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Southern California is long past its steelhead prime, but a few intrepid fish still return to remote parts of the Santa Barbara backcountry and waters such as the catch-and-release only Sepse and Sisquoc creeks.

Now, in response to a 14-year-old “oversight” that’s allowed state fishing laws to conflict with the federal Endangered Species Act, anglers could be banned from these waters for good.

When the federal Endangered Species Act was applied to steelhead in 1997, it also protected all non-anadromous rainbow trout—basically all trout living in waterways that do not have any barriers such as dams.

“So the state Department of Fish & Game shut down the obvious Southern California waterways, such as the Santa Ynez River below Bradbury Dam and Cachuma Lake, but some of the less obvious streams—like the Sisquoc, which flows freely into the Santa Maria River and out to sea—were overlooked. 

This is what the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) is trying to correct.

No fishing seems a small price to pay for the overall health of meager steelhead runs that exist at about 1 percent of their historic returns. But there’s a twist… always. SoCal fishers “who support the tearing down of dams will suddenly find themselves with less places to fish, for such removals would turn legal rainbow trout fishing holes into potential steelhead zones and therefore off-limits.”

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Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.

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