I cast again in the next lull. The strike came the same way in the same place, and this time I landed a perch of more than a pound. By the time I'd twisted the hook out of the small mouth and dropped the fish back into the water, the waves were rolling in above my knees. I had time to land two more perch before the incoming tide forced me off the ledge.
South of the creek looked better anyway, or at least so I convinced myself. I hurried down the beach, feet cold, hands numb, and crossed the clear-flowing creek, then climbed over the rocks and out among the pools. Glancing back to where I'd just been, I saw that the pool I'd taken the perch from was gone, both rock ledges totally submerged.
Tides rise in a hurry, so I hurried, too, searching for the best-looking pool among a lot of good ones. Eighty or 100 yards below the creek mouth I made my choice. I edged out as far into the pool as I could get, to be able to stand where the channel entered. From here I could cast across the pool and in toward shore, using the incoming swells to straighten the line and hold it out near the middle of the pool. The backwash would help sink the fly near the bottom. Then would be the time to begin the retrieve.
It worked well. Nearly every cast resulted in a strike, and most of them were well-hooked fish. Rockfish these were—a two-pounder, then a four-pounder, two more small ones, a five- or six-pounder, and back to two-pounders.
I cast again, looking for that big one we always hope for, and for a second or two I thought a miracle was actually going to happen. As the fly hit the water, something huge swirled beneath the surface behind it—something shiny, brownish-black. By instinct I set the hook. Thank God it didn't connect. The face of a sea lion popped out of the water, barely two rod lengths from where I stood. We looked at each other. He went back under. Then four of them showed. Then there were six. I simply stayed where I was and watched, amazed. These were Steller's sea lions, which reach a weight of 1,500 pounds. Never in my life had I been so close to wild creatures even half that size. They appeared to be a bull and his harem, and they must have been there for the same fish I'd been catching. They would roll lazily on the surface, then dive with remarkable ease, then surface again in 20 or 30 seconds, inquisitive black eyes shining, fur smooth as silk, drops of water glistening on their long mustaches. I stood stock-still, watching them until the tide forced me back, and they didn't seem to mind at all. When I started the drive to Florence the sea lions were still there, rolling and diving, fishing the tide, I was sure, with more efficiency than I had. Still, I had found the spot first. That was worth something.
They were also better dressed for the weather. On the Oregon coast you have to be willing to rust in rain or mildew in fog or be buffeted by gale-force winds or maybe even suffer frostbite. If none of that appeals, there's always Washington, California, Idaho or Nevada, not to mention Afghanistan.