Tails in the sand

Grunion open for harvest March 23

The second hour of the second day is usually the peak time.
  • The second hour of the second day is usually the peak time.

Frank Zappa wrote a song about them. Charles Bukowski used them in poetry: “and the grunion ran again through the oily sea, to plant eggs on shore and be caught by unemployed drunks with flopping canvas hats…and no woman at all.” They have been stand-ins for spawning piranha under James Cameron’s direction and were alien invaders in three episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. Cabrillo mentioned them in his ship’s log in 1542.

The grunion is a relative of the common top smelt. They are found off the California coast from near Santa Barbara to Punta Abreojos in Baja California Sur. During their spawning run, female grunion follow the highest tides and slide up onto the sand, dig their tails in, and deposit their eggs. The male wraps itself around the entrenched female to deposit its sperm.

Grunion are protected during May and June but are open for harvest March, April, and July. Wednesday, March 23, is the beginning of their next run. The second hour of the second day is usually the peak time.

Grunion runs signal good fishing: halibut, white seabass, and shortfin corvina follow the schools into the shallows. I saw a guy pin a grunion on a Carolina rig off Ocean Beach one night years ago, cast it out, and catch a 36-inch halibut.

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