Grunion run

Grunion fans young and old come out to the beach to watch the fish.

Grunion Season

This Saturday promises to be a different kind of July 4 holiday. It seems that most traditional events have been canceled. I do have a suggestion. Pack up your flashlights, beach chairs, towels and head to the beach for grunion hunting.

Evidently, no one told the fish that we are on pause.

I’ve caught my share of the slippery little fish as they make their way to shore to mate and this Saturday, July 4 from 9:15 to 11:15 p.m. might just be the best evening to get your hands on some. Later in the weekend, the runs are later: Sunday, July 5 is 9:55–11:55 p.m., Monday, July 6 is 10:40 p.m.–12:40 a.m. and Tuesday, July 7 it's 11:20 p.m.–1:20 a.m.

Experts claim the best runs normally occur on the second and third nights of the four-night period, and many claim the second hour is usually better than the first hour. The grunion run on new and full moons and times are a couple of hours after high tide. July 5 is a “Buck Moon," named in honor of the new antlers that start growing on male deer this time of year.

Legally, you can use only your hands to capture the slippery fish as they leave the water to spawn and they are wiggling in their mating dance — making it a challenge. No types of gear, traps, or nets are allowed nor are holes dug in the beach to trap them and there is no bag limit. Wait until after the fish have spawned before capturing them (sometimes it is hard to tell) and only catch what you will commit to clean, cook and eat. People over the age of 16 must have a license to catch grunion.

These slender, silvery sardine-like fish have some unique mating behaviors; the females dig nests by wiggling their tails into sand and lay eggs. Next, the males will come up to fertilize the eggs. Each female lays between 1,600 and 3,000 eggs at a time that stay buried for about a week, or until another high tide stimulates the eggs with fresh sea water, releasing the baby grunion.

Those who cook grunion usually grill them over an open flame, or in a foil packet, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side. An adult grunion is about five to six inches long and the fish belongs to the same family as jacksmelt — and they look and taste like sardines. Frankly, they don’t make much of a meal.

According to, recent reports indicate that grunion populations have declined broadly across southern California. In my experience, sometimes the grunions are no shows. I’ve waited on the beach on more than one occasion and been disappointed.

They are like ants — they send a few scouts first and if they don’t return the rest of the fish are spooked and don’t come ashore. So my suggestion is skip buying the fishing license — just go for the possible show.

One year I thought I had been had and this was like a snipe hunt on the beach. Maybe the scouts had warned the others. It was okay — because I heard there are going to be submarine races that night. (I fell for that one too).

Boats And Tenders

After last week’s column on boat names, Candice Stacy wrote, “I had to share my favorite names of a big boat and her tender. I can't remember where it was but I think it was Oceanside. The big boat was called Once Upon a Tide and the tender was Happily Ever Aft... Some folks are very clever.”

If you have an On The Water story to share, email me at

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