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What your PH does not know

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In 1926 John Alden Knight postulated some folklore he picked up in Florida and proceeded to attempt a refinement, giving it the name Solunar (Sol for sun and Lunar for moon).

Knight compiled a list of 33 factors which influence or control day-to-day behavior of fresh and salt-water fish. Everything was taken into account that could possibly have any bearing on the matter.

One by one the factors were examined and rejected. Three of them, however, merited further examination. They were sun, moon and tides. Surely the sun could have no effect since its cycle was the same day after day, whereas the observed activity periods of fish were apt to be present at most any time of the day or night.

The moon had already been weighed and found wanting. Tides? Surely there could be no tidal movement in a trout stream. But the fact remained, however, that the tides had always guided salt-water fishermen to good fishing. Could it be that the prompting stimulus lay in the influence of the sun and moon which cause the ocean tides, rather than the actual tidal stages or flow?

When the original research was being done only the approximate time of moon up - moon down were considered. Gradually, it became evident that there were also 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.

One convincing experiment was when Dr. Frank A. Brown, a biologist at Northwestern University, had some live oysters flown to his lab near Chicago. Oysters open their shells with each high tide, and Dr. Brown wanted to see if this was due to the change in ocean levels or to a force from the moon itself.

He put them in water and removed them from all sunlight. For the first week they continued to open their shells with the high tides from their ocean home. But by the second week, they had adjusted their shell-openings to when the moon was directly overhead or underfoot in Chicago.

Knight first published his tables in 1936. Then, and today, one must calculate the precise times from each table taking into account the geographic location (east or west) of a base point (Time Zone), and adjusted for Daylight Savings Time when appropriate. Knight’s tables are then rounded to the nearest 10 minutes.

An example of the deviation in time in a particular state would be Texas. The time difference from El Paso on the western border and Hemphill on the eastern border is 51 minutes (Hemphill is 51 minutes earlier than El Paso).


To substantiate the theory, insofar as fish are concerned, John Alden Knight attempted a systematic inquiry to acquire complete details surrounding the capture of record catches. Both individual large fish ... and large numbers. He examined approximately 200 of these catches. Over 90 percent were made during the dark of the moon (new moon) when the effects of of the periods appear to be greatest, and, more important, they were made during the actual times of the Solunar Periods.

Initially, only the behavior of fish was considered. During 1935 to 1939 Knight made extensive studies of game birds and animals. As had been suspected, these also responded to the prompting stimulus of the periods.


It is now known that the sun and moon are the two major sources of the astral energies that daily bombard the Earth and all her life forms. The closer they are to you at any given moment, the stronger the influence. The day of a new or full moon will provide the strongest influence in each month.


June always has more combined sun-moon influence than any other month. During a full moon, the sun and moon are nearly opposite each other and very few minutes pass without one or the other being in our sky. During a new moon, both bodies are in near-perfect rhythm traveling the skies together with their forces combined. Because of the interaction between the many lunar and solar cycles, no two days, months or years are identical.


When a period falls within 30 minutes to an hour of sunrise or sunset you can anticipate great action! When you have a moonrise or moonset during that period the action will be even greater. And, finally, when the above times occur during a new or full moon, you can expect the best action of the season!


Every fisherman knows that fish do not feed all the time. He knows, also, that for some reason fish often go on the feed and take most any offering, be it live bait or artificial. This sort of thing happens, according to John Alden Knight (the originator of the theory) during a period. To be sure, fish usually feed actively at sunrise and sunset, but generally, the real fishing of the day is at the odd hour feeding periods. If the weather and feeding conditions are favorable the fish will be active for one to two hours.


Intensity of activity also varies from day to day, according to conditions in general. If the barometer happens to be steady or rising, if the temperature is favorable (15 degrees higher than water temp) then long and active response to a period can be expected.


Another thing to remember in dealing with the periods is that solunar influence will vary in intensity according to the position of the moon. The times of new moon (the dark of the moon), and there is no moon in the sky, is the time of maximum intensity.

Ocean tides reflect this intensity in their magnitude. This maximum will last about three days, and wildlife respond with maximum activity. Thereafter the degree of intensity tapers off until it is at its minimum during the third quarter phase of the moon. Salt-water anglers argue that tides have a greater influence on fish feeding habits than the moon itself. It must be understood that the tides are governed by the phases and transit of the moon. Certain marine phenomena occur with precise regularity during the lunar month and solar/lunar cycle.

Research has shown that a natural day for fish and many other animal species differ from our own. Their biological clock appears to coincide with lunar time, which is the time that it takes for the moon to reappear at a given point during one complete rotation of the earth (an average of 24 hours and 53 minutes). This is called a Tidal Day and explains why the ocean tides are about an hour later each day - and why most fish, fresh water species included, will feed up to an hour later (in relation to our solar clock) each day.


