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Teach a Man to Fish (Without a Pole)

Here's everything you need to know about the grunion run of 2010.

It may not sound tempting to the average fisherman, but when the grunion are running, the only essentials are your hands, legs and a bucket.

This is when fishing becomes a cardio workout.

Under the full or new moons from March to August, the silvery yet opalescent grunion partake in a spawning ritual in which they emerge from the water and lay their eggs along the sandy SoCal coastlines, including Hermosa Beach's.

It costs $13.40 for a day fishing license to catch grunion from the state Department of Fish and Game, though many grunion seekers don't bother to obtain one. Kids under 16 don't need licenses.

The only problem with grunion hunting: The fish have to show up.

"It constantly varies, so it's difficult to know when the grunion are going to be plentiful," said Fabiola Villa Senor, who works at the Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro. "It's hard to know why it varies so much. We have had years where the beginning months, like March, were really good and very many grunion ran."

Factors that affect the run are hard to determine, but population isn't one of them.

"We haven't heard anything as far as grunion population goes," Villa Senor said. "We don't know if they have decreased or increased."

Temperature and climate change don't seem to faze grunion, either. 

"Global warming is not a factor at all because the grunion run based on when there is a high tide, not how hot or cold it is," said Jeanne Bellemin, an El Camino College oceanography professor. "They lay their eggs on the first high tide, and have the next high tide wash the hatched grunion back out."  

Another facet of the grunion run is that they send a "scout" grunion—typically a young male—to shore first. It ascertains whether danger is present.

Female grunion fish wiggle tail-first into the sand, while male grunion encircle them as they lay their eggs.

The golden-yellow eggs remain on the sandy portion of the beach throughout the incubation period. The embryos are active inside the eggs, but only hatch when the waves of a high tide crash down on them.

One factor that will definitely chase away the grunion: human activity. It is possible that grunion see the lights from the pier or from houses on the Strand cascading down to the water.

Villa Senor said the best time to see grunion is in April and May because it's an observation period when people are not allowed to touch them.

"Sometimes people will see the scout grunion and capture him so the other fish see the people and don't come out of the water," she said.

The observation period was instilled in 1927 to aid in the maintenance of the grunion population.

Grunion hunters in Hermosa have been few lately, though on March 29 a hopeful family from Van Nuys awaited the grunion on Hermosa's shores—as did flocks of hungry shorebirds.

"I have my whole family here tonight," said Kenny Tram.

Tram said he read in a Vietnamese magazine that there was a greater chance of spotting grunion in Hermosa Beach than in his usual spots in Huntington Beach and Malibu.

"I just thought Hermosa is closer than Huntington Beach, so I should go here," Tram said. "It's better in the summertime; this is too cold."

Tram and his family camped out for two hours before calling it a night and packing up their buckets and blankets.

When grunion are running and people actually catch them, they learn that they are fatty fish that taste much like smelt, but are exceptionally bony.

They are best when fried in flour or cornmeal, or sautéed.

"I eat them but I usually buy them from the supermarket," Tram said. "They're a simple fish, but you have to know how to cook them. They have a lot of scales. You can fry them —that's probably the best way—or sometimes make a salad."

Grunion typically aren't sold in fish markets because of their status as a sport fish. Markets cannot legally sell them.

There aren't any fish markets in Hermosa Beach, but shoppers can always try their luck under the full moon.

"If they don't show up by 11, there are times when they do run very late," Villa Senor said. "The times are not exact. Some nights have runs scheduled from 11:05 until 1:05 in the morning."

To ascertain when is the best time to hit the beach, check the 2010 schedule of expected grunion runs.

Tips:
-Grunion are skittish, especially when they hear loud noises (such as grunion-hunters squealing), or see beams of light (such as the flashlights of said squealers).

-Bring a bucket if hoping to catch grunion for dinner. It is unlawful to catch grunion and release them.

-Bring a flashlight to more easily observe the spawning.

-Dress in warm clothing, as the ocean breeze tends to pick up, especially late at night.


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