Santa Margarita River

Santa Margarita River

In northern San Diego County lies a true gem, at least by Southern California standards, an un-damed nearly 100% urban development free ‘source-to-sea‘ river system – it is called the Santa Margarita River.

A deep pool with a few small pan fish residents…

Unfortunately, all fishing has been banned on the Santa Margarita River…

Pause for a second while I pull out my soapbox…

Okay, where were we? Oh that is right, the total ban of fishing on the Santa Margarita River. The reason (as far as I can tell) for the ban was that it was thought that it would aid in the return of the Steelhead. Personally I think it is going to take a lot more than banning anglers to bring back the Steelhead to the Santa Margarita River. If the folks at Fish & Game were really serious about bringing back the Steelhead, and not just paying lip service to the environmentalists they would prevent any further construction in and around the river system and its drainages. But then again all those multi-million dollar horse ranches do bring in A LOT of tax money and you have to pay for the “bullet train to nowhere” somehow.

Sun hat – ✔
Sun screen – ✔
Sun shade – ✔
Gold Fish and Water – ✔
We are ready to GO!

The urban development surrounding the river (but not in the river bed proper) is the most likely culprit for the habitat decimation I have witnessed during several trips to the river. When you are standing in or next to the river it may look pretty and wild but sadly the river is filled with runoff silt, gravel, and sand. This was the same thing I experienced on river after river in Maryland. Unfortunately those rivers were only suitable for the most hardy of warm water fish. Hardly the kind of habitat suitable for Steelhead… The Santa Margarita River rarely floods, and when it does the runoff does not go away; instead more is just transported from upstream unchecked construction, farming, horse trails, etc.

As much as the ban frustrates me, part of me understands why it was put in place. Case in point: the wild trout population in the nearby (okay it is 50 miles north) East Fork of the San Gabriel River has seriously declined in the last few years. There are many reasons for the decline but the major ones are unchecked gold mining, marijuana plantations, drought, and an overflowing homeless population heading to the mountains for food (or maybe to escape oversight and/or harassment). Basically the big problem is people, so banning them outright is the only course of action. This is sad because I just want to catch and release some fish but I do not want to get charged with poaching either… So recently I assuaged my desire for some river action by doing some exploring sans my fishing rods. I brought my son with me too and he really got a kick out of seeing Common Carp and listening to the flowing water.

Here are some of the photos:


Not necessarily a tenkara paradise, but it might be fun for some fixed line fishing… Personally I would much rather use my ultralight finesse Daiwa spin rod – that is of course if it was not illegal.


Since all I have put forth so far is pretty pictures and a not so pretty word picture let me propose a possible solution.

I have been back in California for almost two months now and in that time I have witnessed six people in three separate incidents fishing on closed rivers a.k.a. poaching. In an effort to curb this illegal behavior and to facilitate a healthier ecosystem why not open those rivers to private guiding? Clients will pay a fee and the State will provide additional funding to the guiding outfits through preservation and environment grants. This would serve many purposes such as:

  1. It will put eyes on the river with a vested interest in preventing poaching.
  2. It will remove/control invasive and non-native fish populations so that when (I am being positive here) the Steelhead return there is less competition for resources.
  3. It will help identify areas of the river that need outside attention (e.g. invasive plant control, illegal mining, marijuana grow operations, etc…).
  4. It will create jobs and bolster the economy.
  5. Last, and not least it would be a great tool to educate the public and develop awareness to the plight of the Steelhead.

Of course the problem still remains on the habitat decimation and how to reverse it. Perhaps a dam is in order to recreate the annual flood cycle and flush the river of its runoff…


P.S. – For those of you who requested a sticker and are still waiting, I promise they are coming. I am about half way through the list and I will get to you soon. For anyone who would like a sticker I still have some left so drop me a request below.

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