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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on February 17th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 51

OUTDOORS 2021

By SUN STAFF

More people than usual are hitting the lakes to fish during the pandemic, locals say Cachuma is a great place to start

BY MALEA MARTIN

Ross Godlis has lived in Santa Barbara County since the ’70s, and before that he attended UC Santa Barbara in the late ’60s. When he wasn’t “living with a nose in a book,” Godlis remembers spending his college years exploring the county’s outdoor attractions.


FAMILY OUTING
Ross Godlis and his grandson, Quinn, enjoy a day of fishing. Godlis has been fishing in Santa Barbara County since he attended UCSB in the ’60s.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ROSEY BISHOP

Fishing, Godlis recalled, “was a big deal.”

“In Lake Cachuma—back in the day, in the ’60s—most of the time we just went up and hiked along the edge of the lake and fished,” Godlis said. “We were happy to just catch the bluegills and stuff.”

All these years later, Godlis is still fishing at Cachuma—but now, he gets to bring his family along for the fun.

“These days when we go out fishing, I’m usually either with my son-in-law or grandkids,” Godlis said. “It’s still a great place to go.”

Just 100 yards away from the parking area is an accessible and often-fruitful spot to cast a line, Godlis said. 

“About a month and a half ago we caught a nice-sized trout that we had for dinner,” he said. “You don’t really need to be that equipped other than having a pole, a lure or worm, and throw it in.”

A love for the outdoors runs in the family: Godlis’s daughter, Rosey Bishop, is the county’s park naturalist at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. She told the Sun that the lake has seen “a huge increase in visitation” during the pandemic.

“In 2019, I think we had about 4,000 boats launch on the lake throughout the year,” Bishop said. “Then in 2020, we had 8,000 and something.”


Go fish!
Check out the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Learn to Fish” series on YouTube to learn the basics, and then head out to Lake Cachuma to see what all the fun is about. Learn more about the lake at countyofsb.org/parks/cachuma.sbc.

Luckily, there are enough fish to go around. The county made three, 4,000-pound rainbow trout releases in October, November, and December of 2020. Planting fish for recreational purposes isn’t a new practice by any means, but last year’s releases came at the right time to meet the increased demand for fishing.

“It’s a nice draw to the lake, for people to be able to come, fish, and then actually catch something,” Bishop said. “It does also help out birds of prey. We have wintering bald eagle and osprey populations that definitely benefit from having more fish in the lake.”

Once the county gets cleared for a fish release, the process for transporting the trout to the lake is remarkably straightforward—and a bit comical.

“There is a hatchery that we use in Northern California. They fill a semi-type truck with these chambers that the fish are in, and they drive the fish in water. When they get to the lake, we drive them right down to the water’s edge. They attach a tube to it, and basically the fish just get shot into the water,” Bishop said with a laugh.

One challenge of releasing fish is ensuring that they don’t breed with natural populations, such as the steelhead trout, which are under a conservation effort.

“The fish that we do get are sterile, so there’s no risk of them interbreeding with the natural population that’s in the lower river,” Bishop said. 

And the rainbow trout, Bishop added, aren’t just for catch and release: “People actually catch them and take them home and cook them.”

Cachuma isn’t the only lake that saw more folks fishing this year: The uptick is consistent with a statewide trend. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued nearly 2 million sport fishing licenses in 2020, an 11 percent increase from 2019, according to CDFW officials. More than 1.2 million of those were annual resident sport fishing licenses, which is a 19 percent increase from 2019. Hunting licenses also saw a big uptick with nearly 300,000 issued in 2020, a 9 percent increase from the previous year. 

The department correlates the rise with people having more time on their hands, as well as “a growing interest in securing their own food, coupled with the needs for physical outlets and mental relief as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the department. CDFW hadn’t issued this many sport fishing licenses since 2008.

“Folks got out there and found a way to do it. Some people were fishing in local neighborhood park ponds and places where they might not otherwise fish,” CDFW spokesperson Peter Tira told the Sun. “It was one of the few recreational outlets many Californians had available to them.”

If fishing isn’t your outdoor activity of choice, there’s plenty of other COVID-19 safe options at Cachuma and around the county, Bishop said.

“Here at Cachuma and at Jalama [Beach], we have a Junior Ranger program. It used to be more of an in-person activity, but with COVID we modified it to be a self-guided activity,” Bishop said. “There’s also a rowing company here at Cachuma Lake, so if people are interested in learning how to row, they can do that. There’s boat rentals, there’s disk golf. We have a restaurant here at Cachuma, and there’s the Jalama Burger out at Jalama, so if people even just want to drive, order some food, and sit in the park, that’s a neat thing to do.”

And even if you’ve never picked up a fishing pole before, Godlis said Santa Barbara County is the perfect place to give it a go. 

“Just go and do it,” he said. “Especially at Cachuma, it’s pretty user friendly. Or fishing off Goleta Pier, Santa Barbara Pier, Gaviota. Just get out there and do it.” 

Staff Writer Malea Martin can be reached at mmartin@santamariasun.com.


Amid closures at regional and state parks, local Hipcamps offer respite to those looking to get out and get away

BY KASEY BUBNASH

Driving just a few miles out of Arroyo Grande and up to Branch Mill Organic Farm feels like entering a better, calmer world. A little produce stand greets you at the entry of the farm, where the midday sun peaks through the branches of lush oak and fruit trees, burning away the few remaining drops of morning dew. The smell of fresh-cut herbs and blooming flowers fills the air. 


