How the Moon Affects Fishing: Solunar Fishing Tables

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The eagerly anticipated Island Fisherman Magazine Tide & Bite Guide has arrived at a tackle shop near you (and online in the shop). It features clear and easy-to-understand tide tables, as well as loads of fishing and boating-related information. But for me, its greatest feature is the solunar tables—the “Bite Guide” referred to in the title.

Annual Island Fisherman Tide & Bite Guide

Always a point of debate among fishermen, the mysterious solunar tables have been around for a long time and are used around the world for both salt and fresh-water fishing. I used to think they were confusing mumbo-jumbo and didn’t pay them much attention. However, that all changed about 8 years ago when a friend and I decided to record the precise time we caught salmon for a whole season. We then compared this information to a dog-eared copy of the Island Fisherman solunar tables. To our surprise, it was shockingly close to the predictions in the guide—often correct to the minute. After that, I started to pay much closer attention to the bite times listed in the guide. I still remember the trip early the next year when I checked the guide and said to my wife that the bite is about to start. She gave me one of those raised eyebrow looks that wives are so good at and went back to her book. A few minutes later when we started catching fish, she looked at me and asked how I knew. I think I said something to like, “When you’re a skilled and seasoned fisherman such as myself, you just get a feeling for this sort of thing.” While she probably didn’t believe this, she now asks when the bite will be when we are planning a trip.

Island Fisherman Tide & Bite Guide

What are Solunar Tables? The Origin

But what are the solunar tables, and where did they come from? Some people have claimed that the solunar theory has been used by fishermen and even hunters for as long as there have been fishermen and hunters. It was almost one hundred years ago that a usable formula was worked out and publicised.

John Alden Knight

In 1926, expert fly fisherman and outdoorsman John Alden Knight began researching when fish feed the most. He also had an interest in traditional folk knowledge, so it is likely he was aware of the concept prior to researching it. He began compiling factors that he thought might play a role in fish feeding times. Once he had his list of 33 potential factors, he began studying them and eliminating the ones that didn’t work. After ten years of research he was left with just three factors: sun, moon, and tides. However, he couldn’t prove how any one of these factors could affect how fish feed. His “eureka moment” came when he decided to combine those three remaining variables into one chart. In 1936 he completed the very first solunar table, and it is the one we still use today.

We all know that tides affect fish behavior, but the effects of the moon are less obvious—until, of course, you remember that it’s the moon that controls the tides. But interestingly, in freshwater streams with no tides, the moon still affects fish behaviour. So the solunar table tracks the moon—where it is in the sky, and how close it is to the earth.

Lunar Transit: Major and Minor Bites

Knight determined that there are four periods of peak fish feeding in a 24-hour period: two majors and two minors. The major periods last about two hours and the minors about one hour. The majors occur when the moon is directly overhead (the lunar transit) or its direct opposite (the opposing lunar transit).

The minors coincide with moonrise and moonset, which is when high tide occurs. Therefore, when the moon is directly above you, or 12 hours later when it is directly below you, the fish will be biting.

Lunar and Solunar Tides

Moon Phase

The moon’s phase is also relevant in this theory. A new or full moon has the strongest effect, and a quarter moon the least. This means that for a few days on either side of the full or new moon the fish will be feeding at peak levels, and feeding will be lowest on a quarter moon. The Tide and Bite Guide also displays this information for each month. Therefore, the savvy angler will look for these peak days, then identify the major feeding times and plan their fishing accordingly.

Moon Phases 1/2 Northern Hemisphere
Moon Phases 2/2 Northern Hemisphere

Now, of course, weather and other factors—such as your job—might regulate when you can fish, but it’s nice to know what times will be best. Also, you still need the right lure and the right location, but luckily you have Island Fisherman magazine to help you with that! Now, the sun and moonrise vary by geographic location, and thus the peak feeding times vary as well. Therefore, the tables must be adjusted for each location. Luckily for us island fishermen, the Tide and Bite Guide is optimised for our location here on Vancouver Island. While there will be some minor differences between different parts of the island, it’s close enough. For example, on July 1, 2020, the morning major was at 08:37, whereas in Campbell River it was at 08:42. While this difference is negligible, the guide does have listings for both locations. If you are farther west, add a few minutes. If you’re to the east—such as the city of Vancouver—well, you should probably just move to the island.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen (left) & Joel Unickow (right) [Chinook Left, Coho Right] Solunar Fishing

Hunting & Solunar Tables

An interesting side note is that I know of hunters that also use the solunar tables. I’m not sure how tides and moon might affect deer, but after the success the tables have brought to my fishing, I’m not ruling anything out. In fact, there is some data that suggests that the solunar tables can accurately predict increases in behavior of all animals, from how much a songbird will sing to activity levels in humans. I suppose all animals are mostly made of water, so it might be possible that we have our own internal tides. Either way, as fishermen we have a good formula to work with. So before you go fishing, be sure to get your own copy of the Tide and Bite Guide.

This article appeared in Island Fisherman Magazine. Never miss another issue—subscribe today!

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