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See Grunions Run!

Can fish run? The famous grunions do on San Diego Beaches.


A summer evening is a perfect time to have a SoCal experience. If there is anything that is uniquely Southern Californian, then this phenomenon just might personify it. Picture yourself on one of San Diego's beaches - at night - with a few dozen other people. The tide is high and the waves are rolling pretty far up the sand line. Suddenlly, as a wave recedes, you spot hundreds of silvery things, wiggling on the sand. Then, just as quickly, the next wave rolls in, then out, and with it the silvery spectres. Yep, you are witnessing a famous California grunion run.

Grunion? you say? What are grunions? Well, California grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) are small silvery fish about 5 to 6 inches long found only along the coast of southern California and northern Baja California. Most of us 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. And that, my friends, makes us privy to the California grunion run, or more sprecifically, the grunion's sex life.

Along San Diego's sandy beaches, from March through September, one of the most remarkable life cycles in the sea is completed when the California grunion comes ashore to spawn.

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, 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. Hence, the popularity of both grunion watching and grunion hunting.

Yep, you read it right: grunion hunting. Because, even though they are fish, you don't exactly catch them with a pole and line. Nope. Since the grunion basically wash up to your feet, you have to chase them down and grab them barehanded if you want to catch them. That's what makes grunion hunting so uniquely SoCal!

Since these fish leave the water to deposit their eggs, they may be picked up while they are briefly stranded. Often there are more people than fish, but at other times everyone catches fish. So, no expensive fishing gear is needed (just your bare hands and a bucket or sack to hold your prizes. Oh yeah, and a valid State fishing license and a willingness to get a little wet.

Quick Grunion Hunting Facts

(courtesy of the Ca. Dept. of Fish and Game)

Grunion Description: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.

Grunion Hunting 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.

Best Grunion Hunting Locations: The ends of beaches are often the best spots. Some of the beaches in San Diego that are known to have runs are: Del Mar, La Jolla, Mission Beach and the Coronado Strand.

Hints For A Successful Run: Although not always possible, 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 Grunion: 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.

For a schedule of the expected grunion runs in Southern California, check the Deartment of Fish and Game's site here.
For more grunion facts, click here.

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