There are many places where a special regulation for a river or stream includes tributaries "above" or "below" a particular landmark. If the tributary more or less parallels the main river, does the entire tributary count based on where it enters the main river?

Here's an example: Let's say a special regulation says:

The main stem of XYX river and tributaries above Miller Bridge is closed to fishing all year.

Now let's say that XYZ river runs due south. There is also a tributary that mostly parallels XYZ river, and empties into it 1 mile below Miller Bridge. Since the tributary empties into the XYZ river below the bridge, does that mean that the entire tributary is open to fishing? Or, can you only fish in the section of the tributary that is south of where it would be even with the bridge (even though the bridge is on the main river, not the tributary)? If the latter, how would you even know when you were past it?

I am in California if it makes a difference.enter image description here

2 Answers 2


Above and below indicate upstream and downstream. When speaking in terms of watersheds, referring to tributaries above a land mark indicates that the tributary discharges into the body of water upstream from the landmark. The tributary in your illustration is a tributary below Miller Bridge. At no point does the water from that tributary discharge into the river above the bridge.

The intent is to protect spawning fish that travel upstream beyond the bridge. If a tributary discharges below the bridge, you can fish the entire tributary.

  • 2
    Thanks. I ended up emailing the California Dept of Fish & Wildlife, and received the following answer this morning, which matches yours: "That’s a good question. If a regulation states that fishing is, or is not, allowed in the main stem river and tributaries above a designated landmark, it is referring only to those tributaries that flow into the main stem river above the designated landmark. So, in the example you provided, you would be able to fish the tributary because it flows into the main stem below the designated landmark being Miller Bridge."
    – JoeMjr2
    May 10, 2017 at 18:51

Contact your state natural resources agency (California Fish & Wildlife) and ask them for the official explanation.

Otherwise, the most likely interpretation is that any tributary which connects into the river downstream of the indicated point is open to fishing.

  • Referencing a landmark on the main watercourse only makes sense when talking about where tributaries connect to the main watercourse, not the tributaries themselves. Further landmarks on the tributaries would need to be defined to indicate the fishable extent along them. May 10, 2017 at 17:01
  • 1
    Jonathan is correct, according to the answer I got from the CDFW (see my comment on the accepted answer).
    – JoeMjr2
    May 10, 2017 at 18:54

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