Catch on to the mental health benefits of fly-fishing

13 September 2020 - 00:00 By
Fly-fishing has many mental health benefits, such as relieving stress and improving sleep.
Fly-fishing has many mental health benefits, such as relieving stress and improving sleep.
Image: 123RF/rafaelbenari

"Fly-fishers," said renowned mid-19th century physician James Hensall, who also happened to be an avid fly-fisherman, "are usually brain-workers in society.

Along the banks of purling streams, beneath the shadows of umbrageous trees, or in the secluded nooks of charming lakes, they have ever been found, drinking deep of the invigorating forces of nature — giving rest and tone to over-taxed brains and wearied nerves — while gracefully wielding the supple rod, the invisible leader, and the fairylike fly."

Now, Herbert Benson, mind body medicine professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that fly-fishing is the perfect antidote to the stress of our modern lives.

"What is it about this so-called quiet sport, with its incantation of rod and fly, river, and nature, a sport of both stealth and strategy, that helps to lessen stress and calm the brain?" he asks.

And then answers his own question: "It's the repetitive back-and-forth motion of the rod and line and fly. You're focusing on where that fly is going to land on the water and that breaks the train of everyday thought."

According to a recent survey conducted by the popular fishing app Fishbrain, many anglers think the soothing sound of flowing water and the pull of a fishing line are great ways of driving stress away.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation of America describes fly-fishing as a natural stress reliever because fly-anglers are surrounded by nature, unplugged from electronics, and distanced from the so-called real world.

A study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Southern Maine found that combat veterans who participated in a fly-fishing retreat had significant reductions in stress and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and improvements in sleep quality.

Fly-fishing has also been compared to meditation — fly-fishers perform a simple, repeated task, often for hours on end. "The motion of fly-fishing is part and parcel of the activity itself and may contribute to its calming effect," says Benson. "Besides, it's achieving something — you might catch a fish!" 



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