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PAUL SMITH: Solunar theory — maybe worth some consideration


If you are a Facebook user, you are aware that it keeps you aware of your memories. This morning a photograph of a full moon greeted me when I opened the app on my phone to see what all my friends were up to. I snapped the photo two years ago on an exceptionally lovely evening. There must have been a helluva lot less wind then the past few nights, or my tripod would have blown over for sure. Boy oh boy, what wind we have had to endure of late. I got to thinking as caffeine slowly seeped into my soul. I have deep thoughts over coffee. I wonder when the best time is to go fishing.

Oh yes, you would be surprised how much effort humans have expended on this seemingly trivial question of angling opportunity, because we all have limited time for recreation, and we certainly want to make the best of it. That’s for us fly anglers and sporty sorts, because for commercial fishers knowing the optimum feeding times might mean a boom or bust season. That’s not trivial. But for the most part commercial folk are out there whenever weather allows and use gear that often gives the fish little to decide about eating or not eating, as in gillnets and seines, so the bite is academic. For hook and line anglers it’s entirely different. The fish can eat or not eat. That is the billion-dollar question. Because for fly anglers, spin casters, and hand liners, you can’t catch a fish if it refuses to bite.

So I wonder, what does the moon have to do with fishing? This is what I know for sure. The moon has a huge influence on ocean tides. So,does the much larger sun, but it is 91 million miles away, as opposed to the moon being a mere jaunt at 238,900, although that is still a long walk requiring lots of lunches. Tides are paramount in predicting the hot saltwater bite, whether it’s the bluewater off shore or coastal fishing. I’ve spent a big chunk of my life chasing around sea trout here in Newfoundland. Tide is almost everything. Nowadays I spend almost as much time fishing in coastal Florida. Again, tide is almost everything. In both venues weather is a close second. Time of year is also critical, but that’s closely related to weather. The moon controls tide so the moon has a ton to do with fishing. But could there be even more to it?

The notion that fish and animals might feed on lunar time is the underlying principle behind those solunar calendars that tell us the best time to go fishing.

Dr. Frank Brown, a biology professor at Northwestern University in Chicago did a simple but amazing experiment. He ordered up some ocean oysters and had them delivered to his lab. He immediately put them in a tank and blocked all light from entering. Normally oysters open their shells with each high tide. For a while the poor sensory deprived creatures opened their shells to coincide with high tides back home. However, slowly but surely, they adjusted their eating schedules to coincide with the high tide in Chicago. Wow, that’s totally amazing. How could they possibly know? Of course, there are no tides near Chicago anyway because it’s about 700 miles from saltwater. Could the oysters somehow sense the position of the moon and feed based on moon time? There is no denying that animals can sense things that humans cannot. Does the influence of the moon extend beyond ocean tides?

Prime fishing time occurs when the moon is either directly overhead or under your feet. Lesser lunch times occur at moonset and moonrise. We humans only know where the moon is when we see it with our eyes in reflected sunlight. But advocates of Solunar Theory say that fish and animals can sense where the moon is in relation to their bodies. 

What is moon time? It has to do with the motions of the moon and Earth in space. A moon day is 24 hours and 50 minutes as opposed to our normal sun based 24-hour solar day. The earth spins on its axis and it appears that the sun is revolving around us, and a complete revolution takes 24 hours. Because the Earth spins, the moon also appears to revolve around us. But the kicker here is that the moon really does revolve around the Earth, with a period of 27 days. So, when the two effects are combined we end up with a perceived lunar day of 24 hours and 50 minutes. That’s different by a significant amount, and that’s why high tide time changes from one day to the next. But the big question here is if animals are on lunar or solar time. Some say lunar. It certainly looks like those oysters were on lunar time.

The notion that fish and animals might feed on lunar time is the underlying principle behind those solunar calendars that tell us the best time to go fishing. There is some science to this, like the oyster experiment, but for the most part it hasn’t been rigorously proven. That said, fishing is not an exact science, so I will give you the skinny on how it works. What we are trying to figure out here is how fish or moose figure out it’s lunchtime. Before humans had cellphones, watches, or microwaves, we went by the sun, or solar time. A farmer could pretty well tell noon by the sun, and supper by sunset. Solunar theory says that a fish gets hungry when the moon is overhead, not the sun. So, critter’s clocks are out of synch with ours.

It goes like this. Prime fishing time occurs when the moon is either directly overhead or under your feet. Lesser lunch times occur at moonset and moonrise. We humans only know where the moon is when we see it with our eyes in reflected sunlight. But advocates of Solunar Theory say that fish and animals can sense where the moon is in relation to their bodies. I’ve heard wilder tales, because the moon does exhibit a very strong gravitational pull. You and I just can’t feel it. The ocean certainly does. So do sea trout and cod, because they are in the ocean, and feel the pull indirectly though the tide. That’s obvious. But do the brook trout in Igloo Lake, hundreds of miles inland go to dinner by the moon’s beckoning. It is certainly worth thinking about.

There are so many factors that affect fishing. There’s time of solar day, which I firmly believe also has an influence. We all know trouting is good in the evening. And the wind direction and weather are so important. So, think I’m going to take this Solunar business into consideration in conjunction with everything else. I’m not too old to learn new tricks.

 I always thought those fishing tables were nonsense, until I looked at my moon photo and got to thinking over coffee. I read a bit on Solunar Theory and here we are, something else to think about. You never know. I might catch a few extra trout next summer.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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