The Art of Letting Go – Fly-fishing and Mindfulness

When thinking of relaxation, most people would mention reading a book, going for a walk, watching TV, working out or gardening, and occasionally: fishing. While most of these activities are relaxing and may have an element of mindfulness, some simply work the other way around and stimulate the body or the mind.

According to, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, adding that it is a quality that we all already possess, and we just have to learn how to access it.

In these days and times, with the busy lives we are leading, our minds are on constant overload. We are continuously seeking new ways to calm and soothe our minds. For those of us whose natural habitat is not the couch but the great outdoors, fishing is an obvious way to do that. Fly-fishing is especially considered to be a useful method.

(Photo: Pixabay-asarma464)

In 1855, physician and fly-fisherman James A. Henshall, MD, said that “fly-fishermen are usually brain workers in society. Along the banks of purling streams, they have ever been found, drinking deep of the invigorating forces of nature-giving rest and tone to over-taxed brains and wearied nerves.” Beautifully put, isn’t it?

It is a common criticism about fly-fishing that it is not humane and that catching and releasing the fish is stressful for it. However, this stress can be minimized if one follows some simple guidelines. Most importantly, the longer the fight, the more exhausted the fish becomes. Therefore – while the hook, the line and the water temperature all matter – it pretty much comes down to the time the angled fish is handled.

To put it plainly, the faster we are able to release the fish after being hooked, the better its survival odds. This may take practice, patience and attention.

And once we give it a second thought, mindfulness is a rather similar practice. At the end of the day, it is also a catch-and-release process.

When we are “hooked on” a thought and we “catch” ourselves doing so, we need to learn to “release” that thought and return to the here and now. There is no disputing that when we are hooked on a thought or a feeling, it is stressful – both psychologically and sometimes also physically.

It does matter to a great extent how long we “play with it” – or in other words how long we allow it to stay with us before letting it go. And this letting go is not easy at all. Similarly to fly-fishing, it requires skill, practice, and patience.

(Photo: Pixabay-Mandz11) 

Returning ourselves and our thoughts to the moment is part of practicing mindfulness and is a purposeful intention, as is the repeated back-and-forth motion of casting a line to just the right spot in the water. Right there, standing in the middle of a gently flowing river with a fly rod in hand and the rhythmic flow of the cast , is where and how you can focus on the present – life as it is in that very moment. And in that moment, it becomes crystal clear that fishing after all is not about escaping life (or at least its daily routines) – on the contrary: it is a deeper immersion into life. At least the kind of life that’s worth living.

Specialized treatments and training program for first responders and veterans suffering from service-related trauma, PTSD or addiction issues, for example, often include fly-fishing and mindfulness practice. Probably exactly because both these two skills require practice and certain skills. And both are about the art of letting go.



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(Cover Photo: Pixaby-PIRO4D)

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