Is Fishing a Sport?

On September 17, 2014
Comments (13)


I have never considered fishing to be a sport, at least not the way the word is used by most people. Perhaps the best way to put it, in my opinion, is how I once heard a comedian say it, “fishing is the only sport where the opponent doesn’t know he’s playing” (I believe this was said by Brian Regan, but can’t find the joke right now). But, at the same time I’m not sure there is another word that really encompasses what fishing is. It’s a leisure activity, it’s a hobby, it’s a way to experience and commune with nature, and yes, it can certainly feel like an outright sport sometimes. Even if the way I fish often involves climbing gnarly boulders or hiking for hours, I continue to hesitate on using the word “sport” to describe fishing. However, today I realized that an angler and an athlete have a lot more in common than I had thought. More specifically, I realized how the three pillars of an athlete’s life: sleep, diet and training, also affect an angler’s performance.



In my previous blog post I talked about how jetlag has been affecting me since I returned from Japan. It’s been 10 days since I came back, but sadly my sleep pattern is not yet 100% back to normal. As a result I have been going to sleep much later than usual while still needing to wake up early on most days. Today I had a relatively early start to my day as I had scheduled to go fishing with some friends. It was their first time tenkara fishing with me. I gave them some instruction and shortly after I started I missed my first fish. It would have been a nice brown trout. Then we started fishing, with each of us finding our own pool, convening on occasion to chat but mostly fishing on our own. And, boy, did I miss a lot of fish today. Sure, I landed a few fish, but I can certainly say my reflexes were shot and I was missing a lot more strikes than usual. Like myself, the fish seemed to be kind of sluggish, with very slow takes, but even that didn’t help me. I took comfort in the fact that catching fish is always a bonus and I just enjoyed being there after a week of no fishing. I can attest to the fact that sleep is as important for an angler as for an athlete who wants to perform well.



After a big breakfast, beef jerky and energy bars form the staple of a fisherman’s diet (at least most people I know). A big breakfast (with a nice cup of joe of course) allows us to start fishing and go for a while. The smarter angler will bring with him a sandwich or something more substantial to eat. Me? I often sustain myself on beef jerky or granola bars, and occasionally some nuts or dried fruits. These items are often in my wader pockets to be consumed throughout the day. Alas, today I had a tiny breakfast, and only one unsubstantial bar in my pocket. I have very high metabolism and after a couple of hours of fishing and with the bar already gone, I found myself getting hungry and moving very slowly. I was sluggish and really not moving as much upstream to checkout new pools, and also avoiding climbing large boulders if I could. Typically when a pool isn’t producing I’ll move and try the next one to find more fish. Not today. My reflexes also suffered a bit as a result. While my diet is normally good, and the pressure on me as an angler is not nearly as high as on an athlete, today I realized how important an appropriate diet is for good performance while fishing.



I’m not sure how important this part really is, but my experience today makes me think  there is something to be said about training, which really just means fishing regularly. It has been about 10 days since I last fished. Prior to that I had several days of fishing in a row, and I felt like I was doing well. Every day of fishing seemed to build upon the last. I perceived micro-currents differently, I noticed my fly and line quickly, and I reacted appropriately, almost instinctually. Now, I realize I have been fishing very intently for many years and I have learned and practiced things so many times that I won’t forget. Yet, I felt just a little rusty when I started fishing today. Whatever resulted from a lack of “training” came back to me after a few minutes of being in the water, so no big deal. But, it does make me realize the best way  to get better and feel sharp and in tune with what’s going on while fishing is simply to fish more often. You notice things that usually go unnoticed when you’re fishing often.

So, what do you think? Is fishing a sport? Do you have these experiences as well?


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13 Responses to Is Fishing a Sport?

  1. brad says:

    If you look at from if a sport means competition then maybe. We are try to out smart the fish and when we do we win.If we come home empty handed then the fish won. But to me it’s more of a way of life. It helps keep sane!! And like as it has been said before it’ not about the fish. It’ the total exsperience!!

  2. I believe fishing is a hobby until you hook a fish. Then, it becomes a sport. Because at that point, there’s no doubt the fish knows they’re competing.

  3. Adam says:

    It’s a way of life for some. For me, it is a pursuit, a pass time. I hike in season and I look at fishing like I look at hiking. My understanding of “sport” is competing. Hobby is closer to what fishing is but hobby would not be my choice of words for fishing.

  4. Jimi says:

    Fishing is a sport when it is a sport. As an example I do not consider ping pong to be a sport when I play but I know there are proffesional ping pong players in the sport itself. When fishing becomes a sport for me I will probably stop. I can’t imagine taking a vacation from fishing but if it were just for sport I would need a break from it eventually. I’m glad it is NOT a sport for me.

  5. Timmy! says:

    Rejoice we have a new post from our fearless leader and a good one to! Because of our heat in Texas and some nagging health issues i have not been able to fish as much as i have in the past. So i scour this site and others looking for articles, photos and videos about camping and fishing to appease my hunger, thanks to all! ps-its a SPORT!!!!!

