Imagine standing on the riverbank, listening to the bird song, and breathing in fresh air all day. Fly-fishing might traditionally be associated with retired older men, standing waist deep in water while waiting all day for a single catch, but actually, fishing is an increasingly popular hobby for all ages and a great way to get away from it all, recharging body and mind, while wading, casting and reeling in fish. 

As a fly-fishing enthusiast, my best creative ideas - the ones that help to reel in clients or net campaigns - often come when I’m standing on the riverbank or sitting in a boat. People talk about finding a job that you’re passionate about, which I whole heartedly agree with, but I also believe it’s vital to discover a hobby that you love outside your career too. A passion that will help you be the best it’s possible for you to be when you’re at work.

Hobbies have been in the headlines a lot lately. From a recent Tesco ad that saw people prioritising hobbies over a trip to the shop, to the BBC1 prime time show Make It At Market that helps people turn pastimes into something more. A study published in November found that hobbies can not only improve your mental health, but can also decrease blood pressure, decrease BMI and decrease cortisol levels. Having a hobby is good for you and what you do for fun in your free time can turbocharge your day job. It might even help you to land that next big account.

I’ve been hooked on fishing since I was a child and more recently, fly-fishing, since my wife bought me a lesson almost 14 years ago. In September 2023, I got my first cap representing England at an international fly-fishing competition in Scotland, with our team winning silver.

I’ve got an all-or-nothing personality, and I didn’t take up fly-fishing to compete – but when I’m interested in something I want to be the best at it and competing was one way to help me improve. I feel so much better in myself and I love the social element. I now feel more connected to the natural world too.

Richard, (front row, 2nd from the right), representing England against Scotland last year!

I’m not alone in my love of fishing either - more and more of us are getting into it, and it’s not just because of Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse’s hit TV show Gone Fishing. Since the pandemic, sales of freshwater licences are up 16% and fishing-related searches  even rose on TikTok last year, helped by celebrities such as Rita Ora picking up their rods as a means of relaxation, and Sam Smith, who revealed they shared my passion for fly fishing too. 

There’s also been an increase in women going fishing over the past few years, as well as more young people. It’s a growing understanding that when you fish, you’re in nature and your mind is calm and free. You can solve all sorts of problems in life or come up with ideas - it definitely makes me more creative in my job. And that’s borne out by recent research which shows that, contrary to the old trope of the tortured artist turning out the best works of art, poor mental health actually impedes creativity

Studies have found time and again that learning a new skill in your spare time makes you better at your job. Researchers found it leads to feeling mastery, control and relaxation, which results in more positive work performance-related outcomes

At work, the fact that I go fishing is totally accepted, St Luke’s totally gets it because it’s a people-first agency.  There’s an understanding that it’s part of what keeps me ticking, keeps me sane and gives me the space I need to come up with my best ideas. The agency recognises that finding your passion outside of the office only brings benefits into it. In fact, there is even a ‘Make Yourself Interesting Fund’, where everyone is given £200 to go and learn or do something they’ve never done before that’s not related to work.

And I’m not the only one who’s passionate about their hobby. Our Managing Director at St Luke’s, Ed Palmer learned the drums and now he’s in a band. One of our creatives, Polina Harkin, learned to fly helicopters, and now she’s got her helicopter pilot’s licence. Others have qualified to be spare-time yoga instructors, in fact, the list goes on. It’s a joyful way to help people be at their best.

The agency has even invested in something called Culture Roulette, where every 6 months or so we spin a wheel and someone wins a holiday somewhere in Europe. They can take people from the agency or friends and the only condition is that they tell us what they did and what they learned - travel has always been the one pastime said to broaden the mind, after all.

It means our people are always learning and discovering new things and everyone benefits from that, especially when there is so much about life and the world that is tough right now. 

Plus, it’s a fabulous way to meet so many different people and learn about different cultures and viewpoints. The creative industry is all about understanding and pleasing different audiences - I meet people from all walks of life and ages when I’m fishing. There’ll always be something you learn from your hobby that will be relevant to your work. And we all know how easy it is to get trapped in a bubble of like-minded people in our industry.  

So, isn’t it time we hailed hobbies as a truly holistic way of helping people be their best selves at work and encourage everyone to find one? You never know, you might find one that you fall for - hook, line and sinker. 

Rich Denney will be writing regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.