Fishing by moon phases is still viewed as one of those heavily polarizing issues in many angling communities.
Walk into your favorite fly shop and brag about the successes you’ve had fishing by moon phases and following the solunar charts, and you’ll instantly become best friends with half your audience. That same comment, however, just earned you a retaliatory non-invite for this week’s poker night with the other half.
Still, many seasoned fishermen swear by their moon-centered strategy. They attribute their monster catches to nothing more than a careful examination of the Solunar Tables.
Due to its sizable following, it’s no surprise to find these charts featured in many reputable fishing publications. Solunar widgets are added to variety of angling blogs and forums. There is also a surge of mobile apps and digital watches, all helping you trace the angling moon’s every move. So…
What Are Solunar Tables?
It was 1926, and John Alden Knight came up with a peculiar theory about, well, basically all of wildlife. An avid fly-fisherman himself, Knight delved into much of the times’ fishing and hunting folklore. He emerged with 33 factors he believed affected fish and game’s general behaviour and feeding habits. All but 3 were quickly dismissed. The sun, the tides, and the moon remained as the potential culprits. Ten years later, Knight published the first solunar tables. The rest, as they say, is angling history.
The theory behind the charts is pretty simple: there are 4 ‘periods’ in each day, during which the fish (and game) become more active. Although the theory doesn’t necessarily directly associate this boost in fish activity with them feeding at precisely those times, that is certainly the assumption of most fishermen. And since that’s when the tables tell us the game fish are out and about looking for lunch, it can mean only one thing – it’s bait o’clock.
These four periods are subsequently divided into two major and two minor periods. The major periods last two hours each, and begin the moment the moon is directly above our heads (so-called lunar transit), and when it is right below our feet (opposing lunar transit). The intermediary, or minor periods last for about an hour, and are analogous to the rising and the setting of the moon. The major periods have a larger effect on fish feeding habits than the minor ones.
The practice of fishing by the moon, therefore, is pretty straightforward: You check the solunar tables daily. They tell you when the moon and the sun are going to be at certain (favorable) positions in relation to earth. You catch large amounts of large fish. However, since it’s fairly obvious that not every day is responsible for equally prolific fishing prospects, one additional lunar factor needs to be taken into account – choosing the right moon phase.
Best Moon Phases for Fishing
There are four lunar phases anglers need to be concerned about – new moon, first quarter, full moon, and the last quarter. During the full moon, the entire lunar surface (the part that we can see) is illuminated, as the moon lies on a completely opposite side of the earth in relation to the sun. During the new moon, our natural satellite lies closest to the sun, in perfect alignment. Many fishermen swear these are the two phases that will yield 90% of your lifetime catches.
Many assumptions in the solunar theory stem from the belief that fish’s biological clocks are wound differently to our own. The fish are supposedly running on ‘lunar time’, i.e. the amount of time needed for the moon to reappear at any given point during a single earth’s rotation. This, on average, takes 24 hours and 53 minutes, which is called a “tidal day,” and tries to explain why the tides occur about an hour later each day. It is also to explain why the fish don’t feed at the same time each (solar) day.
But even if that is not the case, and the fish could care less about the moon’s appearance, reappearance and its entire astronomical voyage, its effect on the tides can still render it indirectly responsible for many of the most important habits of all marine life.
The Pros of Fishing by Moon Phases
The effects of tides on fish behaviour have been well documented and empirically validated.
First, many saltwater fish species synchronize their spawning with high tides, as the strong tidal currents are often necessary to help transport the larvae from unsafe offshore regions into shallow estuaries.
Second, increased currents disturb the sea bed, stimulating the movement of food organisms living on the bottom. Bait fish notice this surge in activity and start feeding on the organisms; game fish, in turn, feed on bait fish, and a healthy food chain is set into effect.
These events happen during high (or spring) tides. The tides are at their highest when the moon and sun’s gravitational pull work together (instead of cancelling each other out) to raise the water levels to sometimes-immense heights. As mentioned, during full and new moon, the lunar ball is positioned either on the completely opposite side of the earth or directly aligned with the sun, causing the joint gravitational forces to induce the highest tides of the month.
It is because of this increased fish and tidal activity during the two lunar phases that many anglers recommend fishing in the days prior to, during, and following the full and new moon. In conjunction with the solunar theory, if a major period also happens to fall on the day of the full moon or new moon, checking the IGFA record-setting regulations before going out should be a part of every angler’s preparation.
Take Care During Full and New Moon Fishing
There are a couple of things to add here. First, this is by no means a stance shared by the entire angling community. There are in fact many anglers that will confidently give you exactly the opposite advice, lauding the first and last quarter as the most prolific of lunar phases for fishing.
