California Grunion Run

Grunion are unusual little fish that have managed to capture the fascination of those who've heard about them and want to go fishing to catch grunion with their bare hands. In the South Bay, one Southern California area where grunion spawn, Grunion Greeters are actually trained in a workshop. The greeters are volunteer troops charged with attending grunion runs to observe specific markers utilized in university studies about the the Southern California beaches.  (

Grunion as a dinner meal, are fairly small and best used in recipes such a delicious green bean casserole. Generally baked or fried, grunion are not found on menus in restaurants as their numbers are small and methods of catching them costly by commercial standards. In fact, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) requests grunion-runners to use conservation practices in catching grunion. If you don't intend to eat them, don't keep them, but do throw them back into the ocean right away. Photo above:Long after the sun goes down at the Southern California Beaches the grunion run.

Grunion are thriving enough to allow the hunting season to continue but the live fish do live in a fine balance with spawning areas and pollution impacting their ability to thrive. Grunion appear mostly in Southern California and are visible at a grunion run, which is the night the fish spawn on the beaches. The DFG provides a chart listing the months you are allowed to catch them during spawning season (click on Grunion Runs link above). Called  Leuresthes tenuis, these members of the silversides family can only be caught with your bare hands.  On a grunion run, "anglers" put their catch in a bucket with a bit of ocean water till the take the fish home to clean and prepare them for cooking.  Regulations for hunting for grunion can be confusing. State and local beaches that impose curfews during the hours grunion spawn can be usurped by laws for fishing that allow fishermen with valid licenses to stand on the shoreline and fish most any time. The best practice is to call your local beach entity and get the scoop. 


First, you will discover that the fish are members of the New World silversides family, Atheriniopsidae, along with the jacksmelt and topsmelt. They normally occur from Point Conception, California from nautical miles west of Santa Barbara, to Point Abreojos, Baja California. Occasionally, they are found farther north to Monterey Bay, California and south to San Juanico Bay, Baja California. Like all fish, you can plan to stay up around midnight to catch them but if they aren't running on certain beach, then you may go home empty handed.


Some local beaches are nice enough to let you know if they've seen the grunion running. Others don't have time to deal with your request since they typically are a beach operations group and don't always concern themselves with what type of fish can be caught. So, there's a chart posted from California Department of Fish and Game that predicts the nights of grunion run but in the fishing world, you must go for the sport and consider yourself lucky if you get plenty.


Here's why: Grunion inhabit the nearshore waters from the surf to a depth of 60 feet. They most likely do not migrate according to tagging studies. Each spring and summer from March through August grunion leave the water at night to spawn on the beach for four consecutive nights starting the nights of the full and new moons. Spawning begins after high tide and continues for several hours. Peak spawning is late March to early June. 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.



Southern California Beaches

City / County
LA=Los Angeles;
OC=Orange County;
SD=San Diego
beach name / address
SB= State Beach;
CB= County Beach
web / contact
Capo Beach, OC Capistrano Beach
35005 Beach Road
Cardiff, SD Cardiff State Beach
Cardiff, SD San Elijo State Beach
Carlsbad, SD Carlsbad State Beach
Carlsbad, SD South Carlsbad State Beach
Corona del Mar, OC Little Corona Beach
Poppy Ave.
Corona del Mar, OC Corona del Mar State Beach
Iris & Ocean Blvd.
Corona del Mar, OC Crystal Cove State Park
Muddy Creek Beach
Corona del Mar, OC Crystal Cove State Park
El Morro Beach
Corona del Mar, OC Emerald Bay
Coronado, SD Central Beach, Ocean Blvd.
Coronado, SD Ferry Landing Marketplace
Coronado, SD Glorietta Bay Beach
Coronado, SD Silver Strand State Beach
Dana Point, OC Doheny State Beach
Dana Point, OC Monarch Beach  
Dana Point , OC Salt Creek Beach
33333 S. Pacific Coast Hwy.
Del Mar, SD Del Mar Beach  
Del Mar, SD San Dieguito River Beach  
Encinitas, SD Moonlight Beach SB
Encinitas Blvd.
Encinitas, SD Leucadia State Beach
Hermosa Beach, LA Hermosa Beach
Hermosa Ave. and 33rd St.
Huntington Beach OC Bolsa Chica State Beach
PCH from Golden West
to Warner
Huntington Beach OC

