Physical Conditioning For Big Game Fishing


fisherman catching big fish underwater view

This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist.

Imagine this, you’re out on the boat. 

Open water and just living the dream.  

Fishing is your favorite sport and you like to spend your time searching the seas for the largest fish you can find.  

The day has been sort of slow and not much is biting.  

All of a sudden, you get a bite… a big bite!  

The reel is going lightning fast and you jump to grab on. However, you fight as hard as you can, eventually, you get worn out and can’t fight anymore. Either you cut the line, or the fish pulls you in with it… You cut the line. 

Now, what happened is that you weren’t strong enough or conditioned enough to handle the fish. This caused you to miss out on a huge catch that you probably won’t live down for a long time.  

It is often not considered that you should be working out as a fisherman. It isn’t spoken of much, especially in the context of working out just for the sport of fishing. However, there are plenty of ways that you could work out just for this one activity.

Strength and endurance are very important qualities for really any outdoor activity. There is I high need of strength to pick up things, pull things, and push them away. You need a lot of core stability to avoid any injuries or like this example, hold tight for the fish.

If it’s going to be a long battle with the fish you are going to need some baseline level of conditioning to even handle it. You want a fight, but you also want to win the fight.  

Let’s dig a little deeper into how you should work out for the sport of fishing.  

The Muscles Involved in Fishing

Depending on the type of fishing, various different muscles may get used. Typically, with any kind of fishing you are going to be using your hands, forearms, shoulders, and back. This is from a sitting or even standing position. You have to cast, reel in, jig, and fight the fish to the shore. Each one of those activities will use the aforementioned muscle groups.  

Now, if you are fishing out in the ocean, the fish are a little larger. This means you are going to need more of the body to handle it. You are going to be using the arms, shoulders, back, core, and legs to reel in that monster fish. So, the larger task requires larger muscle groups.  

That is just the fishing part. That doesn’t include all of the other work that goes on while fishing. The carrying of gear, the actual handling of the fish, and then transporting it. These are common jobs, but they do require a certain level of strength and conditioning.

If you aren’t strong enough to carry everything you need to the boat, how are you even going to fish? There is always going to be some base level of fitness or “conditioning” that is needed to accomplish the goal of fishing, or really any outdoor sport.  

Those are the muscles getting used, now we can start to talk about how we get them stronger.  

How to Get Stronger for Fishing 

Getting stronger is simple. The same rules apply for getting strong, no matter the activity that you are preparing for. Someone who is looking for strength can find multiple forms of it in the same places. Often times this is going to be done in the gym but doesn’t have to be.  

When looking to gain strength, there are certain principles we need to follow. First, is the idea of linear progression. This concept is defined as a constant increase in some variables for the desired outcome. If you are looking to drive strength up, then you would need to increase your weight over time. This can be in small increments as well. Things don’t always have to be massive jumps. By doing so, you are forcing the body to adapt to the outside stimulus. The human body will fight for homeostasis (a stable state), and this is why it forces itself to be stronger. So long as you continue to drive the stimulus up, changes will occur.  

Now, how do we make this for fishing?  

General strength is going to be really important for you as you look to get better at fishing. This means, nothing specific to fishing, but just a high quality of strength. This can be accomplished by using weights and resistance training. Barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are all great tools that will aid in the production of general strength.  

Strength isn’t built by doing a million reps of something. Strength is built by using lower rep ranges and heavier weights. However, there needs to be a foundation by which you can grow. So, how do you create this?  

By using the FOUR main movements, you can build a very strong foundation by which you build upon. These are the BACK SQUAT, BENCH PRESS, DEADLIFT, and BENT OVER ROW. Each of these is the epitome of strength training. They help to strengthen your legs, spine, back muscles, upper body, and pulling strength; all of which are needed for some intense fishing.  

From here, you are going to need some sort of conditioning with these movements. You need to perfect your form with them and teach the body how to efficiently move. If you have been lifting weights, this may be a different scenario for you, if not, you need to start here. Start by keeping things in sets of 10 reps. This is a high enough volume (amount of reps) that will allow the body to get efficient, grow some muscle, and become conditioned. The weight doesn’t have to be insanely heavy for this portion. Just the changes in your neural efficiency (ability to do things) will increase your strength.  

After you have established this baseline level of movement and conditioning, you can begin the real strength training.  

Taking these main movements, you will work in 5 sets of 5 reps. This is the PUREST strength training range when it comes to reps. AS you progress, you will incrementally add 5-10lbs to each movement. Over time, the body will adapt, and you will get stronger.  

How does this build strength for fishing? You will notice a huge difference in your grip strength when fishing. If a big fish grabs on, you are more likely to be able to avoid it getting away or tiring you out. You are going to be able to pull harder and stand your ground better. All of these are desired qualities when it comes to catching the big ONE. The stronger the fisherman, the bigger fish he catches.  

So, if you want to avoid the story like was mentioned earlier, you should make sure to get into the gym and begin working on some general strength for fishing.  

Specific training can be used, and this would include more movements that are almost specific to fishing. For example, you may work some very specific rotational strength (ability to rotate and produce force and maintain a rotated position). This could be done with some bands and would provide a plethora of benefits for your fishing. These more specific exercises are better suited as ACCESSORY work within your main lifting. Accessories are smaller movements that may not be as glamorous as the others. They are better left as a few things you do at the end of your workout.  

The other form of specific training would be to actually fish more. The more you fish, you can obtain fishing strength. There is a reason that stories depict deep-sea fishermen as these grizzled specimens who can lift a house. They usually are. The tough seas, lifting, carrying, moving, and fishing have made them stronger. Even more, small fish sportsmen are in better shape due to actually partaking in the sport itself. One way to get good at something is to actually do it.  

