Ready to run? Everything to know about grunion season

A group gathers grunion during a run near La Jolla Shores. (Photo: Andrew Chen/Wikimedia Commons)

SAN DIEGO — It’s a strange Southern California tradition like no other: Grunion run season is upon us.

The California grunion, a silvery fish typically found in the Pacific from San Diego to the Santa Barbara area, spawns from late March to early June, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s notable because their spawning behavior is quite a sight to see.

As described by DFW: Beginning on the nights of full and new moons, the fish ride waves up onto the beach for four consecutive nights, trying to make their way as far up the slope as possible. The female arches its body and uses its tail to create a nest in the sand, twisting and digging until it is half-buried with its head sticking out.

Then the male wraps its body around the female and releases milt, which is… well, fish semen. The milt fertilizes the eggs in the nest before the males take off back for the water. The females remain on the sand until the next wave carries them out to sea.

The whole ritual is about a 30 second blur to behold, and it has become popular to gather on the beach as the spawning takes place, an event referred to as a “grunion run.”

Dozens of grunion caught on camera at a San Diego beach
(Photo: Eric Wittman/Flickr)

It can be a lot of fun to watch, but some people also hunt the grunion by simply trying to grab them with bare hands. If you’re interested, there are specific legal guidelines for grunion fishing.

First, grunion season is closed for April and May to protect the fish during their peak spawning period. During open season, a fishing license is required for people 16 and older to capture the grunion. They can be taken by fishermen using hands only — not holes dug on the beach to entrap them. There’s no bag limit, but you are forbidden from taking more than you can use, as wasting fish is illegal.

“To help conserve grunion populations, it is better to observe and learn rather than to hunt and collect,” DFW adds. “If you enjoy watching the mating ritual of grunion, please do not disturb the females depositing eggs tail first in the sand or the incubating eggs they leave behind. This will allow the grunion to complete the spawning portion of their life cycle and contribute to future grunion spawning events.”

Grunion spawn throughout SoCal, and DFW does not suggest particular beaches. Trip Savvy suggests beaches in Del Mar, La Jolla, Mission Beach and the Coronado Strand.

You can learn more about where to look and when on DFW’s website, which has a handy timing chart for the 2019 season.

Happy running!

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