It is well known that fishing can be laid-back and stress-reducing; however, I often find myself worrying more when I’m on the water than doing other activities. The need to catch fish for me is such a driving force, I often lose sight of the fact that fishing should be relaxing. As we continue through what is likely the busiest, most stressful time of year, I wanted to take a step back and learn how to have a different angling mindset.
In order to understand how to accomplish this goal, I first had to learn why it works. In an article from Harvard Medical School, author Scott Edwards explains that fishing, or more specifically, fly fishing, is a “a ‘beautiful way’ of evoking the relaxation response,” a process that has been found to dramatically lower blood pressure. In addition, a study done by a group of universities around the country proves that fly fishing reduces stress and PTSD, as well improves the quality of sleep for veterans. No wonder Project Healing Waters is successful!
Obviously, you could take the scientific approach to discover the benefits of fishing, but truly, all you have to do is consider the aspects of the activity. For one, anglers are typically found in nature, a place where bird songs and gorgeous views seem to lighten any mood. Secondly, we experience a “natural high” every time we hook a fish, a phenomenon that certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by our brains when trying to relax. Additionally, fishing is, in some ways, a form of exercise, which is very beneficial in improving mental health.
With all this in mind, I decided to stack the odds in my favor and combine all the aspects of fishing that make it calming. To begin, I figured I’d start at one of my favorite spots; my favorite not because of the size of the fish, nor the secludedness, but because it is near-and-dear to my heart, a place where I have grown up fishing and spent many a day exploring. This pond is one I know I can catch fish at because, while the quality is nothing to brag about, the quantity is definitely there. I figured it would give me the most chances to feel that “high”, and hopefully knock off some of the extra stress in the process. Of course, in order to get the exercise component, I would hike to the spot through the extensive trails surrounding it, an opportunity I rarely pass up on cloudless evenings like the one I was fishing. Finally, to conform with the studies, I brought along my fly rods – my five-weight rigged with a stubby chubby for explosive sunfish eats, and a seven-weight with my own iteration of the thunder creek streamer.
I began my journey hopped up on anxiety and disappointment from a tough loss in baseball. My heels dug into concrete as I made my way to the park, but once I stepped on the trails, I felt some of that tenseness melt away. The warm air tingled my sun-kissed face, and I barely felt the emptiness of the pocket where my phone normally resides. In fact, it made me feel weightless, as if the device had been a chain I dragged behind myself constantly.
Within a short time, I came to the first spot. The water gently lapped at the small embankment, and bluegill sipped midges from the water’s surface. I slapped by big, gaudy dry fly in front of a fish’s face, and no sooner did it slash at the bug, startling me and the other sunfish around it. I reached my rod tip above my head and guided it towards my awaiting palms, the spunky creature continuing to thrash in the process. When I did finally bring it to hand, I relished the few seconds of excitement I had just experienced. Still, I understood how the fish likely felt trapped and crushed, as I had earlier with all my worries.
Fish by fish, my stress started to evaporate into the darkening sky. As I rounded a bend walking to a new spot, the setting sun glared at me like an upside-down smile. I was in such a tranquil mood, I didn’t even consider it more closely resembled a frown.
As I caught my final bass of the night, the sun snuck below the horizon. I packed up my things, and headed home. As I walked, I pondered how I had just turned one of my favorite pastimes into some sort of remedy, easily more effective than any medicine I’d taken over the years. Sometimes, its the simplest things that bring us comfort.