Does the Moon Make Fish Bite?

by Bruce Scofield

(originally published in Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book)

The best times to fish have long been a part of annual almanacs and sportsman’s magazines. The Moon Sign Book that you hold in your hand lists the best fishing and hunting days. Nearly every fishing and hunting magazine has some sort of graph or table that promises the best time to fish or hunt. The standard methods used to determine these dates are fairly simple. Most astrological almanacs simply list the days when the Moon is in one of the water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces). It makes perfect astrological sense, since water is the element in which fish live. It also suggests that fish, or other animals for that matter, may be more reactive when the Moon is in these signs. People are certainly more reactive and emotional during these times.

Another standard technique for locating the best fishing times is to fish near the phases of the Moon — the New Moon, Full Moon and the two quarters. Again, this makes some sense because of the agitation that these four points in the Sun/Moon cycle generate. The tension of the phases quite possible makes fish agitated and more likely to strike. I know these alignment work on people.

A third rule, and one that nearly any fisherman knows, is to fish around the time of sunrise or sunset. When I was in my teens I used to start my bass fishing just as the Sun would set and stay with it for an hour or two. It always amazed me that if I started to fish too early, nothing would happen. But most of the time, when the Sun was near the horizon, I’d start getting bites. The same was true for morning fishing, though I did that less often (I’ve always been more of a night person and I love to sleep late). I didn’t know how to explain what was happening at these times, I just knew I could catch more fish then. But my occasional experiences with fishing were really nothing in comparison with those of John Alden Knight, the developer of the Solunar Theory.

John Alden Knight was a great fisherman and prolific author. He wrote numerous articles and books on many aspects of sports fishing including fly casting, fresh-water angling theory and technique, bird hunting, and bass fishing. What drew my attention, however, was his writing on his Solunar Theory of fishing which is really a kind of astrology.

As Knight told it, he once fished with an old man named Bob in Florida who told him that fish bite when the Moon is overhead or directly beneath the Earth. “Moon up – Moon down” was what he said. Proof that this idea worked came that same day when the fish bit wildly around 3 PM when the Moon was at its noon position. There was also another period of good fishing that day at sunset. This was a day Knight never forgot.

Knight became curious, perhaps even obsessed, by his experience in Florida and he put his strong investigative skills to work in hopes of discovering what exactly was making these fish bite at those times. As he lived in the New York/New Jersey area, he did his field-work salt-water fishing along New Jersey’s coastline and fresh-water fishing in Pennsylvania and New York State. He considered all sorts of possible reasons why fish bite, including temperature and barometric pressure fluctuations, but eventually realized that the one constant was the rising, setting, culmination, and lower-culmination of the Sun and Moon, essentially the two driving forces behind the tides.

Most serious fishermen know that salt water fish have active feeding times roughly near low tide. Knight was sharp enough to notice that low tide varied greatly along the coast where there were natural obstructions like inlets. He also noticed that feeding times in parts of the shore where the tide acted more immediately were right with the Moon’s position in the sky. More observations showed that the fish out in the tidal inlets also fed strongly then, even though low tide hadn’t yet occurred for them. In other words, the fish were eating with the Sun and Moon, not just with the tide. The next step was a big one. Knight calculated where the actual tide would be in Pennsylvania and tried fishing at those times — with excellent results. This was a radical insight and Knight first published an article on this theory of “inland tides” back in 1935. Because tides are caused by the Sun and Moon, he named his theory the “Solunar Theory.”

The initial response to Knight’s theory was strong. So many people wanted him to tell them when to fish that he was forced to produce a set of tables that allowed any fisherman to calculate when the feeding periods would occur for their locality. The tables were printed up in book form and were sold for 50 cents by mail order. Over one thousand copies were sold in the first five weeks!

To Knight’s credit, he didn’t stop with this money-making idea. He keep thinking, observing, and speculating as to how his Solunar Theory actually worked. He thought that it was not just the gravitation of the Sun and Moon on the fish or that the level of the water (which isn’t changed in fresh water) that was behind the feeding periods. Knight believed that the effects of the Sun and Moon on the earth are quite complex. He speculated that the gravitational force of these bodies disturbed the flow of cosmic rays and the patterns of terrestrial magnetism. He never came up with a final theory, but he believed that someday, one would be found.

One of Knight’s observations was that fish feeding periods seemed to be driven by the Sun near full and new moons, and by the Moon at the quarters. At the New or Full Moon, the Sun and Moon are traveling together. At the New Moon, both are “up” or “down” at the same time. At the Full Moon, one is “up” while the other is “down.” With the Moon at the first quarter, it is “up” when the Sun is setting and “down” when the Sun is rising. At the third quarter it is “down” at sunset and up at sunrise. Knight worked throughout his life to perfect his tables, particularly the times between the main phases of the Moon and a “minor” point of activity between the “major” times when the luminaries were “up” or “down.” These are listed in his tables.

Another of Knight’s observations was that insect and worm activity, the bugs that the fish wanted to eat, was very precisely timed to the inland tidal period. When the Moon was overhead the bugs started squirming and it was only a matter of time before the fish started biting. He observed this same effect with the feeding habits of birds and other animals. His health failing, Knight quit his bank job in New York City and moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. There he devoted himself entirely to writing, fishing, and studying nature. His observations extended to all sorts of wildlife and he adapted his tables for hunting. Knight even went so far as to observe the effects of the Solunar periods on human life. He may just have been one of this century’s great astrological pioneers even though he probably never thought of himself in this way. To his mind he was a student of nature, an close observer who was always looking for a scientific explanation. But like all astrologers, he had to settle for his experiential evidence that was not backed up by a scientifically provable theory. Still, if there were an astrological hall of fame, I’d like to nominate him for it.

Readers interested in learning more about how John Alden Knight developed his Solunar Theory should read his book “Moon Up – Moon Down,” Montoursville, PA: Solunar Sales Co. 1972. His Solunar Tables appear bimonthly in Field and Stream magazine.