In fly fishing, concentration can be everything—and there's a lot of things to keep your mind and eyes occupied. From casting, to line management, to actually sighting fish in the water, it's easy to get fixated on what you're doing. Devoting all your attention to the immediate area you're fishing and working in is a surefire way to optimize your presentations, but it can also hamper your overall success a bit. But wait, didn't I say concentration was super important? Of course it is, but often times it's beneficial to avoid total tunnel vision and stay aware of what's happening not just nearby, but in the distance as well.
Some types of fly fishing demand more strict attention than others. Sight fishing, dry fly fishing, and indicator nymphing are a few examples where close attention must be paid, but you can still scan around in between presentations. On the flip side, it's much easier to let your eyes wander when just blind casting a streamer since you're going mostly by feel anyway.
When are some times and what are some reasons it can be beneficial to maintain a constant awareness of your surroundings?
Busting Fish- I can't think of many fly fishing experiences more exciting or frustrating than chasing fish that are busting on the surface. When fish are frothing it may seem like easy pickings, but often times they move around so quickly that you're lucky to just get in range and make a single cast. It's super easy to become totally fixated on chasing down one single school, but you'll want to constantly scan the area 360-degrees for others that may suddenly pop up at even closer range. It's happened to me before and if you don't spot them quickly it can mean a missed opportunity.
Depending on the time of year when fishing for species like stripers, bluefish, and false albacore (to name a few), these fish can start busting at any time. Even if you're just out blind casting around, maintaining a scan of the area can alert you to something as subtle as a few birds getting excited. This can often be the very first sign that some serious surface activity is just seconds away.
Sightfishing- Ever had a different fish creep up on you while sight fishing? This can be a tough one. You're concentrating on casting to a fish, but maybe it's not the easiest presentation or the fish is totally denying the fly's existence. Then, from out of nowhere another fish swims into your view but is quickly spooked by the fly or line. That fish may have been an eater, but now you'll never know because you blew it.
Even when I'm presenting to fish I presently see, I try not to develop tunnel vision when watching them. I'm always aware of whats going on in my periphery and may even momentarily scan nearby waters in between presentations to check for other approaching fish. Many times I've had the experience where a fish I was casting to wasn't interested, but then I quickly made a new presentation to other fish that were coming into view and with much better results!
Other Anglers- When other anglers are nearby, chances are most folks keep close watch on how they're doing. I do the same. Of course I'm curious to see if they're catching anything, but I also have other reasons: trying to get a general idea of what they're using, how the anglers are acting, and what their presentation styles are. If the others are in a great spot but are fishing it wrong, I may sneak in there shortly after they've left to give it a shot. On the other hand, if they're fishing it properly or spook the place out by being noisy, I'll probably give the fish time to regroup and try it later or skip it all together. And hey, if it's a tough day, watching successful anglers can help you make the necessary adjustments to catch more fish. Point is, keeping tabs on other anglers can help you formulate a strategy no matter how crowded and pressured the waters are. So don't just watch other anglers, WATCH them!
General Awareness- It doesn't matter if I'm on a boat in a remote bay or fishing an urban bass pond....my head is on a swivel. Besides the reasons mentioned above, I want to know if there's distant weather changes happening, a crazy person coming towards me, or a cyclist zooming into my back casting area—to name just a few reasons. The more you look around, the more you'll see and the better, safer angler you'll become.