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Santa Maria River

Santa Barbara County, California.

Santa Maria River midpoint in Santa Maria, California.

Santa Maria River ends in Guadalupe, California.

10 feet (3 meters)

24.17 miles long (38.90 kilometers)

405632.68 miles (652802.72 sq kilometers)

About The Santa Maria River

About Santa Maria River, CA

The Santa Maria River, located on the Central Coast of California, is formed at the convergence of the Cuyama and Siquoc Rivers. It can be found just east of Santa Maria, flowing 24.4 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The whole river defines the border between Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County, with Highway 101 passing through it. The tectonic Santa Maria River Fault corresponds with the river’s course.

For most of the year, the river has very little water but can swell during winter storms. It rises to a maximum elevation of around 390 feet and flows to the Pacific Ocean. The river’s watershed is one of the largest coastal watersheds in California. Before the construction of a massive levee system,  floodwaters regularly inundated the Santa Maria city, transforming its streets into something akin to Venice. The Los Padres National Forest also dominates most of the watershed.

Federally endangered southern California steelhead is supported by the Santa Maria River watershed. The fish are the subject of a lawsuit that aims to ensure dam operations comply with California Fish and Game Code Section 5937, calling for operators to keep fish downstream of a dam in good health.

Santa Maria River Fishing Description

All About Fishing in Santa Maria River, CA

The Santa Maria River sustains a vital populace of the federally endangered southern California steelhead. The steelhead were once one of the most common fish in the system. The species exhibit several life-history adaptations to the Santa Maria River’s extreme environment as its population actually spends as little time as possible in the river. The fish produce the Sisquoc River’s headwaters, where their offspring grow and wait for good settings for outmigration. The steelhead population is also intimately linked with the resident rainbow trout population in the Sisquoc River headwaters. Flow changes caused by the establishment of the Twitchell Dam on the Cuyama River have decimated the species’ population. Locals and other anglers have logged catching barred surfperch, bass (largemouth, striped, and giant sea), lingcod, fluke, northern red snapper, and shovelnose guitarfish from the Santa Maria River and nearby areas like Nipomo. 

Anglers who’ve had experience fishing at Santa Maria River prefer baitcasting and spinning as the river is mostly dry around 90% of the year. One has a better chance heading to nearby water sites and reservoirs to experience better fishing action. Most recommend fishing around the nearby Oso Flaco. It’s also recommended to look up California’s sport and recreational fishing regulations due to the presence of endangered fish species and the turbulent condition of the river. 

Santa Maria River Seasonal & Other Description

Fishing Seasonality

In California, all-year round is trout season but peak months are from April to November. Surfperch is also available throughout the year though the most productive season to fish for them is in the spring and early summer when they gather around shorelines for spawning. Lingcod is also viable to catch all-year round while variants of the bass spawn during March to May. Due to the state’s constant warm climate, most species of fish are generally active throughout most of the year. It’s agreed among most anglers that warmer periods are when it is best to fish. 

Temperature and Optimal Seasons

Fishing Seasonality

In California, all-year round is trout season but peak months are from April to November. Surfperch is also available throughout the year though the most productive season to fish for them is in the spring and early summer when they gather around shorelines for spawning. Lingcod is also viable to catch all-year round while variants of the bass spawn during March to May. Due to the state’s constant warm climate, most species of fish are generally active throughout most of the year. It’s agreed among most anglers that warmer periods are when it is best to fish. 

Santa Maria River Fish Species

All About Fishing in Santa Maria River, CA

The Santa Maria River sustains a vital populace of the federally endangered southern California steelhead. The steelhead were once one of the most common fish in the system. The species exhibit several life-history adaptations to the Santa Maria River’s extreme environment as its population actually spends as little time as possible in the river. The fish produce the Sisquoc River’s headwaters, where their offspring grow and wait for good settings for outmigration. The steelhead population is also intimately linked with the resident rainbow trout population in the Sisquoc River headwaters. Flow changes caused by the establishment of the Twitchell Dam on the Cuyama River have decimated the species’ population. Locals and other anglers have logged catching barred surfperch, bass (largemouth, striped, and giant sea), lingcod, fluke, northern red snapper, and shovelnose guitarfish from the Santa Maria River and nearby areas like Nipomo. 

Anglers who’ve had experience fishing at Santa Maria River prefer baitcasting and spinning as the river is mostly dry around 90% of the year. One has a better chance heading to nearby water sites and reservoirs to experience better fishing action. Most recommend fishing around the nearby Oso Flaco. It’s also recommended to look up California’s sport and recreational fishing regulations due to the presence of endangered fish species and the turbulent condition of the river. 

Red Snapper

Habitat: Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck

Weight: 5 - 20 Pounds

Length: 19" - 39"

Summer Flounder

Habitat: Onshore, Nearshore, Offshore

Weight: 1 - 5 Pounds

Length: 15" - 37"

Shovelnose Guitarfish

Habitat: Inshore, Flats

Weight: 2 - 47 Pounds

Length: 35" - 54"

Lingcod

Habitat: Onshore

Weight: 25 - 85 Pounds

Length: 20" - 60"