Sunday, December 21, 2008


When I was a kid in Long Beach we used to go grunion hunting down at the shoreline once or twice a year. Now maybe most people, not having heard of grunion, would suppose that what we were talking about was akin to snipe-hunting. But sure enough, grunion exist. They are tiny little fish (probably "small" is better word to use because "tiny" might cause a person to think of a guppy, and grunion are much bigger than that -- and even bigger than a goldfish). Anyway, when grunion were “running” – the times always being announced in the newspaper – the beaches would be crowded with people carrying pails or gunny sacks, hoping to be in the right spot when the fish came up to spawn.

The night had to be dark, the tide high and everyone had to be very quiet and watchful. It was hard to see the grunion unless you happened to be standing in the very place they were brought to by the wave – and then it was a miraculous sight. The wave brought hundreds and hundreds of grunion up on the wet sand. The female fish flopped around in the sand, using her tail to dig a hole in which she deposited her eggs. The male grunion then flopped over the hole placing his “spawn” on the eggs to fertilize them. The object for the fish was to produce progeny; the object for us grunion-hunters was to catch those slithery, floppy fish while they were out of the water and take them home to feed to the neighborhood cats. None of us would have been caught dead eating a grunion, although we were told if you dipped them in crumbs and fried them they were very tasty. We wouldn't know. At that age we were not adventuresome eaters.

Our Girl Scout Leader often took our troop grunion hunting. If we were lucky and were in the right place at the right time, our leader's car would smell fishy for a while afterwards, but she was a good sport about it. She made sure “her girls” were doing chaperoned things instead of “hanging out” somewhere.

There are some people who have gone grunion hunting many times but have never yet seen a grunion. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t arrive. The folks just were in the wrong place.

It’s been over 60 years since I’ve been grunion hunting. It isn't something someone who lives way out of the area would even think to do, since the local newspapers to not remind you now and then that the grunion are running. But if I were lucky enough to again live near the shoreline in Long Beach and read this in the newspaper, I'd call for my daughter to bring the little girls down from Los Angeles, to bring their buckets and a change of clothing, and we'd all set out for the wonderful adventure of grunion hunting. And if we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, the girls would have a very unusual "show and tell" presentation for their school class, and their four cats would have a feast unlike anything they'd ever imagined. My daughter's car might stink for a while, but my daughter would be a good sport about it, I know.

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