The key to accurate Solunar Times is the ability to chart the relative solar and lunar positions with respect to a particular location. The major periods coincide with the upper and lower meridian passage of the resultant gravitational (tidal) force.

The minor periods occur when these forces are rising or setting on either horizon, i.e., the right ascension of the resultant force and the local sidereal time vary by 90 or 270 degrees. The major periods occur when these forces are at 0 and 180 degrees apart.


The times produced are known as equilibrium tide times, i.e., the times of low and high tides if the Earth were completely covered by water. Our program calculates the solar and lunar positions with an accuracy of .25 degrees allowing accuracy to be within 1 minute in time. The times will change one minute for each 12 miles east or west of the base point.

There is one day each month (near the last quarter of the moon) on which there is no moonrise. This is normal and occurs because the moons average period between two rises and sets is approximately 24 hours and 50 minutes. Thus there will always be a day on which a moonrise (and a Solunar Time) will not fit. Note also that moonrise can occur at any time during the day or night.

The quantities required for computing the times are elliptic longitudes of the Sun and Moon, the right ascension (RA) of the moon, and the local sidereal time of the observer’s position.


For those fishermen who enjoy fishing at sunrise and sunset, here are the absolute best dates to be on the water at your favorite spot. These are the Major or Minor Periods that fall near the times of Sunrise or Sunset during a Full or New Moon.

It has been documented that when this condition exists fish will bite on anything they see or smell. Limits are almost guaranteed provided there are fish in the vicinity.

Its no secret that fish and game tend to feed during dawn and dusk (sunrise and sunset). What amplifies the activity is the effect of a moonrise or moonset plus the specific monthly periods of New (dark) and Full (light) Moons.

When the times coincide with a moon-rise or a moon-set the action can be spectacular. Finally, a change in the local weather coinciding with the periods will further enhance the activity.


For best results the tables must be used intelligently. Every day will not show a clear-cut reaction to a period. In the case of fish, barometric fluctuations, particularly when the trend is down, often ruin fishing. All wildlife knows what to expect of the weather, and any bird, animal or fish can sense the approach of a storm. Cold fronts moving through drive all fish deeper and render them inactive.

Adverse temperature, abnormal water conditions, all sorts of things will offset the effects of periods. However, every sportsman knows that it is beyond all reason to expect good fishing or hunting every day. The theory will point the way to the best in sport that each day has to offer, but in no sense is it a guarantee.

Applying the theory

Full Moon or Dark Moon? Major and minor solunar periods? Which is best?

Does any of this moon mumbo jumbo make any real sense nor does it actually work? These are legitimate questions asked by thousands of anglers each year, and they deserve concrete answers backed up by some bona-fide data. Yet as much as pro anglers endorse the effectiveness of moon charts and outdoor publications of every niche’ continue to print them, rarely does either source validate these solunar claims with data.

It’s not hard to find a solunar table of some kind. Nearly every fishing publication today publishes some kind of monthly solunar table, moon chart, activity calendar, action graph, or other similar version. All of these tables, charts, and calendars claim to predict daily feeding activity of fish with accordance to moon and solar influences. Yet, I, like so many other anglers, rarely find any consistent correlation with most of these references.

Finally, back in 1976, when I got into the fishing guide business full time, I really made it a point to compare my fishing catches to a number of solunar charts. Once I started logging my catches on a daily basis I developed a good data base. This finally put me in a position to compare hundreds of muskies, and thousands of bass and walleyes on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis to any printed solar/lunar reference. One of my key entries was the time of day. I figured a daily entry of fish activity would finally give me a mound of fishing data to compare with the various solar/lunar references on a given day to day basis. What followed convinced me that certain solar/lunar criteria simply had little or no daily influence.

Basically, I became so frustrated and disappointed with the lack of any real consistent correlation to most of the popular magazine charts today that I gave up on them completely. They simply did not work. I actually caught far more fish when they weren’t supposed to bite. And when good fish and game activity did coincide, which was less than 10% of the time, it was plainly obvious that it actually had much more to do with the local weather changes than any predicted major or minor solunar period.

You would have thought that my accumulated research would have cured me from ever looking at a solunar chart again, but it did just the opposite. Why? Because I ended up discovering a certain solar/lunar influence that really did work. In fact, it worked so well that it was hard to believe at first. My daily fishing logs had surely disputed the commonly accepted correlations, but they just as surely pointed to indisputable evidence that a "certain" solar/lunar factor was really important.

Yes, I had flipped 180 degrees on the entire solar/lunar deal. I went from totally disbelieving to being totally convinced. In fact, I eventually got to the point where I myself began to predict the most probable daily, monthly and even yearly times when the biggest fish were most apt to bite. And what’s even more incredible, was that I was right almost every single time! But perhaps what was even more unbelievable to me was that everyone else had missed this simple but really absolutely true key.

