Midnight madness: Elusive grunions run on wild side

Question: 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 out to see this unusual California event.

-- Vicki T., Anaheim

Answer: Yes, when the grunion decide the moon and the tides are all 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 get to be about five to six inches, will ride the waves onto the beach just after the high tide has peaked. The female quickly drills herself down 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, and once spawning is complete (about 30 seconds), both fish will ride the next wave back out.

As far as where to find this phenomenon, any sandy wave-swept beach south of Point Conception is a potential grunion spawning beach.

Grunion run in the middle of the night, and just like fishing, catching a grunion run can be hit-or-miss; they simply won't adhere to any predicted schedule we make. At best, we can estimate probable run times and dates based upon tides and moon phases, but no guarantees. Only the grunion truly know when and where they will run.

You might try checking with the lifeguards working the beaches you'd like to visit to see if they have seen any signs of spawning activity. Check too for any beach curfews as many beaches close at night.

To see our predicted grunion run calendar and to delve more into this fascinating spawning ritual, fishy facts on grunion, hints for successful "grunioning'" and even some tips on how to prepare and cook them, check out the Department of Fish and Game's Amazing Grunion Web page at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/grnindx3. asp.

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 might require a lengthy explanation, but I feel it will help educate and empower our fellow anglers so that we may understand and contribute to rebuilding and sustaining our salmon runs.

-- Richard C.

Answer: The determination by the game warden as to whether or not a violation has occurred is contingent on the circumstances. According to Capt. Mark Lucero, the game warden will evaluate the fish species present in the river, the type of gear being used and the manner in which it 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 using 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, if salmon are also in the river, steelhead are absent, the method of take being used is not legal for steelhead or the released salmon does not survive -- then an arrest is much more likely.

If a game warden sees gear and angling methods typically used to target salmon (such as flossing or snagging), then the warden may deem that a violation as well.

Q: My grandson will turn 16 in early September. The way I read big-game regulations, he should still be a junior hunter for the 2009/2010 season. The regulation book doesn't address this clearly. Can you help?

Al C.

Answer: As long as your grandson buys his junior license prior to his 16th birthday, he's good to go for this year. Once he turns 16, though, he will need to purchase the federal waterfowl stamp (if hunting waterfowl) but will not need to buy state stamps yet. For a list of stamps and definitions of the various licenses, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/hunting/huntdescrip.html. There are also some junior hunts that are only available to those under 16.

Wilson works for the California Department of Fish and Game. Send questions to: CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.