GLAMPING HEAVEN
Branch Mill Organic Farms outside Arroyo Grande offers two tarp tent campsites, complete with beds, bathrooms, showers, and an outdoor kitchen.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

A friendly black cat meows as he makes his way leisurely over to a nearby deck, where he effortlessly hops up onto the platform to rub his cheek against a post. Maybe, if you’re lucky, he’ll eventually meander over to you. 

It’s quiet and still and secluded here. It feels more than just 3 miles outside of Arroyo Grande and much, much farther from the screens and stressors that have come to define pandemic life.  

Owner Ruth Madocks knows her land is special, and, fortunately for us, she’s willing to share it. With Madocks at the helm, Branch Mill has become more than just a local organic farm, operating simultaneously as a community event venue, educational space, and, most recently, a private campground.  

About two years ago Madocks signed up for Hipcamp, an app and website that allows property owners to rent out their land to campers. It’s a similar concept to that of Airbnb: Landowners can make a little extra money on the side, and campers can experience a place that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the general public. There are thousands of campsites nationwide listed on the app, ranging from cabins and glampsites that go for hundreds of dollars a night, to primal tent sites that don’t even have bathrooms.  


Happy campers
Hipcamp is an app and website that allows property owners to rent out their land to campers. Check it out at hipcamp.com. Other camping options include SLO County facilities, which opened to all campers on Feb. 4. Check out the available sites at slocountyparks.com/camp. And Santa Barbara County parks camping information is available at countyofsb.org/parks/campingparks.sbc.

Hipcamp has been around since 2013, but it’s gained popularity locally during the pandemic as repeated closures of state and county campgrounds left Central Coast residents without anywhere else to camp. 

“It’s really providing a service for people that’s not available in other places,” Madocks told the Sun. “Even as we open up with COVID, still a lot of people would rather be here than be camping out at a place with a bunch of people they don’t know.” 

Madocks has two sites on her farm that she rents out for $90 a night. With large canvas tents, beds, showers, bathrooms, and an outdoor kitchen all provided in the package, the Branch Mill Hipcamping experience definitely leans toward glamping. Visitors can tour the farm, feed the animals, and order boxes of fresh produce and eggs. 

Recently her clientele has largely been made up of health care workers and families from San Francisco and Los Angeles looking to get outside. Kids in particular love the farm, and Madocks said that’s true especially now, when they’ve spent so much of the last year cooped up staring at screens. 

“The main thing is people love to bring their kids and get a tour and learn about organic farming,” she said. “And so our goal is to make this an educational place. I feel like the Hipcamp fits in with that vision that we had.”

Darin Fiechter sees Hipcamp as helping fulfill his vision for his property too. Fiechter and his wife, Sierra, own a 43-acre ranch near Buellton and Jump On The School Bus, a Santa Barbara-based wedding and wine tour transportation service. The couple just happened to sign up for Hipcamp about a month before COVID-19 hit and decimated their transportation business. 

“Hipcamp is seriously how we stayed alive,” Darin said. 

At Freedog Farms, Darin and Sierra offer 10 campsites, where visitors can put up tents, RVs, buses, or cars. They have propane fire pits at each site and a big community fire pit, bathrooms, an art studio, and mineral tubs, and they offer tours, hikes, and fresh eggs. 

The sites are all well spaced out and private, he said, and it’s been busy through the pandemic. He’s had visitors cry upon arrival because they could let their dogs off leash, or because they finally got their kids out of a tiny apartment somewhere in a nearby city. COVID-19 is serious and important, Darin said, but so is mental health.  

“I think what’s cool is that it allowed us to feel sane through all this,” he said, “because people were coming and they were happy.”

SLO County’s campgrounds are open to everyone now, but SLO County Parks and Recreation Director Nick Franco said the pandemic made for a roller coaster of a year. 

The county operates five campgrounds: the Oceano County Campground, Coastal Dunes RV Park, Santa Margarita Lake, Lopez Lake, and El Chorro Regional Park and Campground. 

All five, Franco said, closed for the first time due to COVID-19 on April 2, 2020. They reopened on May 18 to SLO County residents on a first come, first served basis, an effort to prevent nonessential travel. Then the campgrounds opened to everyone on Sept. 17 only to close completely a few months later at the beginning of December. On Feb. 4 of this year, SLO County’s campgrounds once again opened to everyone. 

Franco said closures had a serious financial impact. SLO County’s regional parks are self-funded, meaning Parks and Rec doesn’t get tax or general fund revenue to support staff or maintenance costs. With the campgrounds closed to tourists for much of 2020, Franco said SLO County Parks and Rec took about a $2 million hit.

That projected shortfall evened out a little bit when the county’s campgrounds fully reopened in September and October of 2020, when Franco said they saw a 78 percent increase in camping compared to the same months in 2019. Now his department is looking at something closer to a $1 million budget shortfall. 

With SLO County’s sites fully reopened, Franco said Parks and Rec is doing some extra bathroom cleanings and trash pickups. Not much else needs to be done to keep things coronavirus safe, he said. The campsites are spread out, they’re limited to small groups, and it’s all outdoors.

“Camping in and of itself is pretty consistent with COVID restrictions,” he said. 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@newtimesslo.com










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