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Wednesday, November 21 , 2018, 5:12 am | A Few Clouds 48º


Outdoors Q&A: Grunion Hunting By Moonlight

When and where they spawn is nearly impossible to predict, but there are conditions under which you can boost your odds of catching them in the act

Q: 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 to see this unusual California event. (Vicki T., Anaheim)

Carrie Wilson
Carrie Wilson

A: Yes, when the grunion decide the moon and the tides are 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 grow to 5 to 6 inches in length, will ride the waves onto the beach just after high tide has peaked. The female quickly drills herself 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. Once spawning is complete (about 30 seconds), they ride the next wave back out to sea.

As far as where to find this phenomenon, any wave-swept beach south of Point Conception is a potential grunion spawning beach. Thus, pinpointing with accuracy where you might have the best chance of observing a grunion run would be tough. Grunion run in the middle of the night, and they simply don’t adhere to any predicted schedule. At best, we can estimate probable run times and dates based on the tides and moon phases, but there are no guarantees. Only the grunion know when and where they will decide to run.

Check with the lifeguards working the beaches where you would like to visit to see if they have seen signs of recent spawning activity. Also check for 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 ritual, fishy facts on grunion, hints for successful “grunioning” and even some tips on how to prepare and cook them, click here to check out the Department of Fish & Game’s Amazing Grunion Web site.

Q: With salmon season essentially closed in most areas, and even catch-and-release fishing now prohibited, how can a 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 think it would help educate and empower fellow anglers so that we may understand and contribute to rebuilding and sustaining our salmon runs. Thank you. (Richard C.)

A: The determination by a game warden as to whether a violation has occurred is contingent on the circumstances at the time. According to Capt. 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 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, too. The warden will evaluate all of the circumstances when determining whether the elements of a crime are present and a violation has occurred.

Q: My grandson will turn 16 in early September. The way I read the big-game regulations, he should still be a junior hunter for the 2009-10 season. The regulation book doesn’t address this clearly. Can you help? (Al C.)

A: As long as your grandson buys his junior license before his 16th birthday, he’s good to go for this year. Once he turns 16, he will need to purchase the federal waterfowl stamp (if hunting waterfowl), but will not need to buy state stamps yet. Click here for a list of stamps and definitions of the various licenses. There also are junior hunts that are available to those younger than age 16, regardless of whether a junior license was purchased before the hunter’s 16th birthday.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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