Reel Therapy: Fishing!

May 21, 2020 greg wagner

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another. We have been staying at home for the most part with trips pretty much only being made to the grocery store, gas station or nearby trail for exercise.

One activity though that has been very popular in Nebraska throughout this unprecedented time: Fishing!

Nebraskan Russell Mann fishes the scenic, wild waters of Upper Snake River in Cherry County, NE for rainbow and brown trout. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Recreational fishing is a legitimate outdoor lifestyle activity solidly rooted in science. Fisheries conservation and management balance the needs of people with consideration for maintaining healthy populations of fish, as well as their aquatic habitats.

Lately, Nebraskans have been out in strong numbers wetting lines at local and regional waters – lakes, reservoirs, ponds, streams and rivers. Evidence of that is in fishing permit sales. They are up over last year and the three-year average. State park permit sales are also up.

On the national level, high interest in fishing is apparent. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation website,, has seen a 15 percent increase in traffic this past month. Organic online searches for fishing and how-to fish information in April dramatically rose, a whopping 350 percent! Searches for fishing permits are high, and a recent Harris Poll showed 24 percent of people with children under 18 were considering fishing more during the pandemic.

In this country, purchasing a state fishing permit and having the freedom to spend a day near the water means a great deal. Fishing is one of the more accessible outdoor activities where nearly anyone can easily be a participant! Whether it is trolling crankbaits for walleye in a public reservoir or using bobbers and crawlers for bluegills in a community pond, recreational fishing offers a welcome release from a long stay at home.

Give it some thought. Recreational fishing, done legally and safely, is great for mental health, stress relief, Vitamin D absorption, calorie burning, connecting with your family and creating lasting memories. Fishing also has a tangible reward: Catching your dinner.

Nebraska Conservation Officer Rich Berggren of Waterloo displays a big, pre-spawn channel catfish he caught during his time off in a western Douglas County, NE sandpit lake. Rich says fishing is one of the ways that helps him to relax and relieve stress. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Please know whether fishing by yourself or with the folks in your household, social/physical distancing from others and frequent hand washing are easily accomplished. Updates on COVID-19 and how it pertains to the Nebraska outdoor scene can be found here.

Daryl Bauer, Fisheries Biologist and Fisheries Outreach Program Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says that now is the time to go fishing. Bauer States: “I will always tell you that May and June are two of the best months of the year to fish open water in Nebraska.  It does not make any difference what species of fish you want to catch, what water bodies you want to fish, during May and June, “do not pass “GO”, do not collect $200″ just GO FISH!”

Bauer reminds anglers that they will need to have a current, valid Nebraska fishing permit on their person while actively engaging in hook-and-line fishing and should check fishing regulations in advance of their trip. “Like normal, our fishing permit requirements and our fishing regulations remain in effect.”

Visit the Game and Parks website to acquire permits and read regulations, at

By the way, basic information on how to get started in the lifestyle of fishing is also available on the Game and Parks website at this link.

Find top places to fish for various species in Nebraska on the website as well.

Some questions about fishing remain though: What does fishing really mean to people? Why are so many folks out casting lines?

Let us go deeper (no fishing pun intended).

A large part of fishing is the calming influence that comes with it. No, your brain does not go to sleep; any angler will tell you that if you are not thinking about what you are doing, you most likely are not catching any fish, right? However, fishing shares one similarity with good sleep, seriously. It takes the stresses of everyday life – the uncertainties, worries, responsibilities, etc. and pushes them right out of the cerebrum!

I will tell you there is just no room for those pressures in my brain when I am fishing. I’m concentrating on rigging my presentation, casting to a certain spot, working my lure or bait in the water, noting conditions, and watching the weather and wildlife, as well as honing in on the other things that go along with effective angling plus perhaps engaging in conversation with a relative, friend or co-worker while on the water.

Even more fulfilling is introducing or re-introducing a person in your household to the lifetime activity of fishing through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Take ‘Em Fishing challenge. This fun, statewide challenge is one where anglers can win great prizes just by sharing their love of fishing with someone who has never fished or someone that has not fished in a while. To find out more information about it, go online.

Emma Wagner-Nichols, your blogger’s daughter, catches a bluegill off a private dock at Kuester Lake in Grand Island, NE, while your blogger’s grandson looks on and is ready to touch the fish! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Fishing, more than anything else takes a person out of a normal, everyday setting and fully places them in another, a natural one with space, even if it is just for a few hours. It is an actual, physical scenario, too, unlike trying to lose yourself in a book, movie, TV miniseries or reality show. Fishing is atmospheric and soothing. It is feeling the sun, wind, sand, rocks and water that are around an angler continually.

A wave laps the shoreline at a large private sandpit lake in western Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Here is something rather interesting.

In a study involving U.S. military combat veterans, researchers from the University of Southern Maine, the University of Utah, and the VA in Salt Lake City, found that participants had significant reductions in overall stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms as well as improvements in sleep quality after participating in an angling retreat.

These Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans also had lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, for as long as three weeks after a weekend fishing trip. Researchers also noted that their patients slept better, expressed lower levels of depression and anxiety, experienced fewer symptoms of somatic stress or stress related to the body, and were far less likely to experience the feelings of guilt, hostility, fear, or sadness normally associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and horrific experiences. Many of the combat veterans who fished in the study commented that the sound of water lapping at the shore and the pull of a fishing line were enough to help drive some of their stress away.

Your blogger’s son-in-law, Tyler Nichols of Ames, NE, a disabled U.S. Army veteran, thoroughly enjoys fishing with adaptive equipment off of his private dock at Timberwood Lake in Dodge County, NE. Tyler says fishing mentally refreshes him, gives him a challenge and a offers an opportunity to get outdoors. Photo by Emma Wagner-Nichols of Ames, NE.

Personally, I also think the feeling of unrestrained optimism in angling is something of priceless value. That unrestrained optimism translates to an insatiable belief that, at the next moment, with the next cast, I could land a big fish or that fish of a lifetime! I feel it every time I put a rod and reel in my hands!

This is your blogger displaying a nice-sized, pre-spawn largemouth bass caught and then released during the coronavirus pandemic in a private sandpit lake in western Douglas County, NE.

Nothing brings on the sense of being alive and helps to rebuild and restore our mental reserves like a day on the water trying to catch a fish and interacting with a family member or friend in an aquatic environment.

Like the legendary columnist, Doug Larson, once said: “If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.”

This is a beautiful, spring sunset experienced at Johnson Lake near Lexington, NE while fishing for post-spawn walleye. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The post Reel Therapy: Fishing! appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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