  6. Dave Rosset says:

    I agree with Jason in that it doesn’t become a sport until the fish is hooked. And depending on the fish,, I would liken it to being in a battle of hand-to-hand combat.


    When I was in the Air Force Reserves, flying back from the Orient was always harder on me that flying back from Europe. Go to you doctor and get a perscription for some geneic Ambien to help you sleep. Or if you prefer go to the pharmacy section in your local food store and get a bottle of Melatonin and take that for a few days.


    • Thanks Dave for the suggestion. Melatonin has been helping. I think this time it’s a mix of the jetlag with a lot of the work stresses coming at once that are making it a little harder. But, I’m happy to report fishing and doing more hikes has been helping me reset the internal clock and I slept well last night.

  7. Chuckers says:

    As indicated in the spectrum of comments above, fishing, like hiking, skiing, biking, etc., is what we make of it–what we wish it to be to us as participants. That’s its essence and part of its beauty. I for one consider it an experience, akin to music, though I can’t deny there’s always an element of self-competition. Philosophy aside, fishing is what you want it to be, and more.

  8. Shan says:

    I agree with Chuckers, How could I not? My one word take would be “Pursuit” in all it’s interpretations. Thanks for the article.

    PS – The gentleman at My Best Streams likes to say “Fishing is name only.”

  9. Tony says:

    A friend of mine calls it “Trout hunting”, not trout fishing. Cracks me up but there is an air of truth to it. Sneak up, stay low, watch from a distance so as to not spook the fish, and so on. Sounds like hunting right? If so, aren’t most people hunting to feed themselves. Yes there is the thrill of bring down a 7×7 bull elk but that meat will become tasty foodstuffs later on.

    There is much effort expended in hunting animals, large or small and that ‘catch’ is normally consumed at the dinner table. We expend that same energy as well but in most cases return our prey. Even though I laugh at the “trout hunting” notion I have to call it a sport because of how we treat our catches.

    And yes, there are a million variations off this argument that are all true!

    • Ron says:

      I think you have come closest to an accurate description. Hunting is a good term and, for me, better than any I’ve heard to describe what we do.

      Friends ask why I snub my nose at joining charter fishing parties or eschew the pastime of dunking bait and line over a bridge in the hopes a fish might swim along and grab my worm. Simply put, there’s nothing predatory about it. THAT is why I trout fish with fly and nothing else. Everything about it, if you intend to be successful, is like hunting. So many variables, and too many uncertainties require us to “sharpen our game” if we intend to catch fish. Knowing rivers, how their currents provide cover and create food lanes, the entomology of our prey’s food and the habitat in which they must balance their survival requires acute attention. The adrenaline high I get is a DNA inheritance from early humans that depended on fish and game to survive. At its simplest, they were predators and the food were prey. Just as simple as that; otherwise, their tribe would starve. Somewhere forgotten within our psyche that impulse remains, as hard wired as a basic instinct like flinching. The excitement of resurrecting those predatory chemical fixes keeps me going back to trout streams with the added benefit that in the modern era we don’t have to kill our quarry at the end of the hunt.

      Hunting, Stalking, angling, pursuing, preying, tracking,, chasing down, lurking, or prowling, Pick a word, any word,, but as Tony inferred, when one of the two competitors doesn’t know they are in a game, it’s a bit spurious to call it “sport.”

      “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

      …John Buchan

  10. Jim says:

    Fishing is a sport. Hunting is a sport. Marathon is a sport. Hammer and javelin throwing are sports. Target shooting is a sport. Fencing is a sport. Many, but not all, Olympic events are sports.

    Football (whichever of the global varieties that means to you) is not a sport. Golf is not a sport. Curling is not a sport. Hockey and Lacrosse are not sports. Those are games.

    Figure skating is not a sport. Ballroom dancing is not a sport. They aren’t even games.

    Sport is the practice of physical skills that in their origin have a practical purpose – e.g. subsistence, transport, production, warfare, etc – made recreational. Thus, the basic physical skills – running, jumping, throwing, wrestling, punching, lifting – are sports. Hunting and fishing are life skills, once (and in some places, still) providing subsistence and livelihood. Sport hunting and sport fishing are the sports that allow us to practice those practical skills. Sport may be a competition, or not. It’s defining feature is that it re-creates (the origin of that word) some aspect of life’s practical activities for practice and “the fun of it”.

    Games are activities conceived of as competitions with the purpose of providing entertainment to the participants and/or spectators. Football, tennis, etc. Games are fundamentally competitions, and their scoring systems are objective and integral to the activity.

    Things like figure skating and ballroom dance competition are activities that are conceived of as entertainments, and later turned into competitions. These are contrived competitions, with scoring systems that are subjective and tacked on to the activity.

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