Grunion hunting by moonlight

California grunion spawn at night on sandy wind-swept beaches when the moon and the tides are all aligned just right for a moonlit frolic. (Photo © Mike Brock Photography

California grunion spawn at night on sandy wind-swept beaches when the moon and the tides are all aligned just right for a moonlit frolic. (Photo © Mike Brock Photography

Question: For a couple of years now I have been trying to witness a really good grunion run but I always seem to miss them. Can you tell me where to go and which beaches have been having good grunion runs this year? I don’t want to keep any of the fish. I just want to take my son out to see this unusual California event. (Vicki T., Anaheim)

Answer: Yes, when the grunion decide the moon and the tides are all aligned just right for a moonlit frolic, anyone lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to witness one of their spawning runs will be treated to a crazy, frenzied experience.

Grunion, small silvery fish that usually get to be about five to six inches in length, will ride the waves in onto the beach just after the high tide has peaked. The female quickly drills herself down deep into the sand, depositing sometimes as many as 3,000 eggs as the wave she rode in on recedes. Waiting males then curve their bodies around her on top of the sand to release their milt, and once spawning is complete (about 30 seconds), both fish will ride the next wave back out to sea.

As far as where to find this phenomenon, any sandy wave-swept beach south of Point Conception is a potential grunion spawning beach. Thus, pinpointing with accuracy exactly where you might have the best chance of observing a grunion run will be tough. Grunion run in the middle of the night, and just like fishing, catching a grunion run can be a hit-or-miss affair that simply won’t adhere to any predicted schedule we make. At best, we can estimate probable run times and dates based upon the tides and moon phases, but no guarantees. Only the grunion truly know when and where they will decide to run.

You might try checking with the lifeguards working the beaches where you’d like to visit to see if they have seen any signs of recent spawning activity. Check too for any beach curfews as many beaches close at night for safety reasons and are not available to the public.

To see our predicted grunion run calendar and to delve more into learning about this fascinating spawning ritual, fishy facts on grunion, hints for successful “grunioning” and even some tips on how to prepare and cook them, check out the DFG’s Amazing Grunion Web page at

Steelhead fishing without being cited for salmon fishing?
Question: With salmon season essentially closed in most areas, and even catch and release fishing now prohibited, how can a DFG game warden really tell if someone is targeting salmon for catch and release but claiming they are fishing for steelhead? A lot (if not all) of the tackle and methods are the same and one pocket of water can hold both species. I know this may require a rather lengthy explanation, but I feel it will help to educate and empower our fellow anglers so that we may understand and contribute to rebuilding and sustaining our salmon runs for the future. Thank you. (Richard C.)

Answer: The determination by the game warden as to whether or not a violation has occurred in their presence will be contingent on the circumstances presented at the time. According to Captain Mark Lucero, the game warden will evaluate the fish species present in the river, the type of gear being utilized and the manner in which the gear is being used.

For example, during the open season when steelhead are present in the river, it is legal for a person to take steelhead utilizing gear that is legal for taking steelhead. If a salmon is hooked but immediately released back into the water, the chances of being arrested are minimal. However, under different circumstances – for instance, if salmon are also in the river, steelhead are absent, the method of take being used is not legal for steelhead or the released salmon does not survive – then an arrest is much more likely.

If a game warden finds someone using gear and angling methods typically used to target salmon (such as flossing or snagging), then the warden may deem that a violation as well. The warden will have to evaluate all the circumstances present at the time when determining whether the elements of a crime are present and a violation has occurred.

Junior hunter turning 16 during season?
Question: My grandson is now 15 years old and will turn 16 in early September. The way I read the big game regulations, he should still be a junior hunter for the 2009 /2010 season. The regulation book doesn’t address this clearly. Can you help? (Al C.)

Answer: As long as your grandson buys his junior license prior to his 16th birthday, he’s good to go for this year. Once he turns 16, though, he will need to purchase the federal waterfowl stamp (if hunting waterfowl) but will not need to buy state stamps yet. For a list of stamps and definitions of the various licenses, take a look at There are also some junior hunts that are only available to those under 16 years of age, regardless of whether a junior license was purchased prior to the hunter’s 16th birthday.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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