By Scott O’Donnel

Normally when you hear the word “downtime” it means something good. Something relaxing. You might hear, “Hey, I’ve got some downtime, I’m going to sit on the porch and have a brew.” You may have used the word yourself when it comes to fishing: “I’ve got a little downtime, I think I’ll hit the river.” In this post RIO pro, Scott O’Donnel gives his view of downtime while fishing, both the necessary kinds, and the preventable kinds.

In the game of steelhead fly fishing, downtime can be a very bad thing. In this regard, downtime is anytime your fly is not swimming in a place and manner that could produce a steelhead. If it’s your goal to catch a fish, my number one bit of advice is to minimize your downtime!

If in a day’s fishing you make a total of 300 casts in five different pools you have a pretty good chance of catching a fish. If you were to make 600 casts in ten pools that same day, you’d double your chances. This is about getting after it, covering water, looking for the easy to catch, aggressive fish. I don’t always fish this aggressively when I’m on a busman’s holiday, but as a guide I get paid to produce fish. So, I teach my customers to be more efficient – to minimize downtime – and cover as much productive water as possible, increasing their odds of catching a fish.

There’s a gazillion possible forms of downtime. There’s necessary downtime: casting lessons, the casting itself, stripping in the shooting line, floating or driving between spots, lunch, taking breaks to manage fatigue, removing wind knots, or rigging gear. For a beginner, the learning process itself is downtime. When I have rank novices in the boat we’re lucky to get through four to six pieces of water in a day. Whereas, with more experienced anglers my goal would be between ten and fifteen pools, on most stretches of river. Make no mistake about it, in most cases the difference in the number of pools fished will be the leading factor why the more experienced anglers caught more fish, not the experience itself.

Then there’s the ugly downtime: fishing without a fly because you cracked it off on the rocks behind you – fifteen minutes ago, fishing the wrong water, casting too far, constantly hung on the bottom or in the trees, taking two steps per cast when you could be taking five or six, fishing dry when you should be fishing deep, or not fishing deep enough. It’s often imperative that you’re fishing at the right depth. Which is why RIO Products provides such a huge selection of lines and tips, both sinking and floating.

I’ve been doing this long enough to have seen more than a few folks catch a fish on their last cast of the day. Just imagine, if those anglers would’ve had just one more moment of downtime earlier in the day, they wouldn’t have gotten to that same last cast and would’ve been skunked. Worse even is the possible number of times that we did have a bit too much downtime and it cost us that fish at the end of the day. Oh, the horror! Two or three recasts is all it would have taken.

Let’s look at it another way. Say you step into the head of a run and in that run, unbeknownst to you, is a fresh fish that’s all fired up and as soon as your fly comes anywhere near it, Mr. Mean is going to make it pay. The fish is in the tailout, you’ve started in the head. Your casting isn’t what it could be, so you’re re-casting every two or three casts. You lose your fly and leader in a tree and have to re-tie. You get the fly hung on the bottom several times and have to retrieve it. About halfway through the run you sense the call of nature (this one hurts me deep into my soul) so you reel up, step out of the run and relieve yourself of your third and fourth cups of morning joe… Okay, you get my point. It could take an angler two hours to reach that fish, or fifteen minutes, and moving on to the second fish of the day. The moral of the story is fish efficiently and actively to maximize your chances of catching those precious fish.