As a mental health therapist, my number one recommendation to clients is to go for a walk outside for at least 30 minutes per day. I even take some of my clients for walks during our sessions. I do this because studies show a myriad of associated health benefits. Outdoor movement in its many forms improves sleep, builds immunity through the absorption of vitamin D, and promotes heart health. Additionally, documented mental health benefits include decreased depression symptoms due to endorphins and regulated breathing, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, implementation of positive beliefs through bilateral movement, improved self-esteem, and generation of creativity and motivation.
Like walking, fly fishing taps into the benefits of being active outside and then some. Perhaps the most tangible benefits of fly fishing include cultivating a sense of community, benefiting from self-care, and enhancing a sense of personal identity.
A Need for Connection
Many adults struggle with loneliness. After years of socialization ingrained through schooling and extracurricular activities, many people are suddenly at a loss when they enter the working world. Propelled by a need for financial security, they become more and more detached from life purpose and human connection.
Fly fishing creates an opportunity to find like-minded friends and provides a setting to spend time together with a dedicated focus. Though fishing is often a quiet experience it sets a pace that lends itself to meaningful dialogue and fun times between friends. The setting and atmosphere of the outdoors also creates a venue for people to cope with their mental health difficulties.
What Fly Fishing Does for Our Mental Health
While fly fishing, people that struggle with social anxiety, depression, and addiction are able to connect with others by working towards a common external goal. Interactions in the outdoors are less likely to be muddied by social divisions. Instead, interactions center upon mindfulness, observation, and appreciation for one’s natural surroundings. Similarly, the river can be a safe space for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
Nature offers a social gathering place without substances and an activity to find peace and happiness outside of addiction. Depression symptoms can also be eased through fly fishing. Newfound purpose from this hobby can propel someone who experiences depression into movement and action, both of which are contra-indicative of depression.
Veterans and Trauma Survivors
Notably, fly fishing is also a haven for veterans, first responders, and others who have undergone trauma. Along with the previously discussed benefits, fly fishing can re-establish a sense of their identity that may have been lost during service, disruptive experiences, or other life changes. Veterans find themselves once again in a “uniform” (waders and fishing attire) with intense focus on a task, but this time in the safe setting of nature.
Those who engage in fly-fishing share that they become enraptured with the rhythm and cadence of their casts, the imitation of bug life, the flow of the river itself, and the pursuit of remarkable aquatic life. The water inspires a sense of peace in individuals who have experienced violence as fly-fishing strategies and naturalistic observations absorb them and demand uninterrupted concentration.
The Magic of Fly Fishing
New skills bolster a person’s self-worth and capability. The most pivotal moment in a person’s fly-fishing journey is when “I can’t” becomes “I can and I will.” This empowering change translates from fly fishing to other realms of life. The experience of catching a trout on a hand-tied fly in a lively river with your own strategies and determination is life altering. I have witnessed this type of empowerment transform people into better partners, family members, and friends. The experience and accomplishment of fly fishing permeates our senses and shows us that outcomes are not predetermined — that growth in any capacity is attainable.
It’s not as simple as picking up a fly rod and catching your first fish on your first cast. It takes time, investment, and patience. Over time, you will become enmeshed in a tight-knit community interconnected by shared experiences, humorous missteps, and in-group lingo such as “hog” and “skunked.” Before you know it, you are communicating in what could be seen by non-anglers as a different language. In this way, “angler” becomes a part of how you define yourself. It also fundamentally changes the lens through which you perceive the natural world. A whole new set of adventures is unlocked — saltwater, freshwater, stillwater, the list goes on. The variety of experiences may differ from stream to lake and from redfish to sockeye, but the enthralling rhythm of fly fishing and the passion of the community remains the same.
Reaching Out for Help
Fly fishing is healing, but some difficulties in our lives require professional help. Remember when you first started fishing, more than likely, you needed help from a mentor or even someone online. In the same way, taking care of your mental health is a learned skill. And don’t you want to become an expert in that as well?
If you are looking for a place to start, visit psychologytoday.com to find a therapist in your area that matches your needs. If you are in need of immediate assistance simply dial 988. Help is available for you.
Article and photos by Melissa Ceren the “The Fly Flinging Therapist“. Melissa is a Mental Health Counselor LPCC and Fly Fishing Guide based in Colorado. Give her a follow on Instagram at @big_mac_fishing.