Fly-fishing and Healthy Living

by Neil Patterson

A businessman was watching a fishing boat dock at a pier in a small fishing village. The fisherman had caught several fish. The businessman asked the fisherman how long it took to catch them. 

'Not long,’ the fisherman said.

The businessman asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman told him he had enough to feed his family. 

'So what do you do with the rest of your time?' the business man asked.

The fisherman told him he had a rest, played with his children, strolled into the village with his wife and played chess with his friends.

The businessman told the fisherman that he had a business degree. He said that if the fisherman he was to spend more time fishing, he could buy a bigger boat, then a fleet of boats, then open his own cannery, then move to the City and run his corporation.

The fisherman asked how long this would take.

'Ten, fifteen years,' the businessman said. 

'Then what?” asked the fisherman. 

'You sell your stock. You make millions.' 

'And then?” asked the fisherman. 

''You retire, move to a small fishing village, do a little fishing, have a rest, play with your children, stroll into the village with your wife and play chess with your friends.'

'These business degrees,’ the fisherman asked, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Are they hard to get?' 

The moral of this story?  There’s more to fishing than catching fish.

Fishermen will tell you that the gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent fishing. This is an ancient Chinese proverb, but I think it more likely it came from Biblical times.  There were a lot of fishermen (later, fishers of men) spouting off then. Either way, this saying has some impressive back-up.

But could it be true?  

Fresh air, exercise, relaxation. Fishing is a healthy thing for anyone to do. But rather than hours deducted from your lifespan, its hours, days, years added onto to your lifespan. At one time, I believed fishermen were the only people that took this proverb seriously. Usually in defence of why they wanted to go fishing.  In actual fact, other people take it just as, or even more seriously. And they’re not fishermen.

Medics, for instance.  Doctors, surgeons and health advisers all recognise the medicinal and psychological benefit to be gained by fishing.A healthy body is a healthy mind and one of the pleasures of fishing is that it gets you away from it all to enjoy the peace and quiet of countryside and contemplate wildlife and nature. Fishing gives time for reflection. It slows down the pace of life for an hour or two. It allows you to lose yourself in your surroundings and watch the world go, or rather flow, by.

In short, fishing is a perfect way to de-stress.

All fishing can get the heart racing -there are many different types of angling. Coarse, game and sea fishing, incorporating baits such as maggots and worms and flashy metal things called ‘spinners’, depending on the nature of the quarry.But fly-fishing - presenting a fish with a replica of something it is feeding on made out of fur feather and silk - is perhaps the most health-giving, for the body and the soul.  

Rather than sitting on a basket by the side of a canal dangling a worm in the drink, fly-fishing has you chasing round lakes after trout, scrambling over rocks after salmon and climbing mountains to get to remote Scottish lochans for whatever might be in them. 

Fly-fishing gives you the most exercise. But it does more. And there are those in the medical profession who have taken fly-fishing - and in particular, the art of fly casting - further. They use it to help women recover from breast cancer surgery. Casting for Recovery, established in 2006 in the UK by English national fly-fisher Sue Hunter, offers support and counseling for those who are suffering or have beaten breast cancer.

They offer the chance to learn fly-fishing as part of a therapy programme, because it can aid relaxation and assist joint mobility. Sue, who has been treated for cancer twice, says that participants have likened going on one of the Casting for Recovery ‘retreats’ to crossing a bridge from being ill to being well.

Apart from the camaraderie, the ability to talk to women who share the same trauma and problems and the pleasurable and restorative results of simply connecting with nature, fly-casting can help in more specific ways.

Many breast cancer survivors who have had surgery suffer from lymphoedema. This is when an accumulation of tissue fluid blocks the lymph glands and causes the arm to swell. Casting can help the lymphatics to drain. And, if it makes the arm sore, there’s always the choice of casting with the other arm.

To find out more about how you can enjoy all the healthy benefits of fly-fishing - or recommend them to your friends and patients - contact The Salmon & Trout Association at Fishmongers' Hall, London Bridge, London, EC4R 9EL.  Tel: 020 7283 5838. Or visit