This season, don’t be sidelined by a shoulder injury!

Fishin onna rivah
Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan

It’s that time of the year again! Time to get ready for flyfishing and all the wonders that go along with it. But before you start casting however, you need to make sure that you’ve physically ready to get out on the water without hurting yourself and ending your season early with an injury.

Fly fishing puts a lot of stress on the shoulders. It’s not uncommon to make 1500 casts in one day of fishing. That’s a lot of action, and without proper preparation, it can lead to repetitive stress injury.

The most common injury reported by flyfisherpeople is rotator cuff-related, either rotator cuff tendinitis or rotator cuff impingement. This happens because of the close proximity of the rotator cuff tendon to parts of the shoulder blade, specifically the acromion and clavicle. Due to our generally sedentary lifestyles, our poor posture leads to a muscular imbalance. Then, when we’re casting a fly, the rotator cuff ends up in a position where it is susceptible to be impinged upon by the “bony roof” of the shoulder blade. This can lead to irritation and inflammation, or, worse, a rotator cuff tear. Here are four methods to help prevent these types of injuries and keep casting freely and landing those huge steelheads.

First off, if you’re experiencing any pain or tightness, it’s best to consult with a physiotherapist to help identify the root cause of your problem. This may include a limited range of motion in your shoulder or spine, poor scapular muscle function or weakness in your rotator cuff. Your physio can show you some techniques and specific exercises to help you overcome these issues.

According to Mike Conway, Physiotherapist at Back In Action Sports Physiotherapy & Massage in Squamish, the best way to build tissue and movement resiliency is to replicate the casting load on your body through strength-training exercises. Says Mike, “While repeating the casting action can build resiliency over time, the adaptive mechanisms are often too slow for the volume many try to endure, leading to tissue overload/injury. Therefore most would benefit from building this resiliency early in the season and specifically before high-volume casting activity.”

Mike recommends to specific exercises to build resiliency and optimize mobility in your casting arm. You can do these at home, using only a rubber resistance band.

1. Rotator cuff: Loop a resistance band around a stationary object, with one end secured in a loop around your shoulder (see photos below). Grasp the other end and gently draw it back, keeping your body stable. Start with lower arm positions and progress to more elevated, depending on comfort and ability. Aim for 20 reps, 3-5x per day.      

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 2.40.53 PM
                                                                  Lower position (0°)                                                                           Photos: Back In Action Sports Physiotherapy & Massage
Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 2.41.01 PM
Elevated progression (45°)                               Photos: Back In Action Sports Physiotherapy & Massage

2. Shoulder joint: Place arm/hand in throwing position against wall with inside leg stepped forward and attempt to get the same side ear and the front of your shoulder as close to the wall as you can (see photo, below). Depending on your flexibility deficit, which can be slow to resolve, aim for 1-minute holds, 10-20x per day.

Shoulder exercise


Secondafter you’ve built up your tissue and movement resiliency, you may benefit from having a your arm and shoulder joint.

Third, if you’ve suffered from repeated shoulder injuries in the past, consider learning how to cast with your non-dominant arm. It will take a bit of practice, but you’ll be surprised how quickly a seasoned angler can master left-handed fishing once he can’t cast properly with his right! Plus it has the added benefit of allowing you to cast to any target, from any side or angle.

Finally, let the rod do the work. Your muscles, no matter how big, are no match for the torque created by your rod. Learn to use your rod tip to generate more distance. A good guide should be able to show you how to do this in no time at all.

Nobody’s passion should be ended by injury. These tips will help you prevent shoulder pain and give you the chance of a full season out on the water. Happy angling!

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