It’s not just humans celebrating the extra water flowing through local streams and reservoirs.
With plentiful rain and runoff from winter storms, steelhead trout are taking advantage of coursing creeks to complete a rather important step in their lifecycle.
During the six-year drought, the locally endangered and protected fish were hardly spotted in Santa Barbara-area streams.
“This year, with the rain that we’ve had and good flow from the ocean, we’re confident that a good number of steelhead made it up far enough into the creeks to spawn,” said Capt. David Bacon, who operates a sport fishing charterboat as well as a nonprofit seafaring organization.
Like salmon, steelhead are anadromous fish, meaning they live in both salt and fresh water. When they’re ready to reproduce, steelhead migrate from the ocean up freshwater creeks to spawn — assuming there’s enough water for them to swim through.
While the species is common in Northern California, where they’re important to the fishing industry, they’re hard to come by locally, where even those who spend the day fishing along piers rarely see them.
Three adult steelhead observations have been recorded on the South Coast this season, said Dana McCanne, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It’s not a lot, he noted, but something after the drought drove them from local habitats.
The carcasses of two rainbow trout were found recently near the Goleta Slough, McCanne said, but whether they’re local steelhead has yet to be determined.
The fish are the same species, although it’s the local population that’s listed as endangered. The ones filleted by the slough, and perhaps other live fish sighted in creeks, could be out-of-town rainbows, McCanne cautioned.
San Jose Creek in Goleta is a primary local route for steelhead, but Bacon said most local creeks can support them with enough water flow.
After all the recent rain and runoff, the Goleta Slough, where San Jose Creek meets the sea, has broken through the east end of Goleta Beach to connect directly with the ocean. Recent work done in the creek installed side pockets where migrating trout can temporarily rest in pools of water as they make their arduous journey.
The connection to the ocean has been the steelhead’s best opportunity yet to make it into the creek, Bacon said. Even still, he noted, “you’ve got to be a tough fish to make that run.”
McCanne said the steelhead are coming to the end of their migrating season, and the relatively light rain that fell Friday may have not been enough to prolong it.
Bacon, who writes a weekly outdoors column for Noozhawk, said sharp-eyed locals should expect to see the fruits of the hardy fish’s creek runs anytime now. He expressed hope that this year could mark the start of a full-fledged comeback for the area’s most talked-about fish.
“Maybe my grandkids one day will be able to catch some,” he said.