Solunar Tables Help Find Fish
The sun does not dictate when or where fish will be feeding -- the Moon does.
What fishing Web site is complete without solunar tables? When we first started the site, one of the first things we did was a story about solunar tables. I wrote about waxing and waning, and about the role the Moon plays in creating our tides. But best efforts often fall short, for sure, and readers have asked more than once what that first article was trying to say. Since then we have written many better articles that explain Solunar tables. They're actually pretty easy to grasp.
The man who invented them (by the name of Alden) was certainly onto something, because fisherman, hunters, and lovers of the outdoors have come to swear by solunar tables with good reason: they work. But there is still a basic misunderstanding of how tides work. People know the moon has an effect, and the full and new moons are usually good times to fish, but most of them really do not know why. In an effort to make the solunar tables easier to understand, and to show our fellow anglers that if you can see the moon over your head just once, you can get by without tide tables or solunars with a little piece of paper, a pencil, and simple math skills, we have written this story about old friends, flowing water, energy, and fish.
Energy and the Force of the Moon
"What time's the tide?" The question had been posed by my fishing buddy Captain Mike one night, as we talked about where we were going the next morning. "Not that I care," he joked. Tides being as important as they are, it was only half-a-joke. This discussion was between two friends who had been on the waters of Tampa Bay chasing fish for a long time together. Back in those days I wasn't managing a magazine; I fished three times a week. Sometimes five. We did not wait for tides, though we knew their impact on the likelihood we would find our target species and they, in turn, would prove cooperative. But no way would we stay home given the chance to get our lines wet, great tides, local prophesies and potents aside.
Time on the water is the ultimate reference manual of our sport. Books, iPhones, iPads, tablets, or neurologically-implanted RSS feeds might come and go (scary thought). But spending time on the water, having thought about what you were gonna try to find, catch and release, or eat beforehand, teaches a person things that data streams do not. Smells. Tastes. Knowledge. They transmit the data that really counts on your road to mastering this sport. Not monitors, not books, and not forums. Time. The others help; clearly the team of people we have put together behind this site believe in the importance of digital media. But we all have serious time on the water invested in our skill sets.
Tide Charts: Why You Don't Need Them
Why in heaven's name would we say that you never need a tide chart? Because they are all the same. True, they might be for one bridge, or one county, or one part of the state, or for a different state altogether. If there are so many tide charts, there must be a million different tides, right?
Wrong. There only four tides a day. And there are four tides a day at some level no matter where you live, where you fish, and where you happen to be. Even on those days with "no tides" or places, 'Weger tides' do not seem to affect the water flow, like a saltwater canal or lock.
It has to do with when the moon rises, when the moon sets, and what time it is going to do exactly that -- rise and set. These risings and settings do not correspond to the sunrise and sunset, either.
The moon will rise 50 minutes later tomorrow than it does today. How much of the sun strikes the moon determines if it is Full or New (Black, with only the ring visible). As the moon gains size and goes full, the length of the solunar feed lengthens. It starts to drop until it is at Half-moon, and then starts to lengthen again. So the feed goes up and down and up again, with the Full and Dark (New) moons representing the strongest tides and the longest feed-times.
As we said, the sun rises and sets roughly the same time every day if you do not consider daylight savings time shifting the clock forward in the springtime and back in the fall. This dates back to the time when children were expected to work the farm before they went to school. Now that it is illegal to allow children to work near anything with batteries, we think it is time to let the clock be what it is -- something that measures 24-hour days.
But for now, let's get back to the moon, which rises and sets independently from the sun. If that were not the case, you would never see the full moon in a daylight sky. But you do. That is because the moon rises and sets faster than the sun does. The moon-rise, for example, will happen 50 minutes later tomorrow than it does today. So if on Monday it rises at 6 a.m., in three days it will rise 150 minutes later, or 2.5 hours later, at 8:30 a.m. Same with the time it sets.
Solunar Tables: Where the Data Comes From
Solunar tables track the position of the moon, not the position of the sun, so they really should be called 'lunarsol' tables, not solunar tables. But hey, who are we to coin phrases? The sun's role in the tables has to do with the strength of tides, but the timing of the incoming and outgoing tides are determined not by the sun, but by the position of the moon, where it is relative to where you are standing at the time.
So tide charts are great, but they are inherently not accurate. They are based on specific locations. Since the low tide is based on when the moon is directly over your head, being 10 miles away from the exact GPS location of the printed chart means there is going to be a significant difference between the times on the paper and when the moon is actually in position over top of you. Add to that the fact that a place like Tampa Bay or Charlotte Harbor or Biscayne Bay takes considerable time to fill with water, and you can easily find four "tides" in one place and two in another.
