Health Benefits of Fishing: 13 Positive Physical and Mental Effects

With the pandemic, global tensions, and increasing division in our own societies, we need to focus on our physical and mental well-being more than ever. And there are few activities …

With the pandemic, global tensions, and increasing division in our own societies, we need to focus on our physical and mental well-being more than ever.

And there are few activities that are as good for that as fishing.

In this article, we go through 13 of the key physical and mental benefits of fishing.

Hopefully, this list of the health benefits of fishing can convince you, or someone close to you, to spend more time on the water and less time worrying about what you can’t necessarily control.

Physical Benefits of Fishing

While not as physically demanding as, say, running or riding, fishing is nonetheless good for your muscles and your aerobic fitness. And by spending time in the fresh air and sunshine, you’ll see a range of positive effects on your body.

1. A Chance to Get Some Exercise

Walking up trout streams is a great exercise in the fresh, clean air.

Fishing mostly offers incidental exercise, but it is valuable nonetheless. The best fishing spots are usually some distance from parking – the more remote you get, the fewer anglers, and the better the fishing is how it usually goes.

So those who are prepared to walk a bit and get their heart rate up get the benefit of exercise as well as better fishing. Fishing in a kayak or a canoe is another way to guarantee that your fishing also burns some calories and helps with your general health.

Even if you drive to the pier or pond and fish near your car, just being on your feet for a few hours helps get your muscles moving and has some benefits.

What’s more, fishing is a low-impact exercise that won’t put too much strain on your body, and you can keep doing it into old age – I have fly fished with people well into their 90s!

2. Getting Clean Air in Your Lungs

Whether it is coastal fishing or fly fishing for trout up in a mountain stream, fishing often takes you to places with clean air. 

Getting away from the smog and pollution of the city environment, heading to a holiday home or cabin in the woods, and getting out in the fresh air are one of the key health benefits of fishing.

There’s nothing better than the feel of the sea breeze on your face when you are out kayak fishing or filling your lungs with the sweet mountain air on an alpine stream.

3. Feel the Sun on Your Face

The author enjoying fishing a trout stream on a sunny day.

In this era of working online, many of us are spending too long indoors. On average, people in the US spend less than 10% of their time outdoors. 

Fishing, on the other hand, takes you out into the elements and into the elements. Of course, sometimes that means pouring rain, sleet, or even snow. And that’s fine – I always think this kind of weather lets you know that you’re alive and reminds you that we humans are a pretty insignificant force alongside Mother Nature. 

But the best days for fishing usually involve some sunshine. And in moderation, the sun offers many health benefits – for starters, there is the vitamin D that it provides, which our bodies actually need for our bones, blood cells, and immune systems. 

Then there is the fact that being out in natural light helps regulate our sleep cycles. Sun exposure allows the body to create melatonin, which is a key compound we need to have to get a good night’s sleep. And the physical tiredness we feel after a day spent away from the computer helps too. Good sleep is more important than ever, with up to 30 percent of people dealing with insomnia. 

Sunlight can also boost serotonin levels, which are important in how we feel mentally.

4. Fishing Helps Us Eat Healthily

We usually release the fish we catch when we are targeting fish whose stocks might be limited or form part of a delicate ecosystem. But other times, we’ll gladly eat our catch, and there is nothing wrong with that at all as long as we kill our fish humanely and stick within limits on size and catch set down by authorities. 

Fish is a great source of lean protein, and fish-rich diets are correlated with better heart health, strong bones, and better overall well-being.

Freshly cooked salt and pepper squid fried up within two hours of leaving the water is one of our favorite meals. Just the thing to enjoy after a session on the kayak targeting these fascinating creatures. Having lived in Japan for four years, we also love sushi and often choose to prepare fish this way for a double health boost.

Fresh fish is one of the healthiest meals you can eat. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, including vitamin D and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Fish is also rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. 

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week. With fish, more is better in our view, although pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be mindful of limiting their intake of fish that are high up the food chain – such as sharks and swordfish –  as they tend to have higher levels of mercury.

5. Fishing Improves Balance

Kayak fishing tests your balance, especially when you are standing up.

Many forms of fishing are great for your balance. Surf fishing with waves crashing against your thighs or wading up a freestone river while fly fishing for trout certainly tests your balance. The same applies to kayak fishing and boat fishing. 

Spending a day standing in a boat rocking in even a gentle swell will improve your balance and activate your muscles too, giving you improved core strength. Spend enough time doing any of these types of fishing, and you’ll see great benefits in terms of all-round balance.

6. Boosts Immune System

Numerous studies have shown that eating fish provides the vitamins and minerals that you need for a healthy immune system. But the actual act of fishing helps your immune system, too, by reducing stress and increasing your focus.

