Getting outdoors and going fishing is a wonderful way to unplug, relax, and connect with family and friends. Fishing, it turns out, has a number of interesting benefits to mental health.
Fishing is much more than just throwing your line out and waiting for the big one. The subtlety of fishing’s benefits are such that we sometimes don’t recognize their impact to our overall emotional well-being.
As someone who grew up in Florida, I used to think that fishing was just about calling up your buddies, loading up the boat with beer, bait and tackle, and heading out on the water. I was wrong—at least in part.
Fishing for mental health and wellness is a relatively new concept, but it is certainly one with merit. What follows are the top five mental health benefits of fishing.
Many of us start out fishing for the most obvious of reasons—we like to catch fish. After spending some time on the water, however, there usually comes another, less apparent motivation to head to the dock or down to the boat.
Half the time we don’t even care if they’re biting, we just want to be out in the middle of nowhere… secluded, and quiet.
Being on the water allows for self-reflection and solace. Whether it’s with a few buddies, or solo, fishing is often times the quest for stillness and peacefulness—especially once you find your favorite fishing spot.
Fishing allows us to be fully present in the moment, often while muffling the noises of modern life. Fishing can help you in becoming mindful. Frequent periods of mindfulness have some profound benefits to mental health.
You can think of mindfulness as simply being fully present in the moment. When you’re mindful, you’re completely immersed in what you’re doing, allowing your mind to become calmer.
Fishing requires us to be fully present, mindful of the moment at hand and how it feels. When we are engaged in the present, we do not pay attention to anything else.
You can think of mindfulness as the polar opposite of the all-encompassing American “do six or eight things at the same time multitask” nonsense. It turns out the mindfulness is as important to mental health as it is increasingly scarce in everyday life.
Why is Mindfulness Important for Mental Health
The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as:
“…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait.”
Why is being aware of what is going on around you at the moment important? How does this benefit you psychologically?
If you’re spread too thin, as many of us find ourselves these days, you can’t concentrate. Over time, if you are running yourself ragged trying to accomplish the 75 thing that you’ve packed into your daily schedule, you will eventually become bogged down.
If you are mindful, however, you are focused on one thing. When you are fishing (for mental health), you are paying attention to your line and what is immediately around you. Your focus is not divided by the multiple stimuli that await each of us in the office or at home.
Psychological Benefit of Mindfulness
There is lasting psychological benefit to incorporating regular mindfulness (read fishing trips) into your routine. Focus decreases stress and anxiety.
Spending time allowing your mind to focus on a singular activity recharges it. Over time, increased focus can not only decrease anxiety but help alleviate the negative thoughts that everyone sometimes experiences about themselves or their situations.
Focus and recharge also help with emotional regulation. A rested, recharged mind that has been permitted to exclude distraction and to focus only on fishing for a few hours is capable of thinking more clearly and making better decisions.
The results are measured in better decision making when it comes time to make difficult choices and in making fewer rash decisions. This is the stuff that mental health is made of.
Thinking of Your Mind in The Way You’d Think of Your Body
When considering the importance of focus and recharge, you can think of your mind in terms that are usually reserved for your body. Everyone understands the importance of physical rest after periods of prolonged exertion.
Your mind is no different. A day of mindfulness focusing on catching fish and watching the water is the mental equivalent of a day spent relaxing on the couch, giving your body time to recover after running a marathon or unloading a moving truck.
Regularly making time for mental recharge pays dividends. You don’t have to do it every day to experience benefits. Going fishing for a couple hours once a week or maybe twice per month will keep you tuned in.
Making time to allow your mind to focus on only one thing—while keeping in the present—is very important. Fishing is a great way to make that time for yourself.
Stress: And Fishing for Mental Health
Fishing requires concentration and focus. This concentration and focus takes our mind off of the everyday stresses and internal conflicts that confront all of us.
Studies have shown that being in nature and engaging in recreational activities like fishing, reduces psychological stress. We even know that fly-fishing helps reduce the effects of PTSD in our veterans. How’s that for fishing for mental health?
Anglers have to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously. These include monitoring their line, scanning the water, and remaining attentive for that big strike. You forget everything else in order to focus on the task at hand, which allows the mind to relax, in a way that’s similar to mindfulness.
