The U.S. Veterans Health Administration has adopted the use of fly fishing and fly tying as recreational therapies for injured military veterans.
Because fly fishing is such a great low-impact physical activity, it is widely used as a rehabilitation therapy for physically injured military veterans because calming, repetitive, low-impact activities like fly casting and fly tying help them regain strength and the use of their muscles. Fly fishing is by nature a reflective and meditative activity which requires people to slow down and experience their surroundings. These qualities also make fly fishing a popular therapeutic intervention often used by therapists who work with veterans, people with chronic illnesses, and others who have experienced trauma in their lives. Additionally, because fly fishing requires focus, it helps those doing it take their minds off internal conflicts. Locating fish, developing strategies to catch them, choosing the correct fly and then correctly presenting it to the fish all require critical and creative thinking—and persistence. This type of focusing, especially because it’s done outdoors, provides a healthy escape or diversion from stress, depression and anxiety.
This phenomenon has been proven in clinical studies in which cortisol (stress hormone) levels were measured in a study of Iraq war veterans before and after a weekend of fishing. Those who had been on the trip experienced lower levels of cortisol for as many as 3 weeks afterward. Researchers noted that these veterans slept better, expressed lower levels of depression and anxiety, experienced fewer symptoms of somatic stress, and were far less likely to experience the feelings of guilt, hostility, fear or sadness normally associated with PTSD and traumatic experiences.
Fly fishing and fly tying are life-long activities. Fly casting can be practiced throughout the year—in the back yard or a city park. Fly tying can also be done anytime, especially when the weather or other circumstances don’t allow outdoor activities. Thus, once veterans acquire the skills and have the equipment to tie flies or catch fish on them, they then also have a lifelong mechanism that’s always available to them to help address the horrible after effects of the wars they fought for all of us.