Stress raises our cortisol levels and, if sustained, that can impact on our immune systems

When you are relaxed, your heart rate is lower, you are less likely to get sick, and you are more energetic and focused, and your whole system gets a boost.

Mental Benefits of Fishing

There are so many health benefits of fishing that go beyond the purely physical – the sense of calm and focus that fishing provides improves our cognitive function and teaches us patience. 

Fishing can be a way for people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses to manage the condition and create positive effects on their mental health. 

The impact on the brain of a day spent fully absorbed in trying fish successfully can be just what the doctor ordered. And benefits to the brain tend to flow through to the body too.

7. Improve Concentration and Patience

This fish was caught on the last cast of a long day – always concentrate.

All kinds of fishing require intense concentration at one time or another. This is particularly true of sight fishing, which is basically all forms of fishing where you can see the fish before you cast to them. It’s kind of like hunting on the water.

Fly fishing for trout requires the angler to be focused on the fly the whole time it is on or in the water. Any slip in concentration means the fish that takes the fly will realize its mistake and be gone in an instant.

On the other hand, the focused angler needs only to lift his or her rod to connect with the fish. Following the motion of the fly like this is a form of meditation – it calms you at the moment and leaves your brain refreshed and better able to deal with life’s challenges.

Lure fishing and bait fishing also require concentration for similar reasons, and spending time casting lures can be just as good as fly fishing in terms of retaining a laser focus on what you are doing and keeping your brain occupied with something you enjoy.

8. Combat Stress and Anxiety

Fishing allows people to manage stress and anxiety in a number of ways. We’ve already discussed the meditative aspect of the sport, which certainly helps deal with stress. Fishing trips also give people something to look forward to and a way to bring people together. 

As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved, and chatting away on a river or lake or other favorite fishing spot is a great way to help each other through difficult times.

9. Increase Self-Esteem and Resilience

Success boosts esteem – that’s why we anglers have brag mats and love taking photos of trophy fish. But fishing has a way of reminding us to be humble because a great session can be followed by a poor one, known colloquially as a “donut” in honor of the zero catch rate.

More importantly, though, it does teach resilience. Sight fishing for big trout in lakes and rivers is particularly character-building. Some days we walk 20km in total and maybe get five chances to cast to a large sighted brown trout – errors are inevitable, and even a loud footfall or sudden movement can send the fish fleeing to safety. 

What leads to success on this kind of fishing trip is resilience – picking yourself up and walking on to the next opportunity.

10. Build Strong Bonds With Friends and Family

Fishing is a sport that all ages can participate in, so it is great for family entertainment. In this day and age, it can be a challenge getting kids to leave the virtual world of video games and screens and spend time outdoors. Fishing gives an excuse to do just that, and family trips lead to strong bonds. Do yourself a favor if you are a parent, and take your kids fishing.

The same with friendships. Many anglers say our fishing friendships are the deepest and most long-lasting. And in large groups, fishing can be a very social activity.

11. Teaches Self-Reliance

Good fishing is problem-solving and is immensely satisfying when you work out the puzzle. What are they feeding on? Why is the guy beside me catching them, and I am not? Is there a better spot nearby where I’ve got more of a chance? Fishing success depends on the moves YOU make. Fishermen often ask each other if they’ve had any luck when they pass by each other on the water. In reality, luck has little to do with it, and the self-reliant fishermen is the consistently successful one. 

12. Teaches You Patience

Fishing requires long hours and lots of learning, especially when targeting prized sportfishing. Brown trout, bonefish, permit, taropon, steelhead, salmon – these are all famous fish species that are difficult to catch, and for that reason, highly sought after. 

We love a challenge! But as anglers, we chase these fish in the knowledge that we’ll sometimes have to spend days to connect with a handful of fish – but when we succeed, the satisfaction is immense.

13. Encourages Travel

The author with a taimen taken in Hokkaido, Japan.

The fish mentioned above, along with many other species, tend to live in beautiful and unspoiled parts of the world. 

I love fishing in cities at times – there are some great sportfish to be found in the harbors and bays of major capitals. But the truly great fishing experiences are also wilderness experiences out in the fresh air. 

And for these, we have to travel – sometimes to other states or other countries, and sometimes to remote parts of our own region. These fishing trips allow us to focus, enjoy nature, eliminate distractions that are part of modern life, and create lasting memories in the great outdoors with friends and families.

The Health Benefits of Fishing: Final Thoughts

The health benefits of fishing are both many and varied. Fishing can have profound impacts on our lives across a range of areas. This time outdoors is good for our souls and in eliminating or avoiding stress, anxiety, and depression. And by increasing our physical activity, fishing can help lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, improve our physical well-being, strengthen our immune systems, and prevent disease.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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