to call a friend.

Besides the friends you can make by the water, there are countless organizations that exist to bring fly fisherman together, typically to support a great cause. Trout Unlimited works to raise a community of fishermen who want to protect our waters so our children can fish the same rivers and lakes that we enjoy today!

There are multiple chapters in many states across the country, and they host chapter activities to expand your network and introduce new opportunities. Some charities worth mentioning would be The Mayfly Project and Project Healing Waters. The Mayfly Project exists to serve foster children as mentors through the sport of fly fishing. Project Healing Waters does something similar but it serves veterans.

If you want to meet some like-minded people, and also see how the therapeutic benefits of fly fishing can help others besides yourself, these are great firms. All of these organizations and more do a lot for our environment in the case of maintaining it for nature’s sake, but also for sportsmen’s sake. They also reveal to you the ability fly fishing has to calm the mind and help you through any hardships you might be enduring.

Cognitive Boosting

Also, learning a new skill always comes with the added benefit of a boost in brain power. Learning how to cast a fly rod efficiently in and of itself is an accomplishment. Not just that but also, learning how to tie fishing knots, how to read the water, and understanding fish behavior.

These small wins add up and we might not even notice it. It is difficult and sometimes frustrating but stacking small wins like that can be very beneficial for our self- esteem. Pushing through the initial struggle and learning new things are great for our confidence as well.

In Closing

To end this lengthy list of how fly fishing could benefit you or a loved one therapeutically, is the pure excitement. For me, I get very focused on what I am doing and I am always surprised when I actually hook and reel in a fish. The sight of your bobber going under or your dry fly disappearing from the surface is always so exciting. For some it’s finding a new river or lake to fish, or hiking five miles to where nobody has been before to catch fish.

Sometimes just going with a group of friends and catching no fish is a great way to spend a few hours. Whatever you find to be your favorite part of fishing, hopefully you realize how beneficial it is and how it might help someone you love.

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