Winter brings to mind many images for people. Snowy wonderlands, difficult commutes, bundling up in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa, and gathering with friends and family to celebrate the season are but a few examples. For many kayak fishermen however, it signals the end of the fishing season and a chance to take a break from a long season of chasing fish. Long hours on the water paddling or pedaling, early mornings driving in the dark, shirking domestic responsibilities, and an internal drive to be a better fisherman all add to the physical and emotional stress that accumulate throughout the season. With winter comes the opportunity to reset oneself to come back stronger for the coming year. In this article, we will explore some techniques to assist with getting your mind and body back on track in order not only to start the season strong, but to finish it strong as well.
Aches and pains are par for the course when it comes to any sport, and kayak fishing is no different. Just like professional athletes, the off season is the best time for physical rehabilitation. A year in the saddle can bring with it various maladies, worse yet, many years of kayaking or pre-existing conditions that are left untreated may make routine kayak trips difficult. The typical complaints from kayak fishermen tend to range from lower back and hip pain to elbow and wrist discomfort. Other kayakers are maligned with shoulder aches and knee issues. As a disclaimer, I am not a physical therapist or licensed personal trainer. Many physical therapy clinics provide a free examination and consultation in hopes you will sign up for a membership or pay for further consultations. I occasionally use my local clinic to address particular problem areas, and I suggest you look into this opportunity as well as they will be the best resource to guide you for your unique body and ailment. With that said, we will explore the more common kayaker problem areas as well as some simple techniques or exercises to help remedy or minimize the issue.
One of the most frequent complaints an angler has is “fishermans elbow” or more widely known as golfers elbow. This is due to an inflammation of the muscle on the inside of your elbow near your funny bone. This muscle runs from your elbow to your wrist and may result in pain near your wrist. The pain can be acutely felt after casting and may be sore for several days after a fishing trip. This inflammation, and many others like it, is a result of weakness of the particular muscle and the best remedy I’ve found is light strength training along with adequate rest. My favorite exercises to target this muscle is the simple wrist curl. With your forearm braced on a bench or your thigh and your palm facing up, flex your palm towards your body and then slowly relax it back to the original position.
This exercise can be done without any weight, but if you choose to use weights, I encourage you to keep it light. We aren’t going for personal records, we are simply trying to build up your muscle’s endurance over repetitive movements. I typically stick with a 10-pound dumbbell and sets of 3x10 or 3x15 per session. If you also experience “tennis elbow” which is pain on the outside of your elbow, you can repeat the exercise but with your palm facing down.
Lower back pain is the bane of many kayak anglers and is the next common issue we will try to address in this article. Even with an array of stand-up fishing kayaks, we spend many hours sitting and even more sitting in our vehicles traveling. This issue is compounded for those who sit for work. Some simple changes can be made for temporary relief, such as periodic standing at your desk or in your kayak, or stopping at a rest area to “stretch your legs”. However, these don’t address the main issue, a lack of back and abdominal strength. These muscles help keep the hips and back aligned in a way that reduces soreness. To target the back specifically, I like to specifically use the “Good Morning” exercise. This involves standing straight up with feet in a natural position, then proceeding to bend at the hips and slightly at the knees to try to achieve a 45-degree angle with your torso, then raising back up to a straight and relaxed position.
Just like many other exercises in this article, slow controlled motions with no to minimal weight is important to prevent further injury. I prefer to do these with no weight but holding a small weight in your hands is okay or a barbell on your back will work if you’re a little more advanced in your recovery. Again, I like to do sets of 3x10 or 3x15.
To help build abdominal strength, I like to use the goofy looking yet very effective “Deadbug” technique. This consists of laying on the floor on your back and bringing your knees up towards you to make a 45-degree angle at your hips as if you were sitting on a chair but facing the ceiling. Your arms should be completely extended towards the ceiling as well. Simultaneously lower one of your legs slowly while lowering the opposite side’s arm above your head (left leg down, right arm down). Return them to the starting position and do the same with the opposite limbs. During this exercise, you will feel your back arching away from the ground, be mindful of this and make sure your back remains in contact with the ground. This can be a deceptively difficult exercise, especially if you are using slow and controlled movements. I try to aim for sets of 3x10, but if you can only do 1 or 2 sets, that’s perfectly normal and gives you a barometer of where your core strength currently lies.
Finally, we will tackle shoulder pain. For kayakers who paddle, shoulder pain can be a big barrier to enjoying your time on the water. A paddling fisherman should be able to paddle one handed, which oft leads to awkward body positioning and the potential for muscle strains. Shoulder strength is not just for paddlers though, they are essential for loading/unloading your kayak, supporting your casting technique, and lifting heavy fish out of the water. There are a plethora of techniques to target your shoulder muscles, but I’m going to focus on just two here: The “Lateral Raise”, and the “Front Raise”. Both can be performed from the standing or the sitting position, however I prefer to stand for these. For the “Lateral Raise”, start with a light weight in both hands positioned on the side of your body in a natural position. Begin by slowly raising the back of your hands towards the ceiling, with arms outstretched (a small bend in your elbow is okay) until your arms are parallel with the floor, your body resembling a T, and then slowly returning back to the starting position.
The “Front Raise” is very similar with the main difference being that your hands will now be in front of you with the backs of your hands facing the direction you are looking. Begin by lifting your hands up so that the back of your hands are facing the ceiling, until your arms are parallel with the floor and the weights are out in front of your face, then slowly return them to the starting position. You may want to alternate arms in this exercise to allow space for your dumbbell or weight.
Once again, I keep the sets to 3x10 or 3x12 for these exercises and I suggest you start out with light weights, but this is an exercise that over time you may benefit from significant increases in weights as long as you maintain good form. You can most definitely cause a shoulder strain from grabbing a 45lb dumbbell and attempting to jerk it up to parallel (ask me how I know).
To wrap up our conversation on physical rehab, I’d also encourage you to consider adding some basic yoga routines into your day. The combination of stretching, body balance, and strengthening muscles you forgot about can be very useful in your rehab and your ability to stand in your kayak. On top of that, yoga by its nature requires you to be mindful of your body, which can translate to awareness of how your body feels on the water, and with enough practice, how cognitively sharp you are during your day of fishing. Our next section will touch more on these mental aspects of your fishing rehabilitation with the goal of making you the most complete angler you can be for the coming season.
Written by Kyle Strother, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member
Edited by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member