Fishing As A Stress Reliever


Photo by Pixabay/langll

I read once how Mark Twain loved going fishing but hated catching fish so he did not use a hook on his line. In reality catching fish interfered with his relaxation time, since he had to take the fish off the hook and do something with it.  When he wanted to relax and do nothing in order to keep  people from thinking he was lazy he would take his fishing pole down to the river and people thought he was fishing and therefore left him alone. He would throw his line absent a hook into the river and people never bothered him because he 'was fishing' and he was able to then relax as much as he wanted.

That got me to thinking about when I first started to fish as a boy. It wasn’t so much about catching a fish but a chance to be alone with my thoughts. Since I was just a boy no one actually expected me to catch fish anyway. I could spend hours sitting on a dock or by a river and come home fishless but refreshed. As I grew older things changed and I then sought to catch fish. I put pressure on myself to catch fish. I then progressed to fishing clubs which held tournaments and awarded money or prizes to the winner who caught the most pounds of fish. I was still fishing but the pressure was more intense to place high in the competition and at least recoup my entry fee. Then one day I realized that fishing was no longer relaxing for me and in fact was producing a great deal of stress. When I realized what was happening I sold my bass boat along with big motor and bought a small 12’ aluminum boat with a 6 HP motor. I was now back into stress free fishing. The fun and relaxation came back into fishing for me. I could  once again relax and be temporarily separated from my responsibilities and associated stress. Fishing fulfills my five R’s of mental health. Relax, reflect, rejuvenate, recover and restore. Stress and tension just evaporate when I’m fishing and these five R‘s just seem to automatically take over and do their magic.  

For me it is not about catching fish but more about an activity to relax and leave my troubles behind by concentrating on something else. It is a time to enjoy myself and my surroundings. Pleasure fishing has no pressure, no adverse consequences,  and no effort is required.  My computer has an application that defragments my hard drive, sorts my files and puts them in order to make it run more efficiently. I find it sad that we humans don’t have a program to defrag our inner selves. But wait, we do have such a system and it’s called ‘fishing’. All the inner garbage and clutter in our lives dissolves the moment you toss your line into the water hoping that some fish will accommodate you. Fishing for me provides therapy for the soul and a true stress reliever.

Feb 3  2013 004
Photo by courtesy of Bruce and Carol McElmurray

I have written before about taking time out to go down to our swing and feeling the breeze in my face, hearing the soft sounds of quaking aspen leaves, the flutter of  bird wings and the underground spring gurgle. (see photo above). It is a peaceful and relaxing time when I am able to do that.  When I’m unable to sit in the swing due to deep snow I will do something crazy like taking my fishing rod and sitting by the spring. There are no fish in that spring but I don’t care. Some would claim that was truly crazy but things are happening inside that you wouldn’t observe from the outside. I’m fully aware there isn’t a fish of any sort in the spring, but years of watching a bobber have pre-conditioned me to relax. It is like going to sleep at night, you don’t know exactly when it happens but all of a sudden you are sound asleep. Perhaps it is like Pavlov’s dog experiment on conditioning. When I put a fishing pole in my hands and add water the conditioning aspect kicks in; therefore instead of salivating and having a bell I have water and a fishing pole for the conditioned response. Time flies by but then at the same time stands still.        

Stop and consider for a moment how many actual places you are able to go now days just to be alone to think and refresh yourself. Probably not many places where you can be truly alone. You could walk out to an isolated spot in the forest or go to a park but still your thoughts continue to race through your mind and there are other distractions. But put a fishing rod in your hand and your line in the water and you will suddenly feel the stress melt away as you concentrate on “fishing“. Take it from this old mountain man, fishing can restore you in a way nothing else can. Sure you may get lost in a good book but when you close its cover you are instantly back in reality. You may look foolish fishing in a spring head like I do which has no fish but the transformation is happening inside. Do I care if I look foolish? Not in the least because the true restoration is occurring inside, not outside. It is a chance to restore your inner self and help your overall health in the process. It is a recognized rule that when a person is fishing it is impolite to disturb them. So when you are feeling stressed grab a fishing pole  and like Mark Twain head for the water to relax. Or I guess you could pay a therapist $200.00 an hour for the same thing but my personal choice is a fishing pole. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: 

9/8/2021 5:07:10 PM

There are so many nonviolent ways to relax in nature. Fishing is not one of them. Science has shown that fish can suffer fear and pain. Even if the intent of fishing isn't to catch a fish, you could still cause one to become impaled, suffocated, and manhandled. Even if they swim away afterwards it doesn't mean they survived the trauma and injury. Many do not. If you must fish in order to relax, please remove the hook or disable any other devises used to try to catch a fish. As fellow sentient beings, fishes deserve our respect and compassion, not gratuitous cruelty.

2/9/2013 5:48:16 PM

I look at hunting the same way. I find there is time to watch the fox catch grasshoppers, the deer sneak through the woods, and all the animals relate to each other. Once while fishing from the wood ramp used to slide ice blocks into the ice-house a robin came to within 5 feet of me, hopped down on a limb of a shrub just above the water, and a BIG, remember I was 5-8 years old, came up and grabbed the Robin. I almost fell in. Experiences like that can never be found on an electronic toy.

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