Opinions & Philosophies

How to Avoid and Cure Common Fishing Ailments

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Fishing is not a sport.

That’s what someone told me one time when discussing how tired fishing makes you after a long day in adverse conditions. That’s an interesting observation since the advent of wearable fitness trackers would say otherwise. Sure if you’re kicked back in a seat watching a bobber with a cold one in your hand, it’s not burning many calories but a lot more anglers on the water chasing fish with a keyed up attitude these days.

Imagine if the local gym offered a machine to a Stair Master that basically raised and lowered underneath you, and you basically had to flex one leg and then the other to keep from falling off the machine. I assure you, after 30 minutes of it, you’re calorie numbers would rival walking on the treadmill or climbing the moving stairs on the Stair Master.

That’s essentially what you’re doing when you stand on the front deck of a boat fishing in even an average wind or hiking up and down the terrain of an uneven body of water fishing from the bank. The wave action in a boat causes you to flex your legs back and forth all day long. Then you add in casting and retrieving with your arms and factor that in for repetition for 8-12 hours a day and you’ve burned some serious calories. I’ve had days where I burned more than 5,000 calories in a full period on the water.

If you told someone you were going to do the Stair Master for 8 hours, they would shoot you a look similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction when the dude he was questioning kept saying “What” Even the craziest of fitness trainers would think about doing the stair master for 8 hours and think there was not some adverse effect from that.

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Yet anglers seemed shocked when they are dealing with fatigue issues, repetitive motion injuries, and cramping after long days on the water.

Many of the ailments and fatigue anglers face are remedied with simple nutrition, stretching and hydration. And the more serious you are about it, the more you can even tailor workouts to help you build up stamina to further combat the repetitive injury prone nature of fishing.

Common ailments for anglers

Tennis elbow (or angler’s elbow), pulled forearm tendons, rotator cuff injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, frequent muscle cramping, knee sprains and tears and back injuries are all common ailments among anglers who spend a lot of time on the water. A lot of very fit professional anglers like Gerald Swindle and John Crews have been sidelined with knee injuries in the last year and recovering from repetitive motion injuries can be a real chore on a fishing boat.

I personally tore a rotator cuff the first year the Alabama Rig craze hit. I’ve had severe tendonitis in both forearms to the point of not being able to lift a jug of milk. I tore my meniscus running up a boat ramp to get a truck for a professional angler several years back, and I used to have chronic back sprains until seeking help for other weight related issues. So I know a little something about injuries related to fishing. But I readily admit I am not a trainer or physician. So my best advice is to seek the help of others who are well versed in corrective exercises. I’m just sharing some of what helped me and my personal experiences and experiences from other professional anglers and trainers who have helped me along the way.

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Steps to avoid injuries and ailments

For me, the best thing I ever did to relieve a lot of common ailments was lose weight. While going through that process I learned a lot about mobility and stability strengthening with Ken Hoover from AthletesOutdoors.com and talking with guys like Aaron Martens and Troy Lindner on stretches and movements to help strengthen and keep problematic areas loose and stretched out.

“Fishing can cause muscles imbalances in problem areas like the upper back, shoulders, forearm flexors and extensors, which affect body alignment or posture, and often results in various painful conditions,” Lindner said. “It could be knee pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, shoulder pain or back pain.

“Using a spinning rod for example. I reel with my left hand which causes the left shoulder to be rounded forward more than my right and my scapula gets ‘winged out.’ Several hours of this in a full day of fishing can cause muscle imbalances. I’m very aware of this and perform exercises and stretches that help reset my shoulders, my forearms and my back. Rear deltoid flyes are good. I also like to foam roll my thoracic spine and perform the wrist extensor stretch.”

Lindner is a long time fitness advocate and does a lot of corrective exercise to reset his muscles related to fishing activities. 

Aaron Martens believes stretching properly has helped him avoid injury all together in fishing and he  shared a couple of his favorite stretches for his forearms and his calves in this piece from a few years ago as those can be two often problematic areas for fishermen.

There are great stretching resources on the web.

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Nutrition and hydration

Ken Hoover, a long-time trainer, nutrition specialist, fitness coach, consultant and product developer helped me understand the importance of fueling properly, staying hydrated and recovering from long days of intense fishing activity. Hoover performed a study by monitoring the caloric burn of anglers like Gerald Swindle and Aaron Martens in a full day of competitive fishing back when the Elite Series was just getting started. The anglers would see heart rates over 200 bpm in a day a burn nearly 6,000 calories in a day.

The problem many anglers have is they don’t drink enough fluid and don’t consume enough good calories on a long day of fishing to stay energized and free from muscle cramps and ailments related to poor diet and being overly fatigued. Twinkies and sodas will only get you so far in a day of fishing.

Hoover has always advocated bringing food in the boat that you will eat but trying to stick with lean proteins, fruits and carbohydrates. He still supplies food to a handful of Elite Series professional anglers at the events and he grabs the food the night before at a grocery store or a Walmart or from his own formula of protein and energy shakes. He focuses on easy to consume, tasty foods that fall in that lean protein, fruits and carbs category. Protein bars and shakes, sandwiches with beef or chicken, nuts, fruit, etc.

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Supplementing for longevity

Guys like Gary Klein, Mark Davis and Shaw Grigsby have made a living in professional fishing for a long time. They have turned to supplementation in recent years to maintain a level of comfort and longevity in the sport. Klein turned me on to some Motion5 supplements from Blackfish5 for joint health after my injuries. They also have been taking KratosMax energy supplements and Rebound BCAA shakes from Blackfish5 also.

I take the supplements as well now as part of my normal regimen, as I’m still on the quest to lose 100 pounds. Surviving two knee injuries, two forearm injuries, a rotator cuff injury and chronic back problems, I’ve seen all of my aches and pains go away in recent years because of help through supplementation and stability and mobility training to reset muscle imbalances. I’ve not seen a chiropractor in years. My arthritis in my knee has subsided, and I don’t feel completely gassed now when I come off the water on long filming sessions or tournament days. A credit to better nutrition and hydration choices and supplementation on the water, I feel.

Resources for staying healthy

I probably have more people ask me about the 70 pounds I lost than what a bass will bite in the fall anymore. So I figured I’d share some of the resources I use on a regular basis and that other pros have shared.

Two products that I used that really helped me with my forearm injuries were a product called the Xtensor Reverse Hand Grip Exerciser that I got from ClinicallyFit.com, and a simple rubber twisting exercise stick called a Theraband Flexbar. I would do the recommend exercises for the Angler Elbow Performance therapy on ClinicallyFit.com daily with the Xtensor and also use the Flexbar, and in a month, I was able to completely reverse the effects of severe tendonitis (tennis elbow) in both of my forearms. Now I use them periodically as part of my regular mobility training to avoid those injuries going forward.

As far as web resources, this links should provide useful for more information on staying healthier and pain free in fishing:

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