Solunar Tables – a Fish Tale

Every morning, Television weather forecasters advise their viewers as to when is the best time to catch a fish. They have oh-so-scientific-looking graphs that tell you that you should go out between 12:52 and 1:47 AM or at 3:30 PM or other such specific times on given days.

Did you ever wonder where this came from? The best times to fish or to for that matter to hunt are calculated from Solunar tables – obviously catfish bite at the same time of day that deer make themselves available for shooting. Sure, lots of fish and game seem to be more active during the twilight hours around dawn and dusk, but that’s not what the solunar tables are all about. They are constructed from astrophysical relationships of the sun, the earth and the moon.

solunar table for fishing

solunar table for fishing

The idea behind this is that humans have been hunting and fishing for hundreds of thousands of years, so surely that wisdom can be subsumed by a scientific approach. In 1926 a fellow by the name of John Alden Knight looked at what he thought were 33 factors which influence the behavior of both fresh and saltwater fish. His studies revealed, he claimed, that only three recurrent factors mattered. They are The positions of the sun and the moon, and the tides. Obviously tides aren’t an issue here in Arkansas, so we are left with the solunar (sol for sun and lunar for moon) effect.

When the original research was done only the approximate time of moon rise and set were used. This was later refined to include intermediate periods of activity that occurred midway between the two major periods. Thus the more evident periods were called major periods and the two intermediate periods, shorter in length, were called minor periods.

That’s it. Fisherman’s tales not withstanding, I find no credible reports with properly controlled studies which support this hypothesis. So why do the use of solunar tables persist? My guess is the old expression β€œeven a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.” Combine dumb luck with the propensity to remember positive results and forget (or reject) negative results and you have the immutable solunar theory of hunting and fishing.

So what’s the harm? It’s the fact that a weatherperson on a local television station, if trained in meteorology, is about as close to a real scientist as a lot of folks get. I would hope that a scientifically trained person would do a better job of distinguishing between what is real and what is not. As a scientist I try my best to be guided by a definition of science from one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. β€œScience is what we do to keep from fooling ourselves.”

If you want go fishing, go when the weather is nice, take a beverage of choice, and don’t expect to catch a fish. You will not be disappointed. If you do catch a fish, well that is even better.

9 thoughts on “Solunar Tables – a Fish Tale

  1. Susan Graham

    Maybe “it’s only in Arkansas” where such reports are broadcast. I’ve never heard one, or even heard *of* one. Now, it is true I live in the desert, but we do have rivers and streams where fishing occurs. And, of course, we have hunting during various seasons. I have relatives elsewhere who are avid hunters and fishermen, and they just “go out for the day.”
    So, this was an education of sorts for me, but I have to wonder if it is a localized phenomenon (?).
    Thanks for an interesting read.

    1. bob Post author

      Susan, I’ve seen the weather people throw up the graphs in several states where I lived. NH, IL, OK, and AR. And speaking of fishing in NM, a few years ago we drove out to the Rockies via the OK panhandle and then northern NM. One of my favorite sites (sights) was a little valley of the Cimarron River where I saw others fly fishing.

