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GUEST COMMENT: Fishing is good for your mental health

Unfortunately for this 25-pound trout columnist Jean Erasmus pulled out of Great Slave Lake near Deline in 2018, being out on the land heals the body on a cellular level. photo courtesy of Roy Erasmus

This column was written by Jean Erasmus, a certified counsellor and life coach who is passionate about working with Indigenous people in the North.

I have been going to Deline for the last three years to provide counselling services, and I have not been able to go back since Covid-19. I have been living vicariously through my friends Verna and Bruce via Facebook posts.

Nearly every day for the last several months they have been posting videos and photos of their time on Great Bear Lake doing their favourite things: fishing or hunting.

The best thing we can do for our mental health is go out on the land. Did you know mother nature heals us on a cellular level? Yep, and the more we are out there, the more relaxed and refreshed we feel.

Fishing is extremely soothing, writes columnist Jean Erasmus. Especially when catching 25-pound lake trout from Great Bear Lake like this one. photo courtesy of Roy Erasmus

There's something incredibly soothing about fishing. Not only are you out on the water breathing in the fresh air and waiting patiently for the next bite, but fishing rejuvenates you because you can literally feel the stress leave your body.

When you are out fishing, you are concentrating and focusing on the task, which helps you to take your mind off life's challenges, so you are less anxious and less depressed. This lowers your cortisol levels or what is known as the stress hormone. Fishing promotes relaxation, which helps lower your blood pressure.

It teaches us patience: our world is filled with over-stimulation and instant gratification; meanwhile, we need to be patient while fishing. We don't usually just drop in a line and catch a fish, and sometimes we get skunked; we go home and open a can of sardines if we want to eat fish. Eschia!

It improves body strength and balance: catching even a small fish will give the shoulders, back, arms, core and legs a good workout. Anyone who has ever reeled a fish into a canoe knows fishing takes acrobatic maneuvers and balance, which builds core strength and flexibility; these both help offset back pain.

It encourages bonding: Fishing is a skill passed on through the generations, whether it's taking the kids or friends out to your favorite fishing spot with a rod or teaching them how to set a net. We feel safe and comfortable while spending time with our family and friends.

Roy says back in the day his dad always had a net in the water right in front of the house and he used to help his dad set it in the winter and summer.

One thing I remember about fishing is it brought families together, because when there's lots of fish it becomes a social event. When people gather, we have many shared stories, which always brings laughter and teasing. Everyone helps out to prepare the fish, including children who learn by watching.

You don't have to go far to fish. Even an afternoon at the dock reeling in and out calms your spirit.

If it's sunny out, you will get a healthy dose of vitamin D, which helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphates in your body, keeping your bones and teeth healthy. Being outdoors is the best source of vitamin D even when skies are grey.

Also, when you are fishing it's likely you will be off your phone too, unless you are taking a photo of the catch of the day.

Fishing teaches self-reliance: we rely on others to perform all kinds of things in our daily lives. Fishing puts you out in the wilderness and calls on you to master a variety of different skills, from driving a boat, setting up a tent, to drilling a hole in the ice with an auger.

Bruce and Verna brought me ice fishing every chance we got, and I always admired them as they caught many fish in their nets and rods – and they always shared their catch with the community.

Like Forrest Gump and Bubba, I watched them fillet fish, dry fish, make fish sticks, smoke fish, fry fish on an open fire, and even boil them.

I am sure they would have made fish patties or fish chowder or even baked it in the oven too. No matter how they cook it, wild fish is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. In fact, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends a regular diet of fish.

Fishing helps fulfill an age-old need of pursuing and catching. The thrill lies in the challenge, such as stalking an elusive wild trout.

And fishing improves sleep: many of us can't sleep at night because of stress, but just being near water lowers anxiety and instills a sense of calm.

So, be like Bruce and Verna; go grab a pole and head out to the lake to fish.