The Boy and the Sea Lion

One day in summer  2000 (my 38th summer, Zachary’s ninth), the boy and I spent a marvelous day together on the coast. We got up early, packed the car, and drove to Devil’s Lake, the home of the shortest river in the world. We spent some time there tossing spinners and crankbaits to no avail. Mid-morning we moved on down the coast to Newport and the Yaquina Bay where we fished off the docks.

We had fun pulling up sculpins, perch and the occasional crab. It was a blast. We were on a heavy-duty floating dock about 14 inches above the water always for the bite that would be a bigger fish – a keeper. That never came, but something else did.

We were jigging our lines when a dark fin breached the water less than four feet from the dock. “Zachary. Look! What is that?” “A shark?” “No, look again.” Just then the sea lion’s head broke the surface of the water and we saw that it had cruised by on its side.

The large mammal went by and we continued fishing. I started having difficulty with one of my reels and decided to replace it. I told Zach I was going walk up to the car and swap reels. He said he would be fine and as I was about halfway to the car I heard him shout and turned to see him pull up a nice 7 or 8 inch surf perch. I got to the car, made the switch and started back to find Zach coming up the ramp. His hands were empty and he was noticeably pale and shaken.

“What happened?”

“The sea lion tried to get me. “

“What? Come on, don’t lie to me.”

“I’m serious. He came back and by and I threw the perch to him and he dove after it. Then he came back up and tried to get on the dock.”

There was nothing to do but believe him. The local sea lions had been known to take halibut out of the hands of fishermen as they posed for pictures on the docks.

Well, we went back and fished for a while before taking a break for lunch at the nearest KFC. We continued north to Neskowin and played golf at Hawk’s Creek, a wicked nine-hole course on the coast up into a small valley in the Coastal Range. We had a great time playing, picking up with a local man playing alone. As a threesome we found the course shoe-horned into a valley with a blind par three and some very tight holes with no place to bail out. Our scores were not particularly respectable, but it was fun.

Continuing north, we stopped on the Little Nestucca river and fished again. No fish this time, only a lone harbor seal that zipped back and forth under the water in front of us. Occasionally it would pop up and look at us from what it apparently considered to be a safe distance.

We stopped one last time on the way home. Driving east through the mountains we followed an obvious trout stream. Finally, unable to contain our interest and impatience any longer we stopped on the side of the road. Grabbing our fly rods for the first time that day, we climbed down through the bushes to find ourselves beside a dark pool more than large enough for the two of us to fish as novice fly fishermen. During our vacation in August, Zachary had become offended that certain rivers were closed to him for fishing since he was not a fly fisherman. He had begged me for a fly rod and this was his first time to use it in water.

Zach whipped the water for a while before snapping his fly off. While he was retying, I caught a four-inch cutthroat of tremendous beauty and spirit. That was my first time catching a fish with a dry fly and it was delightful! I had owned my rod since I was thirteen – it was a Christmas present from my maternal grandparents. I had never become a fly fisherman but had used it with a spinning reel as an ultralight many times.

That was our day. The day a sea lion tried to eat my son.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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