How to Catch California Grunion

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California Grunions are a fun fish to catch here in California.

If you’ve never seen a grunion run, just imagine a bunch of fish on the beach mating. 

California Grunion
Here’s my 2019 harvest of California Grunion…Time to eat GOOD!

Unlike most people, I was exposed to the infamous Grunion Run later in life. Most people I talk to are first exposed when they are kids, running up and down the beach trying to grab before they make it back to the ocean.

There’s no reason you can’t have the same fun as an adult!

In this article, we’ll cover grunion facts, how to catch them, and how to turn them into delicious tacos.


California Grunion Fish Facts

Scientific Name:Leuresthes Tenuis
Common Name(s):Grunion, California Grunion
CharacteristicsLong slender fish with darker backs and with a silver-blue stripe on the side.
Depth RangeSurf to 60 feet deep.
LocationsFrom San Francisco down to Baja.
Catch & Size LimitsWhat you can take by hand (be responsible).
Max Size7.5 inches after 4 years
StatusNo special status

 Grunion Season

Grunion season runs from March to September, with April and May being observational only.

They occur during the grunion spawn. This usually happens for three or four nights after a full or new moon and for only one to three hours after high tide.

Grunion Run Dates

Always check the CA Fish and Wildlife site to see the latest grunion run times.

Where to Catch California Grunion

You’ll be able to find grunion on beaches that are sandy with a gradual slope. They range from Baja to San Fransico.

They are most abundant between Baja and Pt. Conception. They are schooling fish that tends not to migrate vast distance but is rather home-body.

Grunion in man's hand
A grunion I caught with my hand.

Grunion Run Beaches

There are too many spots to name, but if you’re looking for grunion, it’s best to find a beach near you that has the right characteristics for them to night spawn.

This means relatively flat sandbanks and soft sand. I’ve gone out to places where I thought there should be grunion only to be skunked. When I drove down a mile to a better section of the beach, they were everywhere.

If you can’t find them, move to a new location!

Grunion Running

Here are some areas that seem to have a lot of grunions:

  • San Diego (La Jolla)
  • Manhattan Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Playa Del Rey (Marina Del Rey and Venice)

Fish Mating

Grunions have unique mating habits.

Here’s how the process unfolds:

  1. The females ride a wave into shore with one to eight males with her.
  2. She’ll get as far as she can up the beach.
  3. She’ll then bury herself tail first in the sand.
  4. If a male is touching her, she’ll release her eggs in the sand.
  5. The males will then release their sperm on her and fertilize the eggs.
  6. The males will go back into the water, and she’ll free herself and join them.


A female will do this ritual a few times a season (between four and eight). It’s estimated that she’ll lay between one thousand and three thousand eggs per season.

Grunion Fishing

Grunion in a cooler
The bounty of California Grunion

California grunion fishing is interesting in that you’re required by law to catch them with your hands.

That means no nets, tools, or traps (like digging a huge hole or fence in the sand).

How to Catch Grunion

It can be hard to grab them with your hand if you’re just going for their body.

To make it easier, try grabbing a handful of sand when you grab them. It tends to put pressure down on their body, pinning them to the sand and giving you a better grip. Throw it in your bucket or fishing cooler and catch more.

You’ll just have to strain out the sand and home or before you leave.

Grunion Recipes

Apparently coastal Native Americans ate grunion a bunch. They knew what was up!

I heard about grunion tacos back in college, but it wasn’t until recently I decided to try it…

I’ve been missing out!

Before we hop into that recipe, let’s clean them.

How to Clean Grunion

YouTube video

The easiest way to clean grunion is to buy a pair of shears (scissors work too).

Here’s my step-by-step process:

  • Squeeze them to release the eggs or sperm before cleaning. I do this in the sink.
  • Cut the head of the grunion off with shears right behind the pectoral fins. Below is one that’ll work well.
  • Take the shears and insert one end into the anus.
  • Cut up to where the head was.
  • Use your finger to scoop out the guts.
  • Repeat with all of your grunions.
  • Take your thumb (the fleshy part) and rub the inside cavity to remove the black stuff. Do this under running water to make it easier.
  • Repeat for all of your grunions.
  • Store them in the fridge or freezer. You can dry them off with a towel if you want before storage.
  • OPTIONAL: Some people like to scale them using a spoon or the edge of a knife. I find that the scales taste amazing fried, so I leave them on.
Cleaned fish
Here’s what they look like once cleaned. Ready to cook!

How to Cook Grunion

Keep it simple.

Cooking Grunion
I like to use some oil in a cast-iron skillet to fry them up. I usually just fry them without batter.

Grunion Tacos

  • Heat up a cast-iron skillet.
  • Batter your cleaned grunion with egg, flour (panko, breading, etc.), or no breading at all.
  • Add some oil to your skillet and get it hot.
  • Drop your grunion on there and cook each side for 1-3 minutes.
  • Remove and use them as your protein for your tacos.
fried fish in bowl with fork
Enjoy! Be careful of the backbone when you eat. I tend to pull the meat away from the bones.

Another option is to just add some soy sauce or Maggie to the non-battered fried grunion. Throw them over rice or vegetables, and you got yourself some good clean eats right there!

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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