Have you ever grabbed a grunion? Not many people have, and when people see grunion for the first time they usually say, “I don’t believe it.”
Grunion are slender, silvery fish – usually only 5-6 inches long – that swarm ashore by the tens of thousands on Southern California beaches late on warm summer nights when the tides are just right. It’s a sight that can be seen nowhere else in the world.
The spectacle is how grunion spawn. Over four consecutive nights, beginning on the nights of the full and new moons, spawning occurs after high tides and continues for several hours.
As waves break on the beach, the females come in first, wiggling as high up the beach as they can get, and then pushing their tails into the sand.
The males follow, fertilizing the eggs, which remain in the sand until water from the next high tide stimulates them to hatch and they are washed out to sea.
Females may spawn as often as six times a year, each time laying more than 3,000 eggs.
ARE YOU A POTENTIAL GRABBER?
While many people turn out simply to view the show, the more direct participants are “grunion grabbers.” Grunion are good eating, and you are allowed to collect them – but only by scooping them up with your bare hands. The sight of people running around the nighttime beach with a flashlight trying to scoop up the little fishes is worth seeing in and of itself.
There are seasons and some restrictions. A fishing license is required if you’re 16 or older. There is no bag limit. For information and tips visit the California Department Fish and Wildlife grunion page. Or visit Grunion.org. You might also enjoy their video Surf, Sand and Silversides: The California Grunion.”
HOW DO YOU COOK A GRUNION?
Easy. Grill over an open flame for 2-3 minutes on each side until browned. Squeeze lemon juice over the fish and serve. Or grill the fish in foil packets, first coating them in oil, placing on foil and adding seasonings.
Cook them right on the beach if it’s allowed locally. For more recipes – like grunion tacos — check out California Beaches, How to Cook Grunion.
GRUNION RUN SCHEDULE
The action usually happens late at night, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., but you have to hit the right night because it’s all about the tides. Here are times projected for grunion runs in August:
Tuesday August 2, 9:35 p.m. – 11:35 a.m.
Wednesday August 3, 10:15 p.m. – 12:15 a.m.
Thursday, August 4, 10:55 p.m. – 12:55 a.m.
Friday, August 5, 11:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
Thursday, August 18, 9:55 p.m. – 11:55 p.m.
Friday, August 19, 10:35 p.m. – 12:35 a.m.
Saturday, August 20, 11:25 p.m. – 1:15 a.m.
The usual range of grunion extends 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.
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. Flashlights don’t attract grunion; in fact they can scare them off if you shine lights into the surf.
Don’t try to catch the first fish that you see – it may stop the rest from coming in. If you just want to see grunion, try the April/May runs when the fishing season is closed.
Interested? Get out the flashlight and a bucket and get ready to grab some grunion.