I love fishing… always have. I used to say I only loved fishing when they are actually biting.
I’ve changed my tune. Nowadays, I don’t care if they’re biting or not (to a point). Catching fish is great, but these days I just want to be on the water with my line out, detached from every other facet of life.
Healthy self-esteem is perhaps the most powerful factor in the human equation. How we view ourselves and our capabilities determines how we approach the world and our relationships.
Self-confidence is one component of self-esteem. From a psychotherapist perspective, I consider self-confidence to be extremely important.
Fishing is a great way to boost self-confidence and self-esteem. Sound farfetched? Think again…
Fishing is a process. The journey of a fisherman is a progression of stages.
As we become better anglers through time, we gain confidence. Each time you fish… every new knot you learn to tie, every new species that you catch, every personal best you catch… you become a better fisherman.
If you fish long enough, you’ll eventually find yourself talking to old timers at your local bait and tackle shop. They will teach you new techniques, which you practice until you become skilled.
Fishing, it turns out, also requires patience and perseverance. These qualities, much like mindfulness, are all too often forgotten in the modern world.
Persistence and Dedication– As They Relate to Fishing for Mental Health
Experiencing success in fishing requires dedication, attention to detail and perseverance. As you take pride in preparing for your day on the water and investing in the skills that lead to a successful catch, your self-esteem gets a boost.
As a general rule, an activity that boosts confidence in our abilities counteracts our own internal feelings of insecurity and doubt. By promoting a healthy level of self-esteem, therefore, fishing can help people feel pride in themselves.
How can that be bad?
These days, it seems like everyone is looking for an outdoor activity that will bring your family closer. Fishing is a great way to get outside together while cultivating family bonds.
There has been a great deal of psychological research on the benefits of outdoor activities for kids. Did you know that fishing (and other outdoor activities) not only promote social and emotional intelligence in youth, but strengthen language and communication skills as well?
Want more detail on How Fishing is Good for Kids, check this out.
Perhaps as importantly, sharing outdoor activities together strengthens the bonds between loved ones. Shared experience deepens our relationships, making them more meaningful and valued.
Although any shared experience can strengthen relationship bonds, fishing presents some uniquely beneficial properties. A fishing experience can combine many outdoor activities, such as boating, swimming, picnicking, and the like.
Everyone can share this experience together.
Pairing the right combination of loved ones with the right combination of activities, there is something for everyone on a fishing trip. The result creates the type of shared bonded experience that make the memories to reflect back on, helping us nurture and value our relationships.
The benefits of spending quality time together outside help relationships in many of the same ways as focus improves mental health.
Disconnecting from technology is something of a dream for every American these days. Although you may not want to completely unplug when you go fishing, you’ll benefit from keeping your phone buried in the tackle box.
Anglers have every type of technology at their fingertips. Smart phones and tablets are strapped to the helm of your center console.
Fishing, navigation, and every other app you could think of has been created to give the serious angler an edge. I appreciate all that technology has to offer, but it’s a tool I like to avoid when I’m on the water or in nature.
Like most of us, I don’t often do a great job keeping my phone in my pocket. Sure there are some beautiful vistas to capture when you’re on the water.
As a general rule I only take my phone out for two reasons when I’m fishing; to check the weather and to get a selfie with that slot size snook (something that all too often still seems to evade me).
From a wellness perspective, perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is to disconnect and unplug when you’re fishing. Of course an exception can be made when you need to capture that picture of the catch of a lifetime.
Fishing for Mental Health is a real thing. We should all do it more often.
Chris Checke is a licensed mental health counselor from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A lifelong fisherman, Chris was raised in southwest Florida where he started fishing with his family at age three.
These days, Chris operates a thriving therapy practice. When he’s not solving the world’s problems, he is often snook fishing or hanging out at the beach somewhere in South Florida or the Keys.
When it comes to understanding both sides of the fishing and wellness equation, there are few better sources than Mr. Chris Checke. For more on his psychotherapy practice, please visit: www.ChrisChecke.com
 Mowatt, Rasul & Bennett, J.. (2011). War Narratives: Veteran Stories, PTSD Effects, and Therapeutic Fly-Fishing. Therapeutic Recreation Journal. 45. 286-308.