Not to mention, that participating in some form of strength training has been shown to reduce the risk of injury! You can’t fish if you are injured (1)!  

Arms Exercises for Fishing  

Obviously, the arms are one of, if not the, most important part of fishing. You’re going to have a tough time if they aren’t up to par. Now, what do we mean when we refer to the arm? From the fingers up to the shoulder would be considered part of your arm.  

Every inch of that is going to be involved in fishing. You have to hold the rod, cast the line, and reel in the fish. This takes grip, endurance, and strength.  

The arm is interesting because it does so many different micro-movements. This causes it to be made up of tons of tiny little muscles. These muscles are strong together, but they can tire out a lot faster than the bigger muscles such as your legs. We walk around all day with the legs, and it’s no problem. Now, if we were to try and walk around on our hands for a couple of hours, we would quickly weaken. The endurance on the arm just isn’t the same.  

That isn’t to say that you can’t make the arms more resilient through some specific workouts.  

You are going to want to work out your grip, forearms, biceps (front), triceps (back), and shoulders.  

Here is a sample workout that would help to strengthen those arms for fishing:  

  • Arms 
  • Alternating Bicep Curls  
  • 4 sets of 10 on each arm 
  • DB Hammer curls  
  • 5 sets of 20 total  
  • Inch Worm (hands only) 
  • 3 sets of 5 reps (all the way out, all the way in) 
  • Seated Overhead Tricep Extension  
  • 4 sets of 15 reps  
  • DB Tricep Kickbacks 
  • 4 sets of 10 reps 
  • Heavy KB Farmers Carry  
  • 600m in total (partition how you please)  

This workout accomplishes a lot. It’s also going to make your arms feel huge. It works all parts of the arm in a useful way. We are strengthening grip with pretty much every exercise, we are working those shoulders in a functional way, and we are practicing some endurance in the arm by carrying the KB’s. All of these movements will translate over extremely well to your fishing skill. You also may need to buy new shirts because your sleeves are going to rip.  

It isn’t advised that you do this work out every single day, as it is a ton of volume. This is a workout that is best used around 1-2 times a week for the best results.  

Cardio Exercises for Fishing

You may not always think of cardio when you think of fishing, but remember the story we used earlier? The fisherman had to cut the line because it was either sink or swim. Cardio played a part in that. Even during what may seem like a more strength activity, we are using the cardiovascular system.

It helps to transport oxygen to various tissues involved in these processes. This allows us to do something for a longer and more extended period of time without having to stop. 

Therefore, if you’re baseline level of conditioning (or cardio) is low, you may have a tough time.  

So, how do you get better? Well, lucky for you it doesn’t have to be anything insane. You don’t have to be able to run a marathon to be good at fishing. You just need to steadily build your capacity for work. I’m going to lay out a couple of ways that you can improve your cardio.  

Walking:  

  • Walking is a normal activity that we should all do. It’s very low intensity but has tons of benefits for the body. It gets the blood moving and slightly increases your heart rate, just enough to do something. You can use walking as a means for increasing your cardio for fishing, people do it while walking to work and it works wonders (2). 
  • Start out small. Make it a ONE-mile walk THREE times a week. This is a great place to start and shouldn’t wear you down too much.  
  • Now, we are going to use that linear progression concept from earlier. Over time you are going to incrementally increase the distance you are going.  
  • Next month you move it up to TWO miles THREE times a week. From there you may go to FOUR times a week.  

The trend is always up as you progress along. What you will notice is that you can do things longer without getting winded. The body becomes more efficient and you, therefore, become a better fisherman. 

Running:  

  • Not everyone loves running, but it can be a great way to work on your cardio. By no means do you need to be running ultra-distance, but you can start with some shorter runs. This is good for getting the body into a healthy state of conditioning. The heart becomes more efficient and you start to flush the body with blood and nutrients. Over time you adapt, because that first run may not be fun, but it gets better.  
  • Just like walking, start small. Work your way up from there.  
  • ONE mile THREE times a week in tandem with your other activities would be a great place to start.  
  • You shouldn’t have to be doing more than EIGHT miles a week in total. That would be a little unnecessary. Unless you truly enjoy it.  

Alternative Methods: 

  • Those are the obvious ones, but there are others.  
  • HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is great for a short burst of activity that can get you back on the water. This involves working at high intensities followed by short periods of rest. You can get the same amount of work done but in a fraction of the time. However, there are instances where a more medium intensity activity such as running can develop the cardiovascular system a little better (3). 
  • Machines such as the stair-climber or elliptical may be great options if you are looking to lower your impact. Some older generations may want a less intense version of cardio. These are great options that still develop your level of cardio.  

To Conclude 

To conclude how you can get better at fishing, it doesn’t have to be fancy. You can become better at fishing by simply picking up a barbell from time to time. Now, this is going to depend on what kind of fish we are trying to catch. The bigger the fish, the stronger you are going to want to be. If you want the big tuna, you are going to want to BE the big tuna.  

Take the general approach for strength training in regard to fishing. All of it will transfer over to your activity. You will notice a huge difference in how well you can perform out on the water. 

If you are more of a casual fisherman, again, you only need to do what is necessary.  

Utilize the provided workouts for your arms and cardio ability. These will help to make you more well-rounded at fishing, and they will also help you to avoid missing out on a big catch!  

Put all of this into action and you’ll have some great fishing stories to tell everyone!  

References 

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