  2. aubrey shepherd

    I read the Solunar table religiously in the 1940s and 50s in the Shreveport Times.
    I continued to read it whenever I had the option of going fishing when the table said to.
    It always appeared to be useful. But only when I had a good idea of where to find fish on a given body of water. In the mid 1950s I spent summers on Caddo Lake along the Louisiana-Texas line and fished for various species at various times of day and night and learned a lot about various things. And the Solunar Table appeared to be accurate. But the sunrise and sunset periods and days when the moon was up at noon were often the best. A full moon at midnight was productive later at places such as lower Bayou Meto in the 80s.
    In the 1969-74 period, when I was accumulating semester hours toward a Ph.D. in English and teaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas, I lived near a farm pond in south Fayetteville. It was and may still be at the end of a city street and required a walk of a couple of hundred yards uphill to reach. The pond held various panfish and some fairly hefty largemouth bass at that time. There were trees around the boundary and wood ducks nested in a big tree with limbs hanging out over the uphill, shallow end of the pond and I got to see several nestlings take their first dive from the tree to the water one year.
    But I decided to start testing the Solunar tables on the pond. I would go to the pond an hour or so before the listed starting time and start repeatedly casting a jitterbug topwater lure from a particular spot on the dam that formed the pond and persisted until an hour or so afterward. This was mostly summer activity and was a good way to enjoy getting away from the massive load of reading material.
    Result was positive for the value of the Solunar table. When I caught first fish I checked watch for the time and it was amazingly accurate for the beginning of feeding time. After awhile I was such a believer that I never bothered to go early or stay late. Just caught and released a few nice bass and went home happy.
    Best night was catching five or six bass from 3 to 6 pounds during one midnight outing. I rarely took home those bass, because I figured they were superior and needed to keep breeding and culling out the small fish and other critters using that pond. Later, when I fished tournaments on Beaver Lake and many other reservoirs in the Ozarks and Ouachitas as well as in several other states from Florida to California and north to Missouri and Indiana I occasionally found great fishing during Solunar periods. But the stress of trying to catch fish during a long day on the lake and with limited knowledge of many of those places, I didn’t worry about it. But the only scientific test I can imagine being accurate is what I did. Underwater video of fish feeding on various bodies of clear water, of course, could be done these days when nature shows on many TV channels document even the habits of minute aquatic creatures. In later years, other publications displayed competing charts, but I never carefully checked them for accuracy.
    The implications for hunting were never as clear to me. Mallards favor dawn and dusk flights to and from feeding areas. But mid-morning and noon or later flights were frequent. But hunting hours were long ago restricted to limit their vulnerability at dawn and dusk. And morning-only hunting has been the rule on many public-hunting areas for decades. But there were times when I didn’t bother to get out in the pre-dawn cold but started out to paddle to a special spot for the mid-morning activity. The joy was always from getting to see them up close and active feeding and interacting without being disturbed. I respect those who come to that awareness without ever having caught a fish or killed a wild bird or mammal. But the best and most generous conservationists I have known had started hunting and fishing for food when they were young and understood the importance of preserving habitat where others could experience the same thing and also wildlife of all kinds could always be protected.

    1. bob Post author

      I’ve never been much of a hunter. Once when I was about 10 or 12, my day, who wasn’t a hunter either decided he should take hunting? I went out and shot a rabbit with a 22. I didn’t kill him on the first shot, and I had no idea that a dying rabbit could make such pitiful noises. It took me a couple of more shots to end it. I haven’t shot at a living thing since. πŸ™

  3. David Taylor

    Growing up in midcoastal NC I had excellent access to both water and woods. At some point I realized that I loved just being outdoors communing with nature more than I loved the hunting and fishing that I’d used as the motivations to be out there. I began to focus more on just the tide and wind forecasts than any projections of the best times to hunt or fish because I developed an addiction to windsurfing. I found it more reliable and convenient to buy fresh, local caught seafood from a vendor just down the road and more fun to shoot fowl with a long lens on my camera.
    I do have many fond memories of near endless hours poking around in the marshes and wading in the shallows along the edges of the saltwater sounds within sight of the Atlantic. At this point I’ve spent many more hours trying to catch waves than fish or foul so I won’t try to validate or discredit the use of solunar tables. I will, however, highly recommend getting outdoors and learning to appreciate the beauty and wonders of “Mother Nature” up close and very personally every chance one gets. Observation is at the heart of science, isn’t it? πŸ˜€
    Enjoyed your piece, Bob.

    1. bob Post author

      Me too, David I do all my shooting with lens now. I still fish the creeks for bream. I am no danger to fish populations at the rate I can catch them. πŸ˜‰


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