“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of that which is elusive, but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope” ~ John Buchan. While fishing is a physical sport, its mental impact on us is significant. It continually teaches us lessons and provides opportunities to become better people.
Our brains are scientifically proven to change and grow when we spend time outdoors. Whether anglers know it or not, fishing increases our mental toughness, patience, and problem-solving ability. Most anglers spend their time worrying about the physical aspects, but it’s a true test of our mentality.
Each angler has different reasons why they fish, and that’s what makes it a great hobby—our mentality and psychology of fishing change as we spend more time doing it.
1. The Problem
The following story may sound familiar to you. I struggled with my mental health quite a bit as a kid. I wasn’t popular, and I was reticent. Any social situation was frightening for me.
While I participated in athletics and didn’t let these fears stop me from doing things, I never felt comfortable.
I was the type of person to sit in the back of the class whenever possible and fake a phone call when I went somewhere I didn’t know people so I could leave.
I grew up fishing in the waters of the beautiful state of Minnesota. Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, there were countless opportunities to fish whenever I wanted.
Bass, walleye, panfish, carp, catfish, and even trout were all around for us to catch. I wasn’t further than 20 minutes from a fishable body of water the entire 18 years I lived there.
While I was growing up, I was exposed to the outdoors. My dad was great about bringing my brother and me out hunting and fishing, but I didn’t find immediate refuge in these activities.
Many would think that the time away from crowds with familiar people would do my mental struggles some good.
Still, I didn’t immediately attach myself to fishing as a way of healing and escaping from those frightening social situations.
2. The Realization
As I entered high school, I started longing for those days at our cabin, fishing for walleye and northern pike.
The pressures of school, sports, and music were a source of increased anxiety, and something finally clicked that fishing could give me a chance to clear my head.
There were many days when I didn’t want to feel those traditional competitive inklings. I tried to channel that energy and be on the water with a spinning rod or fly rod in my hand.
I still wanted to challenge myself, but I wanted to do everything within my means. Fishing was a place for me not to have to answer to anyone or meet anyone’s expectations.
I could work hard and compete in the ways I wanted.
I had several friends in the same boat, and we would head out to the local dam and fish for carp and catfish and talk about everything besides sports or our futures.
We didn’t realize the effect fishing was already having on us. As I entered college and played collegiate sports, fishing became an even more important source of relief.
Many off days were spent trying to find local water and grow my fly fishing skills using my favorite fly fishing reels.
Whenever I felt myself succumbing to the pressure or giving in to those internal demons, I would hit the water.
I learned much of my life was caught up in trying to be the best in the classroom, on the golf course, and the soccer field.
I was doing my best to live up to the expectations that other people and I had placed on me. Fishing had become the one thing I could fully control in my life. No one could tell me how or when to do it.
3. The Solution
I never felt truly at peace and in a proper state of mind unless I was outside with a body of water nearby. Fishing saved me from many mental breakdowns.
It was one of the primary sources of relief in life. I didn’t realize its vital role in my life until just a few years ago.
Fishing does that for people. Whether or not they want to admit it, fishing fills holes in our lives that few other things can. As human beings often learn, our brains can only hold so much.
The pressures of life can cause various issues depending on what we’re able to handle, but fishing is always there to take some of that relief.
We get to channel all of our energy into trying to get in the minds of a fish and figure out the best ways to land fishes.
Some people scoff at the idea of looking at the psychological benefits of fishing. Yes, it can be as simple as throwing bait in the water and waiting for something to eat it.
But our perspectives don’t have to be that narrow. If we look at the actual psychological benefits of fishing, we’ll realize how much it can impact us.
1. Develop an Ability to Focus
If the 21st century has taught people anything, it’s that attention spans continually get shorter.
According to a study done by Pew Research, the average human has an attention span of 8 seconds, which is 4 seconds lower on average than what it was in the year 2000.
Experts attribute the shortening of attention spans to various things: technology, the ability to get immediate answers, options, etc.
Fishing is a sport that requires all of our attention. From the day and time we begin planning our fishing excursion to the time we get on the water, the trip can entirely consume us.
Where are we going to go? What gear will we use? What will the conditions be? These are just a few of the dozens of questions we have before we even get to the water.
Once we hit the water, we have to choose our spots, rig up our rods, and begin the act of fishing. As we’re fishing, we’re either reeling or watching our bait in anticipation of a strike.
It takes up our entire focus, and we’re okay with that. Many of us fish because we want to pour our focus into something besides the things we go through on a daily basis.
This opportunity to pour our full attention into something is very beneficial for our brains. We prove to ourselves that we can focus on something longer than average.
This skill will translate into our day-to-day lives. Our focusing ability is like any other muscle. The more we train ourselves to stay disciplined and focused on the task at hand, the less we’ll get distracted.