Others claim that full moon fishing should only be done at night time anyway. The theory here is that the moon’s light allows the fish to see, and consequently feed deep into the night, which is why they’re going to be less likely to bite throughout the following day. This logic, when applied to new moon fishing, recommends it be done precisely during the day, as the sunset entirely covers the game fish in darkness, making them highly unlikely to search for bait fish at night.
Second, extra caution should be applied when full or new moon fishing, especially during the night, and especially from the rocks, pier, or jetties. In some places around the world, the tides can reach as high as 40-60ft, with water levels rising incredibly fast. Always check the weather forecast, leave nothing to chance, and do not in any way compromise your safety in order to comply with a fishing theory!
Naturally, even if you’re a solunar believer, and the major period coincides with the full moon, there’s still a good chance your fishing trip may go awry after all. The other factors, such as the weather, air pressure, your location and many others, will almost always override whatever the moon’s effect on fishing may be. If a cold front is approaching, not even two full moons are going to do you much good, as fish will most likely burrow themselves deep down, becoming completely inactive.
Fishing by Moon Phases – What Science Has to Say
So, now that you comprehend the basics of the solunar theory and what it means to fish by the moon, has any of this stuff actually been proven as true? In other words, can it be supported by any sort of legitimate scientific research conducted so far?
While developing his hypothesis, John Knight tried to systematically analyze lunar circumstances surrounding about 200 record catches (both large fish and large number of fish). He found about 90% of them to have been made during the few moon, which is the reason why he heavily favored that specific moon phase in all of its future research.
Another experiment that seemed to support Knight’s theory was conducted by Frank Brown, a Chicago university biologist. Brown ordered a fair amount of live oysters to be flown to his lab, in order to examine whether the oysters were affected by the moon’s movement pattern. Oysters generally open their shells during the high tides, and for the first two weeks, they continued to synchronize their shell-popping with the timing of the high tides back home. After 14 days, however, they adjusted their rhythms to the times that the moon was directly overhead or below their feet (two major periods of the solunar theory).
Unfortunately, though, a lot of research seems to counter the solunar theory’s main assumptions:
Moon Bass Fishing
Professor Mike Allen wanted to find any tangible empirical evidence showing that moon phases can affect Largemouth Bass spawning times and catch probability. He enlisted the help of Porter Hall, a good friend and trophy Bass fishermen, with more than 450 Bass caught in the 10+ lb range. Hall kept excellent record of all of his catches, allowing the professor to extract the percentage of Largemouth Bass catches Hall had made in each of the four lunar phases.
How did the few moon phase fare? It accounted for only 21% of the total catch. Full moon fishing generated somewhat better results, with 28%, while the other two phases accounted for 21% and 27% of the remaining bass caught. But that’s freshwater – there is no tidal effect on fish behaviour anyway, right?
Moon Saltwater Fishing
Sam Mossman wanted to check if the lunar cycle provided any clues to the Striped Marlin bites. He contacted New Zealand’s Bay of Islands Swordfish Club (the second oldest game-fishing establishment in the world), and asked if he could borrow all of their yearbooks, starting with the year 1929.
After a week of number crunching, he came back with some telling data: It turned out there was a decline in the catch rate leading up to both the new and the full moon, although the action heated up a few days after the full moon (which could still be consistent with the theory).
Nevertheless, when put in perspective, the data showed a relatively equal catch spread throughout all of the moon phases – the worst day saw 315 Striped Marlin caught in the bay, whereas the best day accounted for 462 bites. Regardless of the moon phases, there was decent fishing to be done.
Finally, even some of the commercial fishing research seems to contradict the solunar theory. One study found that most of the Swordfish were caught longlining during the first and last lunar quarter, whereas the Albacore catch rate was the highest during the full moon. Most Bigeye Tuna seemed to have been caught during days of weak lunar illumination as well.
Our Advice on Moon Fishing
The true merits of the solunar theory and moon fishing have yet to be unmistakably proven. The fact of the matter is, every moon phase is going to produce trophy catches, and every moon phase will account for some of the worst fishing days of the year. Even if we rely on solunar theory as fact, there are still way too many other factors in play, each of which can override the moon’s influence pretty quick.
But perhaps most importantly, many people are simply unable to plan their fishing escapades in relation to a particular moon phase. Life chores prevent most of us from cherry-picking the perfect fishing days, whatever they may look like on paper, and a ‘bad’ moon phase should certainly not be reason enough to cancel or delay your long-awaited fishing trip. Besides, in taking every chance you can to go fishing, you might just develop a better fishing theory yourself.
What is your experience with fishing by moon phases? Which moon phases are responsible for some of your best catches? Let us know in the comment section below!