When I did find a good hole in the forest, it was never much bigger than the hood of a truck. I usually found them by accident, while aimlessly walking along the bank thinking about how it might just be easier to order a few dozen fish from the local smokehouse. I might round a bend and there, a tiny streaking shadow would cut wake toward the high bank, disappearing beneath the snarling roots of a precariously tilting, column-sized tree or some other improbable obstacle where presenting a fly was logistically impossible.
Of course, I’d try anyway, even though seeing fish in this manner also meant they had seen me. Not knowing if the shadow on the water was cast by a kingfisher or a stalking heron, any spooked fish would flatly refuse to come back out. While creek fishing, I spent more hours on my knees than I ever did at church, long spells of waiting and watching for something, anything, to happen.
In his book, Fly Fishing Small Streams, John Gierach called this form of angling frustration a separate discipline within the sport of fly fishing, and warned devotees that getting to a point of proficiency was, indeed, a “real bitch.” Eventually I did catch enough chubs to provide a couple rounds of cocktails. I even refined my technique to a point where I also managed to land my fair share of trout.
Most of all, however, what creek fishing taught me was a new degree of patience I never thought possible. It opened doors into new country I might not otherwise have chanced to explore were it not for the promise of catching fish, however satisfying, however small.