Angling for Wellbeing

“How are you?” Three words guaranteed to be on the lips of many anglers at the start of their next fishing trip. Loading rods into the vehicle, they will do a quick mental check of the gear, joke they’ve probably left something behind, discuss the weather, and hit the road. Off to the river, the stream, the lake.

Getting back to those words, “how are you”, who replies in all truth, and how many will listen closely?

Wellbeing takes many forms. Underlying our health and happiness are broader aspects of mental and emotional, social, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. While most New Zealanders are satisfied with their lives, in the past five years the number of people struggling with poor mental health has risen, national statistics show.

The proportion of people who say they felt cheerful and in good spirits, calm and relaxed, active and vigorous, woke up feeling fresh and rested, and had a life full of interesting things all or most of the time, has fallen substantially since 2018, says Stats NZ (2021). 

The positive effects nature exposure can have on people’s health and wellbeing are increasingly recognised around the world. Research has shown exposure to green spaces, such as parks, gardens, and forests, as well as ‘blue spaces’, including rivers, lakes, and oceans, can enrich aspects of our wellbeing. Nature-based wellbeing interventions, such as walks, so-called ‘forest bathing’, gardening, and water-based sports, including some types of recreational fishing, have been developed and tested for their ability to improve aspects of wellbeing. Such interventions are geared at modifying risks factors and changing behaviours to improve people’s health. 

Trout fishing is popular in New Zealand and globally, owing to the wide distribution of trout as well as their qualities as a sports fish and a source of healthy kai. Each year, about 300,000 fishing licences are sold during New Zealand’s sports fishing season, and each year anglers collectively spend almost 1.3 million days fishing in the country’s rivers, streams, and lakes. 

Trout waters in New Zealand are typically among pastoral areas or bush-clad backcountry, exposing anglers to green spaces. Also, trout fishing – whether using bait, lure, or fly – usually requires direct contact with water, immersing anglers in blue space.


In the UK and Europe, far from the streams and ponds of the countryside, a growing number of millennials and gen Z anglers are latching onto urban fishing in major cities, The Guardian reports.

In 2021, fishing was prescribed – essentially as a wellbeing intervention – for the first time by the UK’s National Health Service. The scheme is run by the Greater Manchester mental health trust and the community interest group Tackling Minds. And it is saving lives, Tackling Minds says.

On several occasions, service users said they would not be alive if it were not for the fishing sessions, charity group founder David Lyons says. It also led to an increase in demand from other NHS clinical commissioning groups. The community group also runs fishing sessions with young people at risk of antisocial behaviour and is credited with a 27 per cent drop in such incidents.

In 2022, a UK survey found recreational fishing could help people suffering serious mental health problems. Anglers were less likely to self-harm, report anxiety or attempt suicide, according to the survey of 1900 people by the Anglia Ruskin University, Angling Direct Plc and the community charity Tackling Minds. 

Of those people who said they took part in recreational fishing, fewer said they suffered from anxiety disorder (16.5% versus 26.4%), had attempted suicide (7.5% versus 13.2%), and engaged in deliberate self-harm (10.4% versus 20.6%) compared with people who do not fish.

The research leader, acclaimed ARU professor Lee Smith, says: “This would suggest that encouraging participation in fishing could be a good dual-method strategy for both promoting relaxation and good mental health as well as encouraging increased levels of physical activity within those with mental health issues such as anxiety disorder.”


In other research, Mowatt and Bennett (2011) studied the effects of a fly-fishing course on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among military veterans, revealing reductions in perceived stress, negative mood states, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and PTSD symptoms. Hunt and McManus (2016) surveyed Australian saltwater anglers, finding they had lower rates of excess body weight and obesity, and reported more active lifestyles compared with the general population.

A survey of Spanish saltwater anglers found an inverse relationship between angling frequency and stress (Pita et al. 2022). And Reese et al. (2022) studied participants in a counselling course involving fly-fishing, with positive results.


Despite previous studies on nature exposure and wellbeing, freshwater trout fishing is one nature-based recreational activity that has received limited research attention. An exploratory study into the relationship between trout fishing in Aotearoa New Zealand and wellbeing is currently underway.

Southland Fish & Game officer Cohen Stewart says it is hoped the research will provide valuable insights to the field of public health and lead to the development of trout-fishing-related wellbeing interventions in New Zealand and beyond.

“Trout fishing allows people to simultaneously immerse themselves in green and blue spaces, and we think it holds great potential as a nature-based wellbeing intervention,” Stewart says.

“Until now, no studies have looked closely at the relationships between trout fishing and wellbeing in a New Zealand context, despite our abundant rivers, streams, and lakes.”

The findings may be used to develop and experimentally test a wellbeing intervention involving trout fishing.


This season Fish & Game is supporting a public awareness campaign for New Zealanders to “rewild” themselves with fishing and hunting – to reconnect with nature, self, friends and family, and wild kai. Weighing up the cost of buying a fishing licence and tackle, and of getting ourselves to fishing waters near or far, we may also consider what is the alternative cost to ourselves and others of not reconnecting? It seems a natural thing to do.

Bruce Quirey, Otago Fish & Game
Additional credit:
Cohen Stewart, Southland Fish and Game
Photo credits:
Bruce Quirey, Otago Fish & Game,
Richie Cosgrove, NZ Fish & Game, and Ian Hadland, Otago Fish & Game
Share the Post: