The Fly Fisherman’s Workout

Photo by Todd Puleo A fly fisherman alone on a remote Pennsylvania stream. A fly fisherman alone on a remote Pennsylvania stream.
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Big-​woods trout fishing takes the fisherman to spectacular natural places. Wild brook trout, in particular, demand we hike deep into the forest, improving our physical and mental health by walking long distances, relaxing our minds and feasting our eyes on one beautiful vision after another.

The sun’s morning rays angling down through dark green hemlock boughs. Rivulets flowing along pebbles and rocks. Massive sandstone boulders standing sturdily above the stream. White-​tailed deer sipping from a deep pool at dawn. Hardwood trees rising up the mountainsides, bursting with their spring and summer foliage. And the beautifully colored wild brook trout you have just caught and released.

Researchers have found that the hiking required to pursue trout found in forest streams offers many health benefits. One hour of trekking for trout can burn up to 500 calories, maybe more depending on the fisherman’s weight. Clambering over rocks and climbing hillsides and inclines can provide a total body workout, especially the lower body: quads, glutes and hamstrings. And if you carry a backpack, your upper body benefits, too.

A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that long-​distance hiking along streams may improve one’s antioxidative capacity, which could help fend off disease, and may help a person control or prevent such maladies as diabetes by lowering blood sugar.

Just being out there in the mild, peaceful surroundings of the forest takes us away from the tension of modern daily life and the stress of dealing with unforgiving and life-​draining technology. Research suggests that immersion in nature reduces stress and may help increase happiness and ease depression. In the big woods along the small stream, people can connect with themselves and nature in a way that brings about peace and a sense of well-​being. In Japan, they call it “shinrin-​yoku,” — “forest bathing” — which is immersing ourselves in the healthful environment of remote settings. We can gain beneficial exercise and a calming of the mind, enjoy the rewarding sport of fishing, and perhaps experience fulfillment by helping protect and conserve wild and beautiful places.

Consider air quality in the forest compared to the city. Studies suggest that even downtown parks and riverside bike paths are likely to have better air quality than busy city streets, and the presence of abundant trees offers additional protection.

When the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ranked its top 10 reasons to go fishing, stress reduction and health benefits were high on the list, even higher than the thrill of pursuing and catching an elusive wild trout and the social bonding that happens when a fishing experience is shared with others.

But it takes a little work to gain the maximum benefit of hiking and fishing in the forest. Do your best to block work demands and personal problems. Focus on the beauty and comfort of nature. Pause when you arrive at a small waterfall and a plunge pool that’s likely to hold trout. Take it all in: the pebbles along the bank, the stunted grasses, the wildflowers — white trilliums, maybe — and the moss-​covered boulders along the stream. Don’t hurry up the streamside trail. Cast at the falls, let the line drift into the pool and expect a strike. When it comes, set the barbless hook and feel the striving on the line. Play it only long enough to land it to avoid harming the fish. Maybe, take a quick photo before carefully releasing it back into its habitat.

Wild trout are too precious to keep, kill and eat. The lands are pristine and the waters are clean where wild trout live. They are the “canaries in the coal mine” that mark our best and healthiest environments.

Don Feigert

Don Feigert is a newspaper columnist, magazine writer and book author living in Sharon.

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