In search of a fantabulous night to make a grunion run, because our bucket isn’t even half empty


What in the name of Flipper can we do at this point? We brought the music and candles, and put them up on the lifeguard tower. But again, the grunions didn’t come during their most recent run last week. Only one more window of opportunity left this season.

Your bucket list might be complete with a Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, running the Boston Marathon or going on a kayaking river run through the Grand Canyon.

Mine, sinfully, still hinges on trying to fill a bucket during a grunion run.


I’m 0-for-50 years. Not one sighting in the slightest of the skittish silver surfers as they make their way out of the Pacific, supposedly from Point Conception to Baja California, to do the things they do in the soft sand during a high tide, all so that we can grab us some, roll ’em in cornmeal and toss them in the deep fryer for a crispy treat. Or, at the very least, a new pizza topping.

Since you need a fishing license to legally do this kind of thing, it must fall under the official classification of a sport.

Since you have to lumber down to the ocean shore past midnight, with a flashlight, dodging seaweed and perhaps a beached seal – not to mention teen-aged kids laughing and running all over the place while smoking something that the state’s Department of Fish and Game doesn’t license (yet) — it must fall under the official classification of a perfect waste of time.

The locals can give you all the hot spots for grunion congregations around here – Will Rogers and Zuma beaches in Malibu, south of the Santa Monica pier, the North Jetty of Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, White’s Point or Cabrillo in San Pedro. Our last attempt, at the popular 33rd Street site in Hermosa Beach during the most recent four-day officially-approved window, was another dry run.


Our official SpongeBob SquarePants lunch pail container — OK, we’re not even using a bucket here any more — wasn’t even unlatched.

We’re not fishing for compliments here. Just point us in the right direction.

Some say global warming now makes May and June better months than July and August. Others insist you need to be at a south-facing beach. Or go with the full moon instead of the new moon.

We’re willing to give a shout-out to whoever can tell us whether any of these are suburban legends. Go ahead, give us a yell.


“You’ve got to go into stealth mode and do this as quietly as possible,” said Charina Layman, the public programs manager at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla (linked here).

Hear that, you stupid kids? Stop shining the lights all over the place and sifting through the whitewash like you’re at Knott’s Berry Farm panning for gold.


“You are considered a predator, like a raccoon, a feral cat or a shorebird,” Layman said. “The most important thing is to not scare off the scout. He comes out first and he’s the one that sends the signal back to the rest that it’s safe to come on shore.”

The little fella sends a tweet? A text? Apparently we lack this Grunion App for our DumbPhone.

“Put it this way: If the scout doesn’t come back, it’s not a good sign for the rest of them,” she said. “They are masters at surviving.”

The whole purpose for their visit, Layman reminds us, is survival of the fittest. The females grunions to come ashore, wiggle around in the sand and lay eggs. Then the males stagger up there, fertilize them, and head back.


Just like if National Geographic did a Frankie-and-Annette movie.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but that sounds like mating season. That alone should spawn new ideas on how to look at all this.

It has to be about setting the right mood here. Maybe a little Teddy Pendergrass. Some candle lights. A glass of wine.

“I’m sure they’d prefer sparkling wine,” suggested Dr. Karen Martin, the Pepperdine University chair in the Natural Science department, a professor of biology, on the board of governors for the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and executive director of a group called the “Grunion Greeters” research team (

“I actually have an entire playlist devoted to grunion music on my iTunes: Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight,’ REM’s ‘Nightswimming,’ and, of course, Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance.'”

A fantabulous night to make romance.


Marvin Gaye might work, but I think cheesier grunions might prefer Al Green, circa 1971,” said Raul Reis, a member of the Long Beach Grunions (linked here), a group that, according to their website, are “totally cool, really fun, high energy swim team and social club for gays, lesbians and their friends.”

We’re totally cool with that.


“We have done some grunion runs in the past,” added Reis, also the chairman of the journalism department at Long Beach State. “On those occasions, we mostly congregated on the beach near the Belmont Pool in Belmont Shore, lit up a bonfire if we got a chance, roasted marshmallows and traded stories. No running around screaming for us.”

Sounds like a plan.

So one night, just before 2 a.m. — too late for last call at the local watering hole by now — I’m standing there with the license in my back pocket, a couple of candles out on the sand and a boom box overhead. It must have looked like John Cusack in “Say Anything,” trying to coax the critters out with a little Al Jarreau singing the old theme to the “Moonlighting” TV series.

Maybe Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” had more soul.

Say anything you want, but it was worth a try.


There’s gotta be some kind of grunion pick-up lines we haven’t thought of yet. For the record, we haven’t given up.

Marci, the cashier over at Big 5 Sporting Goods, wasn’t any help. Her only suggestion was to buy the full-year fishing license at $43.46, instead of the one-day ($14.04) or two-day ($20.86).

Or we could go with a license at all. It’s not as if we’re using the thing. (And it is waterproof, so there’s that).

There’s one more grunion run on the schedule – next weekend, Aug. 13-15. Then it’s hibernation until the spring of 2012.

This is our last dance, last chance for romance.


Last stop is over at Grunions Sports Bar in Manhattan Beach, but weekday barkeep Mike McLaughlin was of little help with some parting advice.

“How do fish run, anyway?” he asked.

Save that philosophical discuss for when we’re sitting around the campfire before a snipe hunt. You don’t need a license for that, we’re told.

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