2. Grow in Self-Esteem
Similar to how our ability to focus has lowered, so has the average person’s self-esteem. Experts attribute the drop in self-esteem to the same things that have reduced our capabilities to focus.
Social media and constant information indulgence give us more opportunities to compare our lives to others and feel bad about ourselves.
Anglers have an especially easy opportunity to lose self-esteem. We compare our catches, gear, and fishing locations to all other anglers posting things online.
However, we immediately grow as soon as we put down our phones and get out on the water. Setting our minds to something and actually accomplishing it is incredibly beneficial.
Driving to a body of water, setting up our equipment, and landing fish is an excellent opportunity to prove we’re capable human beings.
And as human beings, we need those opportunities to show that we’re capable and can accomplish things we set our minds to doing. At the end of the day on the water, that feeling of pride is beautiful.
We know we gave our best and had a successful day regardless of whether or not we caught something.
3. Grow Our Patience
Patience is entirely a mental battle. Psychologists have studied patience for years and worked to determine why certain people are patient, and others are not.
Many psychologists will even ask their patients if they spend time outdoors. If a patient answers yes, then that gives the psychologists more optimism about being able to work with them.
Fishing requires a high level of patience. Whenever we imagine getting out on the water, we don’t like to think about all the work it takes to get there. We imagine reeling in a trophy fish.
The preparation and time we have to wait to land fish tests our ability to stay calm and not get flustered.
Sitting on the bank or the boat, wondering if the fish will strike our lure can send us into a foul mood reasonably quickly.
However, anglers know that the phrase “good things come to those who wait” is accurate. The more we sit and wait, the better person and angler we’ll become.
It’s also essential to understand the patience required when things go wrong. There’s rarely a day that everything works out perfectly on our fishing trip.
Whether it’s getting our favorite lure hung up on a tree or finding someone has taken our favorite spot, we’re consistently tested.
The more you fish, the more patience you’ll have.
4. Problem Solving Abilities
One of the most underrated psychological skills that fishing teaches us is the ability to problem-solve. Problem-solving starts with the ability to think.
Imagine all of the situations you’ve found yourself in while fishing. Often, we’re relatively limited with our resources and are required to figure something out if we want to stay on the water.
Since we want to stay on the water, we figured out something to make it work.
This ability to think outside the box and be content with what we have is a skill that will benefit us greatly when we return to our “real lives.”
Every employer wants someone who can think on their feet and solve problems without asking too many questions.
Our experiences on the water with forgetting gear or breaking something will pay off in these situations.
We won’t lose our cool; we’ll utilize our resources and take joy in figuring out how to make something work.
5. Happiness and Joy
As human beings, we need a steady dose of feeling happy and joyful. The act of waking up, getting gear ready, hitting the road, and getting to the water is precisely what we want to do.
For most of us, fishing is something we don’t always get to do, so it is exciting when we have the chance. When we make the perfect cast or land a fish, we get those feelings.
These feelings stick with us, and we can reference them when we may be having a challenging season in life. Even those hard days on the water are still worth it.
Fishing is known to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, so the more time spent fishing, the less stress we’ll feel.
It gives us a chance to release some of those pent-up emotions that we’ve been harboring. There’s a reason many programs for PTSD and trauma victims revolve around fishing.
Being in the great outdoors, breathing fresh air, and working hard to figure out a challenge are all things victims need to help recover from challenging experiences.
Even if you haven’t experienced these things at a significant level, fishing can help you heal from some of the more challenging circumstances you’ve faced.
6. Create a Community
Perhaps the most significant psychological benefit of fishing is the ability and opportunity it provides us to create a community.
Human beings have experienced what it means to feel alone due to the last couple of years. For many, fishing was one of the few opportunities they had to gather with others and share some joy.
Mostly, the fishing community is a welcoming and accepting group. It’s filled with people who are searching for a break from “real life” and enjoy being in the great outdoors.
Finding like-minded anglers to fish with and converse with can vastly improve our mental health. Finding people who are equally as passionate about a hobby is both exciting and beneficial.
We need to be in a community with people regularly. While many of us have jobs and work with people daily, it’s not the same as sharing a hobby with someone.
There’s a different connection that is created when people are working together to land fish and figure out a body of water.
The psychology of fishing is different for every single angler. Many of us use it as an opportunity to escape, reflect and recharge from particularly challenging daily lives.
Others use it as a time to be with friends and family. When done correctly and with the right intentions, fishing can help us become better versions of ourselves.
We’ll grow in patience, problem-solving skills, self-esteem, focus, and overall happiness. Do your best to get out on the water whenever you have the chance. It’s only going to help you in the long run.