by Libby Smith
If you take Jalama Road, off Highway One you’ll pass through beautiful farm and ranch land and eventually end up at Jalama Beach State Park , a destination for surfing, camping and hamburgers. You’ll also be driving alongside Salsipuedes Creek, the longest tributary of the lower Santa Ynez River before it reaches the ocean. The creek is nearly 10 miles long and flows from it’s headwaters in the Santa Ynez Mountains northward to where Jalama Road meets Highway One and along Highway One to meet the Santa Ynez River just east of Lompoc.
This summer, Nina, Nicole and I went searching for two fish ladders we’d heard were stationed along the creek. The Santa Ynez River used to support one of the largest Southern Steelhead Trout migrations in Southern California with estimations of 13,000 to 25,000 fish in the 1940s. Since then, dams have impeded their journey and landed them a spot on the endangered list. The Southern Steelhead Trout is the “anadromous” form of the Coastal Rainbow Trout, which means that it spends time in the ocean and then needs to migrate back up fresh water rivers and creeks to spawn. These ladders were built to help the dwindling numbers of trout get back up to their spawning pools and creeks.
Salsipuedes Creek is thought to be one of the best trout habitats in the Santa Ynez River watershed and Steelhead have been known to survive in small, isolated pools during dry periods. so we thought we might get lucky and see some of these trout if we could find the fish ladders and their pools.
After trial and error, stopping over several bridges to look into the canyon we found the ladders. One, near where Jalama Road meets Highway One and the other .5 mile north along Highway One. Both were steep scrambles down through scrub and poison oak (yes, one of us did get poison oak) but we found a peaceful, secluded world below the highway full of wildflowers, birds, pond turtles and hundreds of small fry fish! Some could be Steelhead Trout!
If you go watch out for the poison oak!