Best Fishing Near Santa Barbara: Lake & Ocean Angling

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When it comes to fishing, Santa Barbara County is definitely seasoned with salt.

The area has one excellent freshwater fishing destination in Cachuma Lake, and we have quite a bit of information on that fishery.

But where the greater Santa Barbara area really stands out for its ocean fishing, from fishing the surf to miles offshore. See the Pacific Ocean section below for some places to start.

This article is intended as a quick look at the best fishing sites near Santa Barbara and the rest of the county, including Santa Maria. These fishing spots also are within an easy reach from smaller communities such as Carpinteria, Lompoc, Goleta, Orcutt and Isla Vista.

Besides the fishing destinations we mention below, the county is known for its beautiful coastline and mountainous interior, four of the Channel Islands offshore, Santa Barbara Zoo, and the University of California Santa Barbara.

After checking out the fishing options in Santa Barbara County, see our “Fishing in Nearby Counties” section at the bottom of this article. Those additional county articles often include links to more detailed articles we’ve published about stand-out fishing spots.

Cachuma Lake

A dock with fishing boats on the blue water of Cachuma Lake.
Photo by hannator (Depositphotos)

Cachuma Lake is the premier freshwater fishery in Santa Barbara County.

When fishing at this lake is good, it’s often very good.

This is often one of the better bass-fishing lakes in this region, and it’s a place where you can land both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Some of the largemouths caught here through the years have been giants.

Trout are a big draw whenever they are planted, with the cooler months into spring provided the best opportunity. They can be caught on bait, lures and flies.

Trout stocking can be a bit hit and miss, though, in part because biologists don’t want these fish to spill down into the Santa Ynez River, where they are trying to protect a run of steelhead (sea-going rainbow trout), which are rare this far south..

and when trout are planted you can get some big rainbows as well.

Add in channel catfish (some to huge sizes), crappie, bluegill, carp and the occasional redear sunfish, and there’s plenty to chase after here.

This fairly-big lake of about 3,000 surface acres when it’s full, but like many California lakes this reservoir is prone to drought conditions that can impact the fishery.

There are various amenities in the surrounding area of the lake.

More: Cachuma Lake Fishing

Lake Los Carneros

This pond, in Lake Los Carneros Park in Goleta, may at times be stocked with fish.

Cooler months, especially in the winter, are the most likely times that hatchery trout might be planted here, if water conditions and fish supplies are both agreeable.

When water conditions are poor, fish kills and algae blooms are possible. At our latest update, water conditions have generally improved with more rainfall.

At times, anglers have reported that bass, catfish and panfish have been available.

The park is across Highway 101 from the airport and about 15 minutes west of Santa Barbara. Use the Los Carneros Road exit and turn north.

Lion Canyon Creek

This small stream, in the Santa Ynez Mountains about an hour north of Santa Barbara, has been stocked in some past years with rainbow trout.

It doesn’t appear to have been stocked recently and likely won’t provide much angling opportunity. But we’ve put it here because it’s at least worth keeping a watch on.

The water gets very low here into the season, and of course that’s further impacted during drought years.

In the springtime, there are pools and riffles along the stream. Access in spots is difficult in the steep canyon. Poison oak, rattlesnakes and occasional severe storms can add to the hazards or adventures, depending on your outlook.

Pacific Ocean

Beautiful view of Santa Barbara ocean with boats on the water and Santa Ynez mountains in the background.
Photo by tsuguliev (Depositphotos)

The biggest ocean in the world offers a huge wealth of fishing opportunities, and a pretty good number of them can be found right along Santa Barbara County’s shorelines.

From Santa Barbara Harbor, you can catch a charter boat that will take you well off-shore, potentially to the Channel Islands and various reefs considered part of the county.

Deep-sea trips offer a wealth of fish, including white seabass, rockfish, lingcod, halibut, yellowtail, sheepshead  and more.

Closer to shore, smaller boats ply the kelp beds and seamounts to catch rockfish, various bass species, and sometimes the other species that longer-range boats target.

No boat? No problem. Like much of Southern California, the Santa Barbara area has several piers that at times can offer very good fishing. Stearns Wharf near Santa Barbara Harbor and Goleta Pier just up the coast are two good bets for fishing beyond the waves without getting onto a boat.

Pier anglers can catch just about anything, from smallish perch to mackerel to rockfish to big rays and sharks. Highly prized species that could even include halibut and salmon are caught on much rarer occasions, but fish a pier long enough and you’ll probably see it all.

Finally, there’s some pretty good surf fishing if you’d like to keep your feet on solid earth, or shifting sand at least.

Perch are the most common catch, especially in the cooler months. Halibut do get within surf-fishing range at times, most commonly in the spring.

Rockier areas can produce kelp bass, sand bass and calico bass, among other species.

Fishing in the ocean, you never know 100% what you might catch.

Some beach areas you can fish include Gaviota State Park and El Capitan and Refugio State Beaches along Highway 101 and Point Sal State Beach at the northern end of the county.

Fishing in Nearby Counties

San Luis Obispo County: To the north, this coastal county offers a wide variety of fishing lakes like Nacimiento and ocean ports like Morro Bay.

Kern County: To the northeast, the Bakersfield area offers a wide array of inland fishing options, including Lake Isabella and the Kern River.

Ventura County: To the east, the next county down the coastline has a similar number of ocean fishing options as well as excellent freshwater fishing at Lake Casitas and sometimes at Lake Piru.