Solunar fishing calendars have to be one of those polarizing topics in the whole angling community. Walk into your favorite tackle shop and mention fishing by moon phases, and you’ll instantly be best friends with half the room. The other half will either shake their heads or start screaming.
Many seasoned anglers swear by their moon-centered strategy. They chalk their biggest catches up to the movement of the planet. And it’s pretty common. Major fishing magazines often feature a lunar fishing calendar. There are also dozens of apps available for the same thing.
Could there really be some truth in the whole solunar thing? Or is it just a case of “horoscopes for fish”? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The Origin of Solunar Theory
The year was 1926, and John Alden Knight came up with a peculiar theory about, well, basically all wildlife.
Knight was an avid outdoorsman and a keen fly fisherman. In his spare time, he also liked to learn about the beliefs and folklore around fishing and hunting. He researched things that were believed to affect the behavior and feeding habits of animals. This turned out to be his life’s work.
Knight gathered 33 factors that supposedly influenced fish and game. He examined each theory and ended up dismissing all but three of them. What he was left with was the sun, the tides, and the moon. He couldn’t see how any single one of them could explain the way fish behaved. But what if you combined them?
A decade later, Knight created the first solunar fishing chart. The rest, as they say, is history.
Lunar Periods: The Best Time to Fish
There are four lunar periods each day – two “major,” two “minor.” Major periods last around two hours. They begin when the moon is directly above our heads (so-called “lunar transit”), or right below our feet (“opposing lunar transit”). Minor periods last for about an hour while the moon rises and sets. The idea is that fish become more active at these four times of day.
Now, a boost in activity doesn’t necessarily mean that fish will bite at precisely those times. But since that’s when the fish are meant to be out looking for food, it can only mean one thing for many anglers – fish o’clock. Major periods supposedly have a greater effect on fish than minor ones, so that’s when solunar believers tend to make their casts.
Fishing in a major moon period couldn’t be simpler. You check your solunar table. It tells you when the moon will be in the best position. You catch lots of big fish. However, it’s fairly obvious that not every day ends with a ton of trophies. With that in mind, there’s one more factor you need to consider – choosing the right moon phase.
Moon Phases: The Best Day of the Month to Fish
There are four lunar phases anglers need to think about – new moon, first quarter, full moon, and last quarter. Many fishermen swear that 90% of your lifetime catches will come from the full and new moon.
The idea behind fishing by moon phases is that the bigger the tide, the more active the fish. The strongest tides happen twice a month: during a new moon, when the sun and moon are both pulling in the same direction, and during the full moon, they’re pulling on either side of the planet.
Of course, this is by no means something that the entire angling community agrees on. As with all things fishing, there are a lot of people who will confidently give you the exact opposite advice. They’ll insist that the first and last quarters are the best lunar phases for fishing.
Others claim that you should only fish the full moon at night. The theory here is that the moon’s light allows the fish to see better. This lets them feed well into the night, so they’re less hungry the following day. By the same logic, you should only fish the new moon by day, as fish are unlikely to be out hunting in complete darkness.
Periods and phases are two halves of a whole. Head out on a fishing trip during a major period and a full moon, and you may want to get your paperwork ready for the new state record.
Problems with Fishing During a Full or New Moon
Regardless of how good the bite is, you should always be careful when fishing during a full or new moon. This is especially true at night, and especially if you’re fishing from rocks or jetties. In some places around the world, tides can reach as high as 40–60 feet, with water levels rising incredibly fast. Don’t put yourself in danger for the chance of a few more hookups.
Even if you’re a strong solunar believer, there’s still a chance your fishing trip will go awry. Other factors like weather and air pressure will have a much stronger effect than whatever the moon’s doing. If a cold front is approaching, even two full moons won’t do you much good. The fish will probably shelter deep down away from the cold and become inactive.
What Science Says about Solunar Fishing Calendars
There are some things that we know the moon does. Many saltwater fish synchronize their spawn with the tides so that the tidal currents pull their larvae into safe, shallow estuaries. Currents also stir up nutrients from the seabed. Bait fish feed on these nutrients, and game fish feed on bait fish. We, in turn, catch the game fish. It’s the circle of life.
But what about the solunar theory itself? Has any of this stuff actually been proven true? In other words, can it be supported by any sort of legitimate scientific research?
While developing his hypothesis, John Alden Knight tried to systematically analyze the lunar position during 200 catches of both record-sized fish and record number of fish. He found that about 90% of them happened during the new moon. Based on those numbers, he focused a lot of his future research around this part of the tidal calendar.
Another experiment that seemed to support Knight’s theory was conducted by Dr. Frank A. Brown. Brown was a Northwest University biologist. One day, he ordered a large amount of live oysters to be flown to his lab. He wasn’t after a fishy feast, though. Instead, he wanted to examine whether the oysters were affected by the moon’s movements.
Oysters generally open their shells during the high tides, and for the first two weeks, they continued to open in time with the tides back home. However, after two weeks, they adjusted their rhythms to the times that the moon was directly overhead or below their feet – the two major periods of the lunar day.
Conclusive proof? Not quite. As it turns out, a lot of research seems to run against the theory’s main assumptions.
In 2010, Professor Mike Allen published his research on the effects of lunar activity on Largemouth Bass. He wanted to see if there was any proof that moon phases affect Bass spawning times or catch rates.
Allen enlisted the help of Porter Hall, a trophy Bass fisherman with hundreds of catches in the 10+ pound range. Hall kept a detailed record of every fish he caught. Professor Allen then worked out how his hookups lined up with the lunar calendar. It turns out, not very well.
The bite was pretty much consistent throughout the entire month. Twenty-one percent of the fish were landed under the new moon. Twenty-eight percent during a full moon. In short, around half the fish were caught in half the month, with the first and last quarters serving up the other 49%.
So, the big hunk of cheese in the sky doesn’t do anything for freshwater fish. That makes sense. There’s a lot less water to move in a pond than a sea. The real nail in the coffin would be similar evidence from ocean-going species.
So Many Marlin
A couple of years after Professor Allen published his findings on Bass, Sam Mossman from Marlin Magazine decided to do something similar with big game fish. Specifically, he decided to see if the Striped Marlin bite had anything to do with the moon’s journey around us.
In order to really test this theory, Mossman needed data. Lots of data. He contacted New Zealand’s Bay of Islands Swordfish Club, the second oldest sportfishing club in the world, and asked to have a look at their catch records. Being the nice people that they are, they gave Mossman access to all of their yearbooks, dating all the way back to 1929.
After a long day of photocopying record books and a week of crunching numbers, Mossman had the data he needed. Eighty-four years worth of Marlin, all plotted onto the moon phase they were caught on. So, how did the lunar theory stack up? Not well.
On average, the best time to go fishing was just before the full moon. The worst time was just after it. These numbers picked up again heading into the first quarter. All in all, though, catches were pretty consistent in every phase of the month. There was decent fishing to be done, whatever was going on in space.
Solunar Fishing: Reality or Myth?
It’s obvious that the moon has an effect on fishing. It causes the tides. Even so, other factors like weather and water temperature have a way bigger impact. The fact of the matter is that every moon phase is going to produce some of the best and worst fishing of the month.
But more importantly, most people just aren’t able to plan their life around the moon. We can’t cherry pick the perfect fishing days, whatever they may look like on paper. Similarly, a “bad” moon phase certainly shouldn’t make you rethink your long-awaited fishing trip.
If you need more information on how to go about fishing for the first time, visit our Fishing Tips for Beginners blog.
What’s your experience of fishing by moon phases? Which moon phase was responsible for your best catches? Let us know in the comments below!