Grunion Run in Huntington Beach, California
Information obtained from the California Department of Fish and Game
Question: How do I hunt for Grunion when the beach is closed'

Answer: Huntington Beach(es) are closed during the hours that Grunion run. There is a way to catch them during that time, however. You must purchase a fishing license (sold at Big 5 Sporting Goods and Sports Chalet). You will be permitted to go to the water line to catch Grunion during the run with your fishing license. Parking may provide an obstacle in some beach locations and you will have to figure that problem out by parking legally on city streets or wherever permitted. If you are 16 or older, you must have a license. Call: Big 5 Sporting Goods, 18595 Beach Boulevard, (714) 848-3493 or Sport Chalet, 16242 Beach Boulevard, (714) 848-0988.

Note: Seal Beach has had some exceptional grunion runs in 2005. The beach is located on Ocean Avenue. Take Pacific Coast Highway to Main Street. Turn toward the ocean and when you reach the Seal Beach Pier, park your car in parking lots left and right of the pier.

About Grunion

Grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) are members of the silversides family, Atherinidae, along with the jacksmelt and topsmelt. They normally occur from Point Conception, California, to Point Abreojos, Baja California. Occasionally, they are found farther north to Monterey Bay, California and south to San Juanico Bay, Baja California. They inhabit the nearshore waters from the surf to a depth of 60 feet. Tagging studies indicate that they are nonmigratory.

Grunion are the object of a unique recreational fishery. These fish are famous for their spawning behavior that is so remarkable that it evokes an "I don’t believe it" response from someone who hears about it for the first time.

Grunion leave the water at night to spawn on the beach in the spring and summer months two to six nights after the full and new moons. Spawning begins after high tide and continues for several hours. As a wave breaks on the beach, grunion swim as far up the slope as possible. The female arches her body and excavates the semifluid sand with her tail to create a nest. She twists her body and digs until she is half buried in the sand with her head sticking up. She then deposits her eggs in the nest. Males curve around the female and release milt. The milt flows down the female’s body until it reaches and fertilizes the eggs. As many as eight males may fertilize the eggs in a nest. After spawning, the males immediately retreat toward the water while the female twists free and returns with the next wave. While spawning may take only 30 seconds, some fish remain stranded on the beach for several minutes.

Spawning occurs from March through August, and occasionally in February and September. Peak spawning period is between late March and early June. Once mature, an individual may spawn during successive runs at about 15-day intervals. Females can spawn as many as six times during a season. Mature females lay between 1,600 and 3,600 eggs during one spawn, with the larger females producing more eggs.

The eggs are deposited during the highest tides of the month and incubate in the sand during the lower tide levels, safe from the disturbance of wave action. The eggs are kept moist by residual water in the sand. The eggs hatch during the next high tide series when they are inundated with sea water and agitated by rising surf. This occurs after about 10 days.

You can watch grunion eggs hatch by collecting a cluster of eggs after a grunion run and keeping them in a loosely covered container of damp sand in a cool spot for 10-15 days. Then, add one teaspoon of sand and eggs to one cup of sea water and shake gently; the eggs will hatch before your eyes in a few minutes.

Most grunion seen on southland beaches are between 5 and 6 inches long. Some are as long as 7 inches. An average one-year old male is 4.5 inches long while a female is slightly larger at 5.0 inches. At the end of two years, males average 5.5 inches and females are about 5.8 inches long. By the end of three years, an average male is 5.9 inches and a female is 6.3 inches in length. Few live to be older than 3 years. Grunion mature and spawn at the end of the first year.

Grunion food habits are not well known. They have no teeth, so they are presumed to feed on very small organisms. Shore birds, isopods, flies, sand worms, and beetles eat grunion eggs. Humans, larger fish, and other animals prey upon grunion itself.

Despite local concentrations, grunion are not abundant. The most critical problem facing the grunion resource is the loss of spawning habitat caused by beach erosion, harbor construction, and pollution. By the 1920's the fishery was showing definite signs of depletion and a regulation was passed in 1927 establishing a closed season of three months, April through June. The fishery improved and in 1947 the closure was shortened to April through May. This closure is still in effect to protect grunion during the peak spawning period.

A fishing license is required for persons 16 years and older to capture grunion. Grunion may be taken by sport fishers using their hands only. No holes may be dug in the beach to entrap them. There is no limit, but take only what you can use. It is unlawful to waste fish. With these regulations, the resource seems to be maintaining itself at a fairly constant level. While the population size is not known, all research points to a rather restricted resource that is appropriately harvested under existing law.

While grunion spawn on many beaches in southern California, the Department of Fish and Game does not recommend any particular beach because of changing safety conditions and local curfews. One of the best ways to find out which beaches have had recent runs is to call the state and county beach lifeguards who can often tell if spawning has taken place. There is a grunion program offered to the public at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro on several nights of the season. Call (310) 548-7562 for details.

What Every Grunion Hunter Should Know: Regulations

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.

Best locations

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 Catching Grunion

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 Grunion 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.

Research and management of the grunion by the California Department of Fish and Game is supported, in part, by the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program