The real secret, I discovered, to solar/lunar influences on a daily basis was nothing more than knowing when the sun and moon rose and set on a 24 hour basis. That’s right, it was simply a matter of knowing, to the minute, when the sun came up and went down, and when the moon came up and went down each and every day. My 21 year old fishing log revealed without question that fish were active during a 90 minute window surrounding each one of these four daily influences.

Now, I realize this sounds overly obvious, but I told you it would. Most of the solar/lunar charts, tables and graphs you see depicted in today’s publications do not reveal nor coincide with these four vital factors. 1) sun rise, 2) sun set, 3) moon rise, and 4) moon set. Yet it doesn’t take an astrologist to figure out how important the rise and set of the sun and moon has to be.

It’s certainly no secret that feeding movements of both fish and game have been traditionally accepted as key during dawn and dusk -- this correlates with sun rise and sun set. Moon rise and set is a bit more tricky to key in on though since they can often occur at mid day or mid night. Overcast weather can also make it impossible to see a moon rise or set, and of course a dark/new moon is not visible to begin with.

The other "super secret" my logs revealed was the predictable frequency of big fish catches during the peak moon phases of full and new moon. Specifically, a lot more big muskies, walleyes, and bass were taken right on the scheduled calendar day of both the full or new (dark) moon peak, and continued for a three to five day stretch afterwards. In other words, if the full moon peak is on June 10th, June 10 thru 15 have great potential for trophies.

Backing up a bit, the four daily factors previously discussed (the rise and set of both the sun and moon) inside each one of these predictable monthly moon peaks (four days on the back side of the full or new moon) further nails it down. In other words, you want to plan your fishing trips to hit the peak of the full or new moon. Then you want to be on your favorite big fish spots during the daily rise and set of both the sun and the moon.

The Third Factor

Finally, my logs revealed a third factor that really adds impact to this entire solunar secret. That unpredictable third influence is local weather. Whenever a local weather change coincides with the daily rise or set of either the sun or the moon, during a peak monthly moon period, big things happen in bunches. Big things meaning big fish. For example, give me a severe summer T-storm right at sunset, and just before moon rise during the new moon period and it’s almost a sure bet that that I’m going to bag big muskies or the year’s biggest catch of lunker walleyes.

Or just as good -- put me on a steep rocky shoreline with some spawning ciscoes right at the start of a snow storm in the late fall just after sunrise and right before moon set during a full moon period. Big muskies, big pike, big walleyes and big lakers will be snappin’.

Could there be a fourth factor? Absolutely. In fact, there might even be a 5th or 6th. However, an easy-to-detect 4th factor of influence that adds even more impact to an already good situation is a change in the photoperiod, or laymen’s terms -- a change in season.

Photoperiodism is actually the measured ratio of daylight to darkness. The most drastic changes in the photoperiod occur in the spring and fall, but mini-differences are detected inside all seasons which are quickly detected thru their eyes and transmitted to their pituitary gland. The responses to these changes in the photoperiod trigger sexual responses such as reproduction and the development of eggs. This, in turn, also triggers increased movement and feeding binges by normally less active trophy fish.

I do realize how controversial my comments on solunar table validity may seem to some, but the facts speak for themselves. My data clearly points to sun rise, sun set, moon rise and moon set as the most important factors. The simple rise and set of both the sun and moon has far more impact than any other daily sun or moon position. That is, bar none, the single most important daily triggering factor of both fish and game.

Monthly peaks in both the full and new moon are a second factor definitely worth considering. When fish of all sizes are feeding infrequently due to a prolonged streak of bad local weather conditions, that small "window" of three to four days right after the actual moon peaks, full or new, may be the only time that the largest fish of any species is truly catchable. Fishing during the daily rise or set of the sun and moon during these key monthly moon phases is paramount.

Weather is also a legitimate third factor, and helps to elevate the impact of the daily rise and set of the sun or moon. It further elevates the entire realm of big fish possibilities when all three factors happen at relatively the same time. A changing weather pattern combined with a good monthly moon phase and rise or set of either sun or moon can activate some major movement from big fish.

If all of these things happen during a good photoperiod, look out! This is when the biggest fish of the year are generally caught. If you are serious about taking such a fish, I’d suggest you start really paying attention to the real scoop on moon phases!


It goes without saying that if there are no fish or game present, you will not be successful. Plan your days on the water or in the field so that you are where the game is most likely to be during the periods.

We hope that we have been able to improve your understanding of the theory - and how you can use it to improve your angling success. But always remember ... the best time to go fishing ... is whenever you can and always practice catch and release.

Trust me -- thousands of entries in my fishing logs can’t be wrong.

This stuff really works!

Click here to subscribe to Joe Payne’s Solunar Times to get your own schedule or visit

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