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"It's chilly all right."
"It's gonna freeze out there tonight."
"Not too usual around here, is it?"
"Usual? Naw. Rain is what's usual. Tonight it's gonna freeze. This'll be the coldest night in these parts in a long time. Good luck," she said. "Tide pools?"
I awoke at 5:45 a.m. Low tide had been at 3:54 a.m., and morning high would come at 10:10, so I would have to hurry. A glance out the window showed a perfect morning—for cross-country skiing. It was clear, calm and icy cold.
I dressed in nearly everything I'd brought along and headed for the car. The drive north was pleasant enough once the car had warmed up, and I had timed things right, because I hit the ocean just as there was enough light in the sky to make out the jagged rocks and sheltered coves of the coast below the road.
Within minutes I came upon an ideal spot, a small bay that could be reached in 10 minutes' walk from the road. A creek came out of a thick stand of timber and emptied into the middle of the bay, and it appeared to be a large enough stream to attract runs of salmon, steelhead or sea-run cutthroat trout. These fish aren't commonly taken in tide-pool fishing, but the time of year was right for them, and it was a nice possibility, if a remote one, to have at hand. North of the creek mouth, running parallel to the pebbly beach, were two long rock ledges with a pool the size of a tennis court between them. South of the creek was a series of good-looking smaller pools.
I parked, grabbed the fly rod out of the back and started down. I was so certain I'd catch some fish, and so excited at the prospect, that I barely noticed the cold. Not that I'm an expert at tide-pool fishing. To my knowledge, nobody is. It's a sport about which relatively little is known, and one with endless possibilities and certain obvious virtues.
Perhaps the primary virtue is that catching plenty offish is usually easy. Then there is the excitement arising from the fact that you never know what you will hook or how big it will be. As mentioned above, there is the rare salmon, steelhead or cutthroat trout to hope for, fish unmatched for sport when taken on a fly in salt water. There are almost always surf perch and dozens of species of rockfish, some 50 pounds or larger. It's rockfish in the one-to-five-pound range that you learn to expect, and catching them is cheap as well as easy—no guide, no boat, no expensive tackle required.
I decided to start out fishing the large pool north of the creek. Waves of three or four feet broke over the outer rock ledge of the pool, rolled and foamed across it, then lapped weakly over the ledge I was standing on. I worked out a short cast, the fly hitting the water between swells. I was using a weighted, size 2 streamer fly on a four-foot, 15-pound-test leader and a fast-sinking line—nothing awfully delicate. My rod was a 9�-foot, six-ounce fiber-glass steelhead model. I began the retrieve as the next wave poured over the outer ledge. There was a good strike, and I set hard, but the fish was gone. The wave rolled by me, over my ankles.