Fishing and Grunion Runs: Should You Fish Before, During, After?

yellowfin croaker fishing during a grunion run
Yellowfin croaker caught during a grunion run

A grunion run is a phenomenon that is exclusive to Southern California. They occur when “small fish make their way onto our sandy shores during the high tides of full and new moons. They do so for what is predicted to be 3 or 4 nights in a row in correspondence with each full and new moon during the spring and summer months.” – Grunion Runs: Where, When, and How – surffishingsocalsd.com.

Grunion runs can make for fantastic fishing opportunities because they typically result in an abnormally high volume of bait in the water close to shore. When there’s a lot of bait close to shore, there’s likely a lot of bigger predatory fish close to shore too. Let’s talk about how to use a grunion run to your advantage, when to fish and what you might catch during a grunion run.

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Fishing Before a Grunion Run

corbina fish
Corbina caught just before a grunion run

Truthfully, you can catch all of the same common species of surf fish that you might catch on any other day of the year. But, you’ll have a better chance at catching certain species of fish if you head to the right beach at the right time.

It’s during the hours just before a grunion run that you should be targeting corbina, croaker, surfperch, guitarfish and other similar species. Since these species aren’t likely to become much more active during the nights of grunion runs, you want to take advantage of the rising tide and sunset bite leading up to a run. Your best bet is to stick to the basics and fish with a Carolina rig and sand crabs.

I’ve experienced only two specific instances in which a grunion run sparked a hot bite during the run while fishing with sand crabs. On those nights, we caught loads of chunky yellowfin croaker and guitarfish.

One thing to note is that these species typically become less active after dark so if the grunion aren’t running that night, you won’t have great luck. A smelly bait like squid could help but you’ll also attract lots of rays and baby sharks.

Fishing During a Grunion Run

soupfin shark caught during a grunion run
Soupfin shark caught during a grunion run

During a grunion run, you’re best bet is to target sharks. Calicos, and sand bass as well as white seabass and halibut will also be more active during grunion runs, but we’ll talk more about them for fishing after a grunion run. This notion stems from my experience and observations and the observations and experience presented in Gary Kazazian’s book – California Surf Fishing: The Hunt for Big Fish.

Fishing for Sharks During a Grunion Run

Fishing during a grunion run can be one of the most productive times to catch sharks. Soupfin, leopard sharks, and even sevengill are known to feed more actively on nights of grunion runs. Your bait will remain the same as always in a fresh chunk of cut bait. Croaker, surfperch, mackerel and many similar types of cut bait will work just fine. Read the species links to learn more about how to target each.

For leopard sharks, all you need is a beach that has enough sand to sustain the inevitable high tide of a grunion run.

leopard shark fishing during a grunion run
Leopard shark caught during a grunion run

For soupfin sharks and sevengill sharks, step one is the same as it is for leopards, but while you need enough space to withstand the high tide, you also need some hard structure like rocks or reefs. These species like to hang out in areas with reefs nearby. Doesn’t need to be on a reef, just nearby.

soupfin shark fishing at night
Soupfin shark caught during a grunion run

Fishing the Morning After a Grunion Run

surf fishing for white seabass during a grunion run

Fishing for Calico, Sand Bass, White Seabass and Halibut After a Grunion Run

After reading California Surf Fishing: The Hunt for Big Fish by Gary Kazazian, and putting many of his tactics to the test and trying many of my own new-found ideas along the way, I’ve started to noticeable progress here. For these species, you’ll head to similar beaches you would for soupfin and sevengill and use their corresponding baits.

For calico and sand bass, you can either use shrimp, frozen or live grunion, or lures. I won’t speak much on the shrimp as that’s something you’ll learn very clearly in Gary’s book, but essentially, your fishing bait and wait style like you would for sharks and your target areas are reefs, rocks and other hard structure that allows vegetation to grow from it.

Why does a grunion make for better bait and wait fishing? Because calico and sand bass will feed on both dead bait and live baitfish. Naturally, they’ll follow the bait and they aren’t likely to pass up an easy meal like a ball of shrimp if it’s presented properly.

A book by Gary Kazazian | Teaching you how to catch white seabass, halibut and calico from the surf.

For halibut and white seabass, you’ll most likely use lures but if you can get your hands on live grunion the next morning somehow… use it.

My Gear and Preferred Lures:

Now, before we go on, I want to make one thing clear. Yes, fishing during a grunion run for these species works too. It’s a good idea to target halibut and white seabass during and before a grunion run. Using live grunion during a run offers you a phenomenal opportunity to catch these predatory species. Even using lures during a run or in the afternoon/evening leading up to last light and the ensuing run is a good idea.

But, I firmly believe, it’s a better idea to target these species the morning after a grunion run. Why? Well, two reasons.

  1. Daylight hours provide better visibility for fish that feed on bait and take on lures.
  2. The morning of a grunion run usually results in a grey light negative tide.

The above theory was revealed to me by Gary and all props go out to him on this one. So what’s good about the low tide? I wrote about this in a recent article overviewing calico bass fishing from the surf (and this theory, below… I do take full credit for).

Why Low Tide is Special

Structure can be submerged at fishable tidal heights (when structure is submerged enough to hold fish and in casting range) at high tide and low tide. But, the best structure is usually in areas where vegetation grows. You might not realize this (as I had no idea a couple years ago), but most of So Cal’s (San Diego included) shoreline is filled with reefy, vegetation-filled structure.

Why don’t we see it, because vegetation grows only where the water is constantly providing it with nutrients. Which means it’s far enough out into the water that we can’t see it from the beach unless there’s a dramatic low tide.

This is where King Tides come in and this is why low tides are better for lure fishing in the surf.

Which Night of a Grunion Run is Best for Fishing?

I get this question quite often. The answer is complex. First and foremost, it depends which day’s conditions provide a better opportunity for your desired style of fishing and target. I look at the surf height, wind and tides and let that determine which species I’ll target and therefore which day I’ll fish (depending on availability).

If you’ve read this entire article, you should be able to determine which days of a grunion run will be best for fishing

Is a Full Moon or New Moon Better for Fishing?

I’ve always had better luck fishing during the full moon as opposed to the new moon. I might also add that most of my experience fishing full and new moons is for sharks so that’s worth noting.

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