Big Game Fishing for Fitness

By Bobby Greenwell, Last updated: 1/16/2018

Big game fishing is probably not the first activity most would think of when choosing a fitness activity. The truth is big game fishing is a great workout and with the right mindset and preparation, it can be even more beneficial than a typical day at the gym.

The physical benefits of big game fishing include balance, core muscle exercise, endurance and stamina. Psychologically, big game fishing can boost self esteem, improve teamwork and social skills and is a great activity for making new friends and bonding with family.

Get a Fitness Mindset

Mindset can be the most powerful tool in your fitness toolbox. Mindset can turn mowing the yard, shopping or walking your dog into a workout. Once you are thinking fitness, you can make minor changes to your activity to burn more calories and condition muscles you normally may not. Walking a bit faster, taking the stairs rather than elevators and extending the activity are just some of the ways you can improve the fitness quality of everyday activities. The same holds true for big game fishing. Mindset during the activity can change the fitness benefit.

Angler holding a fishing rod

Anticipating a strike.

Improve Balance and Strengthen Core Muscles

Balance requires hundreds of muscles working together. Being on a boat of most any size requires muscles to contract in ways they would not normally on land. Whether you are fighting a fish, in heavy seas, trolling or drifting, choose to stand rather than sit. Stand safely but free of support when possible. This will increase your effort to stay balanced, burning more calories. Know your limits and always position yourself in a safe place close to fixed railings and objects to grab a hold of if you need to.

Two anglers reeling in a large black marlin

After battling a big black marlin toward the boat, the strenuous task of “leadering” it alongside remains.

Increase Endurance and Stamina

Big game fishing is generally a multi-hour activity. There are times of high activity during a strike and times of waiting. For most, the times of waiting involve sitting and talking. Rather than sit, offer to help the crew. Cleaning up, setting lines, chopping bait or chumming will all increase your activity level and increase your calorie burn. All will also put you in position of having to balance, using muscles you normally would not. During the fight, pay attention to your core muscles. Sit or stand straight using your shoulders and stomach muscles to apply leverage rather than your back. While cranking, maintain a steady pace and distribute the load between both your arms and chest. Try to maintain the fight a set time beyond when you would normally stop and rest. Thinking fitness makes all the difference. Some extra sustained effort is healthy, but don’t over do it.

Stay Hydrated and Snack

If you have ever spent time on the water, you feel it the next day. All the muscles you do not normally use get a work out. Just with any exercise, it’s important to stay hydrated. Small meals through the trip are better than a single large meal to keep your metabolism running. A little bit of fitness minded preparation can go a long way turning your big game fishing trip into a full body workout. Pack quick easy to access healthy snacks, water and drinks high in electrolytes and plenty of protein in the form of nuts, beans and dried meats will keep your body ready for that next wave or strike.

Stress Less

The excitement of fighting a big fish and even being a spectator can be a stress reliever. Activities like boating and fishing are great at getting your mind off day to day life trials, and really help you be in the moment of the action. The ocean has a calming effect for most mariners and the adventure of hunting big game can be an exhilarating release of stress and tension.

Spend Time with Friends and Family

The team work demonstrated on big game vessels has been compared to a NASCAR pit crew in action. In many cases, family and friends are encouraged to partake in the action. From rigging to adjusting lines, chumming or baiting hooks, there is always something to be done as a group activity. Often experiences like these bring families together and strengthen bonds between loved ones.

Angler holding a catch in the water next to the boat

Dealing with big fish requires strength and endurance.

Gear Requirements

Most big game fishing is done from specialized boats with specialized crews. The technical gear you need will likely be provided, like rod and reel combos, bait, fighting belt, fishing line, leaders and fishing life jackets. Of course, if you are an experienced big game angler, you can bring your own fishing rods and reels along with a tackle bag or box with the terminal tackle you will need. For a crewed/guided fishing trip, sun protective clothing (at least 50 UPF), neck gaiter or bandana, sunscreen and lip balm, sturdy men’s and women’s boat shoes, plus healthy snacks, meals and liquids to stay hydrated will usually be the only other items you will need.

Know Your Limits

If you are new to big game fishing, take it slow. Do not schedule a full day trip, rather schedule a half day on the water. Know the weather and surf conditions and how you react to motion or seasickness. Do not overdo it, especially when fighting a big fish. Take time to rest and do not be afraid to hand the fight over to another angler. It’s typical for several anglers to fight a large fish and all share in the excitement. Keeping the fitness mindset, it’s a good idea to stretch before your trip. Keep the stretching within 30 minutes of your trip start time and focus on arms, legs and back stretching to minimize pulled or over stressed muscles.

With a few simple considerations, big game fishing can give you a strenuous workout that pales in comparison to a trip to the gym.

About the Author

West Marine District Manager Bobby Greenwell is an avid offshore, inshore and freshwater angler. Bobby lives on the southwest coast of Florida and enjoys fishing the local waters. Bobby grew up in Miami and spent summers from the age of 2 to 15 in the Bahamas. Each year, he would make the trip across the Gulfstream with his grandfather on a 37' Irwin. Now, Bobby enjoys taking his son, friends and coworkers offshore fishing with a local Bahamian childhood friend.