Grunion Run: Best Beaches and How-To

Have you ever heard of a Grunion Run? Every year from March through August, a mystifying phenomenon takes place right here, at our local beaches. 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 these spring and summer months.

grunion run

About Grunion Runs

These mysterious fish are called “grunion”, and the eventful nights in which they appear are termed, “grunion runs”. As they come up onto the shore, the female grunion will lay their eggs as high up on the beach as they can. Subsequently, the male grunion will fertilize the eggs as a “grunion run” is actually how these fish spawn. For more information on the runs and their predicted schedules click the link here. Keep in mind that April and May are strictly observation only.

Most of the same rules and regulations of CA fishing apply to grunion runs. For all people over the age of 16, it is required that you obtain a CA fishing license (with the saltwater enhancement stamp). If you are under the age of 16 you’re good-to-go! The use of any tools, hole digging, and other mechanisms (including nets) is prohibited and you can be fined if caught doing so.

The only legal way to go about catching grunion is by hand. Be respectful and use common sense when handling the fish. If you do not intend to keep them (for bait or eating purposes) release them quickly and carefully. It is unlawful to waste fish. Again, if you are caught doing such things, at a minimum, you will be fined.

Best Beaches for Grunion Runs

Firstly, if you’re interested in what gear and tackle to use for light tackle surf fishing or even shark fishing, here’s the gear and tackle that I use. Any time you shop through Amazon links on this website, you support Surf Fishing In So Cal and help to provide quality and relevant information like the info in this article.

There isn’t any great way of “predicting” where the grunion will run on any given night. Rather, it’s important to know and understand the logistics of grunion runs. Considering that these fish are spawning, they aren’t looking to spend much time on the beach . The females are looking to get on the sand, lay their eggs and get back into the water. The males are looking to do just about the same (fertilizing rather than laying). Keeping this in mind, along with the fact that they too are wild (not domestic) animals, they will prefer quiet beaches with few people, few lights and minimal noise.

These factors leave us with the following five characteristics in finding the perfect beach for a grunion run. Beaches that are quiet with minimal foot-traffic, have minimal artificial light, are sandy rather than rocky, are relatively flat (with a gradual slope rather than steep), and long and wide. Let’s take a look at each factor with more detail.

How To See A Grunion Run

For your best chance at seeing a grunion run, look for beaches that have the following characteristics. When grunion run, they prefer beaches that won’t present dangers or disturbances.

Quiet

When I say quiet, I’m referring to noise caused by people. This could mean crowds and it could also mean machinery and other man-made/man-caused noise. Think about it, if you get close enough to a fish in the water, it’ll get spooked right? If that’s a fish’s natural reaction in the water, imagine how it might feel during a similar encounter out of the water. Yup, probably a little more spooked! Now obviously there comes a point that the fish will see you, but better just one or two people than huge crowds.

Little-to-no artificial light

This applies to the artificial light already present due to shops, houses, and people on the beach as well as that flash light you’re holding! Yes, you heard that right. If you want your best shot at experiencing one of these runs, ditch the flash light, or at least keep it too a minimal. I admit, I will bring flashlight, but I’ll keep it turned off until I see a really big wave wash ashore and that’s when I turn it on. I only point it away from the water and up the sand so I don’t spook the rest of the grunion that are still waiting to come ashore. This one, although tough to commit to, is very important and very self-explanatory.

Fish don’t like things out of the ordinary, light being no exception. This goes hand-in-hand with the first factor (quiet). If you’re on a busy beach, odds are that other people are shining light on the beach and in the water, thus, spooking the fish.

Sandy

In considering the logistics of a grunion run, sandy beaches make it a whole lot easier for the fish as well as for us to catch the fish. These fish will be out of water thus, having little coordination on the sand. Rocks or even pebbles would only further complicate the matter for them and for us. Scurrying around in the dark on a flat, sandy beach is tough enough as it is, don’t force rocks into the equation. It’ll only overcomplicate things for you and might add a little danger too.

Flat- Not Steep

This last one helps us just as much as it helps the Grunion. If the beach is too steep, the female Grunion won’t have enough time to burrow their eggs in the sand and the males won’t have enough time or accuracy to fertilize them. Similarly, if the fish are on the beach for even less time, we would have less time to spot and grab them. It’s already tough enough considering the typical run isn’t always one where grunion cover the beach. Sure, those happen, and if you’re there you’ll have no trouble grabbing as many as you need, but for the most part, you’ll likely be hunting around for them as they bolt up and down the sand.

Long and Wide

*Important* This characteristic is the most important to note for all the first-timers out there. If you’ve never paid attention to tides and don’t know a whole lot about the specific beach you’re headed to, you’re just not going to be successful (most of the time). Take for instance, Torrey Pines, Oceanside by Cassidy Street, Del Mar (south), Blacks Beach (in some areas) and many North County beaches; they may all seem like terrific options for grunion runs, but are they? Blacks Beach could be depending on the spot you choose and which night you go, Torrey Pines likely won’t be, plus it’s more pebbly than sandy.

Del Mar could be in some areas. Oceanside could be further north. Why are these not ideal? Because grunion runs always occur at high tides! Not just any high tides either, they usually occur at some of the highest high tides of the month. If you haven’t caught on yet, it’s really good you’re still reading. The problem with these beaches is that during high tide, the beach is often completely submerged. Especially the case at Torrey Pines, during a high tide of more than 5 feet, you’ll likely be pushed up against the bluffs. It’s not safe and it’s not smart.

Best Beaches in San Diego

The best beaches to witness a grunion run in San Diego are as follows. Coronado Beach (including the Strand and even IB) is good, Mission Beach is reliable, and I’ve been hearing really good things about a couple beaches up in Oceanside. These are just based on my experiences as they each possess the characteristics listed above (certain sections of the beaches at least). There are plenty more and if you follow the criteria above you’ll be sure to find more options.

For all who want to casually have a chance at seeing a grunion run, simply walk any flat and sandy beach and maybe you’ll get lucky. Mission and Coronado are both easy access beaches. Similarly, if you do not plan to catch Grunion, and solely want to observe, La Jolla Shores is a great choice too.

It’s an incredible event to see in person and it brings a different perspective to the world of surf fishing. These sardine-like baitfish draw in predators of all types from the deeper waters. This results in frenzies of all sorts and endless possibilities to catch big game-fish from the surf. What will the new season bring? We’ll just have to wait and see. But, get out there and go see a grunion run!

Submit a Story!

As mentioned last week, I’ll be encouraging readers to submit stories of their own about memorable catches and/or experiences related to surf fishing: submit a story.

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