I think I’d die if I couldn’t go fishing. And I say that only half tongue in cheek. For me, the psychological benefits of fishing are so necessary to my mental wellbeing, it’s challenging to quantify, or even articulate. I know many of you will feel the same – fishing is our sanity.
Chasing fish is good for you. It’s good for you in far more ways than I can illustrate in a short feature like this. Nonetheless, to provide you all with a further excuse to grab a fishing rod and head to your favorite fishing spots, I’m going to present 8 surprising mental health benefits of fishing.
Scholars Agree: Fishing Is Good For Mental Health
There’s a physicality to some types of fishing that’s good for our bodies. Strenuous fishing like game fishing and kayak fishing is good for cardio, strength, and agility – aka, fitness. But the psychological benefits of fishing are apparent every time we wet a line, regardless of how we fish.
This has always been obvious to me, but I was genuinely floored to discover volumes of academic research supporting the notion. The benefits from the physical activity of fishing vary significantly. But all fishing delivers mental benefits.
Many academic studies have revealed how fishing reduces stress levels. Studies from Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK have demonstrated fishing’s benefits to our well-being.
Other studies have shown how fishing combats Nature Deficit Disorder (Our disconnect from nature) while the Blue Spaces concept (the impact of the ocean on our health) has demonstrated that simply being by the ocean can extend our lives.
These studies are as fascinating as they are revealing, and I’ll refer to them as I go through the 8 surprising mental health benefits of fishing. You can use these studies as evidence the next time you tell your significant other “I have to go fishing…because my life depends on it.”
1. Reduces Stress For Up To 3 Weeks
In a Western Australian academic survey of Anglers, “…75.5% of respondents stated they obtained benefits to health in the form of relaxation and stress relief.” There are plenty of peer-reviewed studies that concur, and that probably doesn’t surprise you.
What may surprise you is that the benefits from the reduction in cortisol levels (stress hormone) due to fishing, can last for up to three weeks. Yep, with just one fishing session, we’ve banked enough good vibe to combat stress for nearly a month.
When I fish with my buddies, it’s all about the fishing – we’re focused. The fact that the mortgage is overdue, the car’s broken down and the kids are acting up at school is easily deferred. Fishing is highly effective respite from the stresses of everyday life.
When I fish alone, there are times when life’s dramas are still front-of-mind. But when I contemplate these things while fishing, they somehow don’t seem so troubling or insurmountable. I’d be curious to hear if you have similar experiences.
2. Reduces Anxiety & PTSD
New Zealand psychological researcher Kate Campbell reports that "Blue spaces…take our mind away from the day-to-day hassles of life." Green vistas are helpful, but it’s blue spaces, the ocean specifically, that seem to evoke the most beneficial responses to anxiety and PTSD.
The psychological/medicinal benefits of time by or on the ocean are well understood. Blue space therapy programs are delivering healing benefits for those who suffer from anxiety and PTSD.
Saltwater anglers won’t need any convincing. There’s something powerful about the ocean - it gets inside us. It has a palpable healing impact on our emotions and psyche. It’s energizing, yet calming, exciting, yet uniquely chill. It’s a compelling paradox that perhaps underpins the reason why a bad day’s fishing is always immeasurably better than your best day at work.
3. Improves Social Connection
We experience happiness and comradery when fishing with our buddies. Shared traditions, language, tools, and desires, serve to enrich our connection to others.
The moments we share fishing with friends become memories that stay with us for life. They’re a cache of joy (and sometimes terror) we can relive in our mind’s eye.
Our shared fishing experiences become those wonderful clichéd fishing stories, now embellished, and exaggerated, that we retell and laugh about over and over. These stories reconnect us to the traditions of oral history. Through our stories, we rekindle the positive emotions of the moment.
4. Increases Mindfulness
In its simplest terms, mindfulness is our ability to be completely in the moment, undistracted by anything else happening around us. Mindfulness is the primary skill we deploy to find the bite. Yes, you do it and you didn’t even know.
To find the fish, we think like the fish. We consider our bait, rig, wind current, tide, time, and technique. We consider each element in concert while remaining attuned to any environmental input that might inform our approach. We use our senses, our thoughts, and our emotions while shutting out distractions and any other thoughts that don’t assist us with our goal.
This focus, this mindfulness, is good for us and improves cognitive function. Research indicates that when we train ourselves to be mindful, we’re actually remodeling the physical structure of our brains. When we’re mindful “we wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.”
5. Improves Problem-Solving Skills
Fishing presents us with a myriad of problems to solve. The environment is changeable, and fish movements and moods are fluid. The techniques we were using this morning are completely useless this afternoon.
Fishing is equal parts art and science. Success on the water requires critical and creative thinking. For example, you can see fish activity, but they’re not taking your lure - what do you do? You’re getting snagged in the shallows where you’re getting the most bites - so, what do you do?
We learn through experimentation, trial, and error. This is why fishing is such an excellent sport for kids. They’re faced with real-world problems, requiring real-world solutions to reach success. We feel good when we solve problems. Particularly when it results in a very tangible reward, such as fish for dinner.
6. Develop Survival Skills
Fishing is primal. There was a time in our not-too-distant history when many of our ancestors had to catch fish or perish. Having a survival skill such as fishing is empowering and confidence-building. And we don’t need libraries of academic research to confirm this.
Knowing we can feed ourselves and provide food for our families outside the convenience of supermarkets, is liberating. It builds self-esteem and resilience. There is peace of mind knowing we can access quality food directly from nature.
7. Improves Concentration & Focus
Patience is an essential skill for fishing. There's a lot of waiting, searching, and preparation involved. There are also no guarantees we’ll catch anything.
With patience, we’re better placed to achieve heightened levels of concentration and focus. Patience fosters self-discipline, which has profound benefits in all aspects of our lives, especially our children's lives.
In studies on children suffering from the effects of ADHD, researchers found that being out in nature, combined with fishing, “…can serve as a buffer for depression, anxiety, weak immune systems, and other psychological and physical factors of ADHD.”
Fishing teaches kids to balance the emotion brought on by excitement, expectation, disappointment, and boredom. These skills auger well for a successful transition into adulthood.
8. Fishing Is A Form Of Blue Space Therapy
Blue Space Therapy posits that there are significant mental health benefits from being around bodies of water such as oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Blue are a second home for anglers. It’s one of the reasons we feel so good when we fish. Such are the benefits, blue spaces are being prescribed for those suffering from mental health conditions.
A study from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) revealed: “…time in blue spaces lowers the risk of stress, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.”
The University of Sussex discovered that people were “…by far the happiest when they were in blue spaces.”
For most humans, modern life and urban living have created a disconnect between us and nature. For millennia we were out in nature doing…everything. It’s only very recently that we swapped spears for Ipads, grassland for concrete. I was born to fish, not text.
Studies are revealing that this has had a detrimental impact on our collective health as we deny our intrinsic (and necessary) link to nature. It’s suggested that spending time in blue spaces is like coming home.
Fishing, by default, is Blue Space Therapy. It has both prophylactic and healing benefits for psychological well-being.
Fishing is good for you. Is good for your body, your spirit, and your mental health. I’m sure you already know this, or at least felt it. Now you know there’s academic research that supports the notion.
Your fishing trips have always been beneficial for your mental well-being and will continue to be. Fishing is so much more than a sport or pastime. It’s based, it’s healing, it's restorative.
I've developed my own fishing philosophy. I fish therefore I am - healthy.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.