Whilst recent events may have shone a light on the question of whether fishing is exercise or merely a recreation, it isn’t a new question, and the implications of the perception of the sport are much longer reaching than the next few months. If fishing is exercise, which it almost irrefutably is, either as a by-product or otherwise, then it somewhat erodes away at the notion of angling as a lazy old mans sport.
It’s key to remember that there are multiple guises in which angling can take place. If we cite a lure angler travelling around 8 miles in a day across broken uneven terrain, having to wade parts, climb parts and jump gullies, whilst continually casting and retrieving with little rest or reprieve less that be the moment the target fish passes by, then we probably have to accept that as an extreme on a distribution chart. Likewise, the angler dropped by car right to their swim on a specimen carp lake, aided in setting up camp for several days, lobbing out a few boilie baits, using a remote control boat to deal with ground baiting and then lying out on a camp bed waiting for alarms to ring is at the other end of the distribution.
Most anglers are going to fall somewhere in-between these extremities. The walk to the mark will be a varying degree of exertion, based on distance, terrain covered and weight of gear carried along with them. Once on the chosen mark, there will be further variance between the activity of anglers. Will they be content sitting on large baits for an hour at a time of frantically changing smaller baits every 10 minutes? Will they be retrieving small fish offering little resistance or pumping big conger out of their holes and coaxing ray up off the bottom? Will they be lobbing a 1oz lead into the surf or heaving 10oz of lead and a whole mackerel seawards with all the might they can muster to stick a bend in the telegraph pole masquerading as a fishing rod?
Angling is not alone in variance of effort exerted though. There are ‘cyclists’ out there using battery assisted bikes for the inclines, and the obvious effect of gravity when it comes to the declines. There are joggers who barely pick up enough pace to increase their heart rate enough to warrant it as exercise. Still, nobody would see them and question them. The perception of their chosen sport is one of exertion and therefore they will be judged the same as those appearing to train for the London marathon or Tour de France.
Of course this consideration is simply with regards to exercising the body, and in this respect I’d challenge any doubter to take on the FitBit results of a dedicated sea angler over the course of a month and outperform it without partaking in some pretty strenuous exercise regimes; but as a necessity, and we’ll focus on the ‘lockdown’ element just briefly, is angling needed to gain physical exertion? Are there not many other ways in which one could gain the same physical exertion without even leaving the confines of their house? Youtube is full of free workout sessions or instructions on building home gyms in your garden, though of course these arguments apply to pretty much anyone partaking in any form of exercise outside of their house – not least the lycra clad cyclists who could, for a very immaterial price, acquire a device that clamps their wheels indoors and allows the operation of the bike (even with added resistance on some devices) without moving an inch.
If we take the exercise of the body as a given, and accept the argument that such exertion could be done in other ways without leaving the house (so long as the same is said of all other sports), we’d still be overlooking one further critical factor; exercise of ones mind.
In all times, not least the last year and the difficulties it has bought, the mental wellbeing of ones mind can have tangible impacts on their wider health. It may be that a walk, a run, some lifting of weights and a circuits class taught by someone with an infuriatingly overly positive attitude to retain when balls of sweat are rolling down your face, are enough to keep a body physically fit to an extent. However, if none of that gives the peace, contentment, fulfilment, exhilaration, delight, escapism and joy of their chosen sport or recreation, then their mental health will suffer and physical health nearly always follows. Find a doctor that disagrees that the brain is one of, if not the most important parts of your body to regularly exercise.
The planning, the challenges, the successes and even the failures make for an incredible exercise of ones brain. We mix a physically exerting sport with one of strategic battle with our quarry, always trying to out plan and second guess the fish. How the tide will have impacted then, what the movements of their bait supply has been, whether the shifting sands is going to cause the usual productive back eddy to reposition itself 30 yards down the beach and so forth. Whereas running exercises your body and crosswords, sudoku or chess exercise your brain, ours is a sport that delivers both in absolute abundance – to as little or as great an extent as the participant wishes for. Just like other sports, the individual can push themselves as far as they are personally willing to do so.
In conclusion, it is hard to refute that fishing is not a very productive form of exercise, physically working many different muscle groups but most importantly working the brain through a range of strategies, planning and emotions. For the purpose of lockdown legislation, one could argue it is not necessary physically, but in no greater terms than could be argued of any other sport. To argue it is not necessary from a mental health perspective is somewhat more challenging. We have, after all, always been told that lockdowns are to ‘flatten the curve’, not to protect everyone indefinitely from the virus. As such, if you were to eventually get it, do you want to do so in both a physically and mentally good position, or in a weak state of body and mind?
Looking beyond current implications, it’s pivotal to attracting a new, hungry, fit and energetic audience to out sport by showing how great it is for both mind and body. Fishing is not a lazy mans sport, but not can it afford the perception of one.