Huntington Beach OC Humboldt Beach
Huntington Beach OC Huntington City Beach,
PCH - Golden West
& Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach OC Huntington Beach SB
Pacific Coast Highway
& Beach Blvd.
Imperial Beach, SD Borderfield State Park
Imperial Beach, SD Imperial Beach  
La Conchita, Ventura La Conchita Beach  
Laguna Beach, OC 1,000 Steps Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Crescent Bay Beach
Pacific Coast Hwy.
& Crescent Bay Dr.
Laguna Beach, OC Diver's Cove Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Shaw's Cove Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Boat Canyon Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Oak Street Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Brook Street Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Mountain Road Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Bluebird Canyon Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Pearl Street Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Rockledge Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Victoria Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Treasure Island Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Wood's Cove Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Moss Point Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Irvine Cove Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Laguna Main Beach
Laguna Beach, OC Aliso Creek Beach
La Jolla, SD Children's Pool
850 Coast Blvd.
La Jolla, SD La Jolla Cove
1100 Coast Blvd.
La Jolla, SD La Jolla Shores
8200 Camino del Oro
La Jolla, SD Torrey Pines State Beach
La Jolla, SD Torrey Pines State Reserve
La Jolla, SD Windansea Beach
6800 Neptune Place
Long Beach, LA Alamitos Bay  
Long Beach, LA Long Beach  
Long Beach, LA Mother's Beach  
Malibu, LA Dan Blocker
26000 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, LA Las Tunas
19444 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Malibu, LA Leo Carillo State Park
Malibu, LA Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu, LA Malibu- Surfrider
23050 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Malibu, LA Nicholas Canyon
33850 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Malibu, LA Point Mugu State Park
Malibu, LA Port Dume
7103 Westward Road
Malibu, LA Robert H. Meyer Memorial SB
Malibu, LA Topanga
18700 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, LA Will Rogers State Beach
Malibu, LA Zuma
30000 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Manhattan Beach, LA Manhattan Beach
400-500 The Strand
Marina del Rey, LA Mother's Beach, North Jetty
Mission Beach, SD Mission Beach
Mussel Shoals
Mussel Shoals Beaches  
Laguna Beach, OC Monarch Beach  
Newport Beach, OC
city code
Santa Ana River CB
Summit & 61st Sts
Newport Beach, OC Rocky Point Beach
Newport Beach, OC Harbor Patrol Beach
Ocean Beach, SD Ocean Beach
Oceanside, SD Harbor Beach  
Oceanside, SD Buccaneer Beach  
Oceanside, SD St. Malo Beach  
Oxnard Mandalay State Beach
Playa del Rey, LA Dockweiler Beach
12000 Vista del Mar
Redondo Beach, LA Redondo Beach
400 - 1700 Esplanade
San Clemente, OC Poche Beach  
San Clemente, OC North Beach  
San Clemente, OC San Clemente Beach  
San Clemente, OC Trafalger Street Beach  
San Clemente, OC San Clemente State Beach
Avenida Califia
San Diego, SD Black's Beach
San Diego
Ocean Beach, SD
Sunset Cliffs  
San Diego
Ocean Beach, SD
Ocean Beach
1950 Abbott Street
San Diego, SD Point Loma  
San Diego, SD Mission Beach  
San Diego, SD South Mission Beach
SD -Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Bonita Cove
1000 W. Mission Bay Dr.
@ Mariners Way
SD -Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Crown Point
3700 Crown Point Dr.
SD -Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
DeAnza Cove
3000 East Mission Bay Dr.
SD -Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Enchanted Cove
on Fiesta Island
SD - Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Leisure Lagoon
1900 East Mission Bay Dr.
SD - Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Tecolote Shores
1600 E. Mission Bay Dr.
SD - Mission Bay, SD Mission Bay Beaches
Ventura Cove
1000 W. Mission Bay Dr.
SD -Pacific Beach, SD North Pacific Beach
SD -Pacific Beach, SD Pacific Beach
San Diego, SD Tourmaline Surf Park
San Onofre, SD San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre, SD San Onofre Surf Beach
San Pedro, LA Cabrillo Beach
3720 Steven M. White Dr.
San Pedro, LA White's Point & Royal Palms
1799 Paseo del Mar
Santa Monica
Pacific Palisades, LA
Will Rogers State Beach
17700 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Santa Monica, LA Beach Park #1,
Ocean Park Blvd
& Barnard Way
Santa Monica, LA Chess Park
Ocean Front Walk
@ Seaside Terrace
Santa Monica, LA Muscle Beach
Ocean Front Walk
S of SM Pier
Santa Monica, LA Santa Monica State Beach
Santa Monica, LA South Beach Park
Barnard Way
Solana Beach, SD Solana Beach
Sunset Beach, OC Sunset Beach
Pacific Coast Highway

Torrance, LA

Torrance Beach
387 Paseo de la Playa
Venice, LA Venice
3100 Ocean Front Walk
Ventura, Ventura Emma Wood State Beach
Ventura, Ventura McGrath State Beach
Ventura, Ventura San Buenaventura SB  

Mature individuals may spawn during successive runs at about 15-day intervals. Females can spawn up to six times each season. Females lay between 1,600 and 3,600 eggs during one spawn, with 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.


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. 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 gentlyy; the eggs will hatch before your eyes in a few minutes.

Grunion are not abundant and contributing factors such as loss of spawning habitat, harbor construction and pollution. Birds eat the grunion eggs and humans contribute to depletion. Still, it is legal to hunt grunion during the open season with a fishing license required for persons 16 years and older. 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. 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.

For a current schedule, send a self addressed stamped envelope to: GRUNION, California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Region
4665 Lampson Ave. Suite C,
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

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