Don’t think that fishing for endangered species will fly in Santa Barbara. Such was the lesson learned by two men earlier this year when their attempts to hook southern steelhead trout at Atascadero Creek were uncovered by a hidden camera and some Fish and Wildlife detective work.
In April, environmental scientists in charge of monitoring the fish spotted a number of them in the creek. The scientists, worried that others could also find the endangered fish and might want to catch them, set up a motion-activated camera by the waterway to keep an eye on any activity. Soon after, the camera caught two men — later identified as Kyle Chase Dillard, 20, and Jason Wayne Kautz, 21 — fishing in the creek. The photos showed Dillard catching what scientists identified to be one of the trout.
Luckily for Fish and Wildlife warden Brandon Alisio, the men left behind the price tag and packaging of one of their fishing poles. Using his sleuthing skills, Alisio took the price tag and packaging to Sports Authority, where he looked over the retailer’s surveillance footage and saw the two men buying the fishing pole. With help from the store, Alisio was able to tie the purchase to a customer loyalty card with a Santa Barbara address.
At that address — one of the men’s parents’ house — Alisio and warden Scott Cohen found Dillard and Kautz, who both admitted to fishing in the creek. Dillard said that he had caught the fish seen in the photos but added that it swam away when his fishing line broke.
In July, Dillard pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unlawful handling of an endangered species and was ordered to pay a $375 fine, said the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. The charges against Kautz were dropped.
According to Fish and Wildlife, the act of killing or capturing, or attempting to kill or capture, an endangered species is illegal, as is fishing in anadromous bodies of water, meaning those that that flow to the ocean as Atascadero Creek does. The organization’s website states that southern steelhead trout are born in freshwater streams, migrate to the ocean for a bit, and return to the streams to spawn. Alisio said that it was normal for the fish to be in Atascadero Creek but added that they are not found there every year.