Note: Our 2012 grunion runs are on weeknights because the fish are mainly due to show up after midnight on the weekends this year.
All ages are welcome. Street parking is easily available and free on PCH until Midnight.
It's summer, so let's go hang out on a beach with a giant Finding Nemo piñata and see if we can spot some mysterious, slippery, silver fish! And if that's not meant to be and the grunion stand us up (although they showed up right on time last time!!!), then let's just hang out on a beach on a nice summer night and meet some new friends. Still sounds like good, free, California summer fun, eh?! We'll bring the goldfish crackers! :)
Please note: Watching (which is what we do) is free... but to legally catch the grunion you do need a fishing license which you can purchase at any of these places.
All information below is from the Department of Fish & Game.
Along southern California's sandy beaches, from March through September, one of the most remarkable life cycles in the sea is completed; the California grunion comes ashore to spawn. The grunion has been known to many southern Californians for more than 70 years, but there are still those who are skeptical of its existence. To be invited out in the middle of the night to go fishing with only a gunny sack and light for equipment does sound a little ridiculous, but in reality this is the most popular method.
California grunion are small silvery fish found only along the coast of southern California and northern Baja California. Most sportsmen would be unaware of their existence were it not for the unique spawning behavior of these fish. Unlike other fish, grunion come out of the water completely to lay their eggs in the wet sand of the beach. As if this behavior were not strange enough, grunion make these excursions only on particular nights, and with such regularity that the time of their arrival on the beach can be predicted a year in advance. This phenomenon can be seen on many beaches in southern California. Shortly after high tide, on certain nights, sections of these beaches sometimes are covered with thousands of grunion depositing their eggs in the sand.
Grunion hunting has become one of the famous sports of southern California. Since these fish leave the water to deposit their eggs, they may be picked up while they are briefly stranded. Racing for fish spotted far down the beach and trying to catch them by hand provides an exhilarating experience for young and old. The common sight of thousands of people lining the more popular beaches in southern California in anticipation of a grunion run attests to its ever growing popularity. Often there are more people than fish, but at other times everyone catches fish. All that is needed to catch grunion is a valid State fishing license and a willingness to get one's feet wet.
Grunion are small slender fish with bluish green backs, silvery sides and bellies. Their average length is between 5 and 6 inches. Early Spanish settlers called this fish grunion, which means grunter. This term has been anglicized into grunion. Grunion are known to make a faint squeaking noise while spawning. The scientific name for the California grunion is Leuresthes tenuis, and this fish belongs to the family Atherinidae, commonly known as silversides. Other more abundant atherinids found in California are the topsmelt, Atherinops affinis, and jacksmelt, Atherinopsis californiensis. Silversides differ from true smelts, family Osmeridae, in that they lack the trout-like adipose fin.
A valid State fishing license is all that is required for taking grunion. The season is closed during April and May. However, this is an excellent time for observing runs. Grunion must be taken by hand only, no appliances of any kind may be used, and no holes may be dug in the beach. There is no limit to the number that may be taken, but grunion should not be wasted.
When to Go
The spawning season extends from March through September. The California Department of Fish and Game issues schedules of expected grunion runs in advance of each season. Predictions are made only through July, since runs in August and September are very erratic. These schedules of expected runs are published in newspapers and copies are given to many sporting goods stores throughout southern California. If these are not available, all that is needed by the grunion hunter to make his own predictions is a tide table. Grunion runs may occur anytime from the night of highest tide throughout the descending series of high tides. Runs are most likely to occur on the second, third, fourth, and fifth nights following the night of new or full moon. Generally, the third and fourth nights are best. The time of the run will be 30 to 60 minutes past high tide and it will last from 1 to 3 hours. The heaviest part of the run usually occurs at least 1 hour after the run starts.
Grunion runs will occur on most southern California beaches, but may not occur every night on the same beaches and may be limited to small areas of any one beach. The ends of beaches are often the best spots. Some of the beaches in southern California that are known to have runs are: the beach between Morro Bay and Cayucos, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Hermosa Beach, Cabrillo Beach, Long Beach, Belmont Shore, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, Doheny Beach, Del Mar, La Jolla, Mission Beach and the Coronado Strand. The beaches near Ensenada in Baja California also have good runs.
Hints for Successful Grunioning
It is best to go to the end of an uncrowded beach. This is not always possible, but the fewer people the better. Fires and lanterns should be used sparingly. Light may scare the fish and they will not come out of the water. After a wave has receded, flashlights may be used to help locate fish. A small gunny sack makes a good grunion creel. Finally, plan to stay late, many grunioners quit an hour after high tide and miss a good run.
Cooking Your Catch
Grunion should be cleaned and scaled. For best results they should be rolled in a mixture of flour and yellow corn meal to which a little salt has been added and deep fried until golden brown. Although bony, they have a very delicate flavor and provide excellent table fare when prepared fresh.