If you want to catch fish, you need time on the water. You need to get on the water every chance you get. Think of it as study; somebody has to do it, and if you do it and do it well, you will be able to teach other people to do it. You should not plan your trips only for perfect times, either. There is a lot more to fishing than the moon and the sun, but the moon especially is the single most influential and common factor telling you why fish are eating at certain times. And that influence is not limited to coastal waters either. It is just as, and perhaps more important to our bass fishing, unlimited trout addicts, salmon chasers, and bluegill masters.
The "Lunar" in Solunar
So what is a solunar table? It is a table that shows you when the moon is rising and setting.
There are four periods of increased feeding activity called "Periods" in the table: *major* periods and *minor* periods. **Major periods are when the moon (not the sun) are directly over your head or alternatively underneath your feet.** You cannot see the moon underneath your feet, of course, and in cloudy conditions you cannot see it overhead either. When it is really sunny, and the moon's a thin crescent, it can be difficult to see too.
**Minor periods are when the moon (again, not the sun) is on the either horizon.** Remember, the Major and Minor solunar periods, therefore, are based on where the moon is. Majors are when it is over your head or underneath it, and the Minors are when it is rising or setting.
The SOL in SOLunar
So where does the sun come into the equation? Remember, the sun has nothing to do with the timing of the high and low tides. You need to understand that critical factor if you want to understand solunar tables, and understand (more importantly) that the tides are moon based, not sun based. If you know the time that the moon is going to rise, and the time it is going to be over your head, and the time you know it is going to set, you know when the tide is going to be high (moonrise or moonset) and you know when the tide is going to be low (when the moon is over your head or underneath your feet).
Where the sun comes into play is simple, too. How much sunlight hits (or does not hit on the new moon) determines the strength of the tide and the relative activity of the fish, the game, or yourself.
Everything in our universe is made of water. Every living thing, anyway. Since we are largely made of water, tides effect us and fish and anything else too. Or maybe not tides, but the magnetic force of that lunar body.
The impact the sun has on the moon is how much of it is "lit up". A full moon and the new moon are the strongest tide moons. And hence the strongest of solunar influence on the bite. That strength is measured in the *length of the major or minor periods*. The stronger moons - the full and new - are the longest bites. As the moon wanes (gets smaller) the influence is lessened and therefore shorter in time. Eye stronger the moon, the longer lasting the "bite" is likely to take place.
Timing, Tables, and Feeds
What started as a comic moment in this otherwise serious story was about my friend Captain Mike joking that we didn't care what the tide was; we intended to go fishing whether the tables indicated a crappy day or not. Time on the water, being together, and the sport itself in all it's myriad of gentle touches on my spirit gets me out there in bad weather and good, when I am stressed or when I am half asleep with the joy of life. It doesn't matter to me. Add to that that for many years - until absolutely proven wrong a dozen times by friends who believed in Solunars - I am a guy who for many years poo-pooed them, and the importance of Solunars rings a true.
That said, fish eat littler fish and crabs and shrimp. Every fish we fish for (largely) are meat-eating predators. And predators are opportunistic creatures. If you put a small bait fish in front of a snook, they're gonna eat it, right?
How important are Solunars?
You will catch fish in between major and minor periods, in crappy tidal conditions or even when there are no tides at all (Indian Lagoon comes to mind).
And that, my friends, is where I have been, after a long life, proven wrong, and many of you will probably agree. Although that snook we see by those mangroves - that gorgeous 38 incher I can just feel hitting now - *should* eat that tasty whitebait I threw at him, sometimes they just ain't hungry. If you have spent time on the water you know what I say is true. There are times that our best efforts are laughed at. Times that we put that perfect bait in the perfect place with a perfect cast in front of that perfect snook and had the fish just look at it and turn his nose. Why?
The next time that happens to you, check the solunars that day. I would bet even money that the table will show a major feed happened a few hours beforehand. Think of it for a minute.
You just left a restaurant an hour ago. You stop at a friend's house. You are a true carnivore, and find that he is grilling the perfect strip steak, burned crisp on the outside and pink and cool inside. Have you ever been in front of food that under almost any circumstances you would have chowed down on? But you were totally stuffed from a meal you had just eaten, and said no to a perfect meal? Even though you really wanted to eat it? Snook are the same as you are, in that they are unlikely to eat even the perfect meal if their stomachs are full.
Basic Facts About Solunars...
- The moon rises fifty minutes later tomorrow than it will today.
- When the moon is over your head or under your feet, the tide is low, and the feed is most intense.
- As the moon is just rising or setting, the tide is high.
- The length of the active feed is longest at the full moon and at the dark (New) moon. It lessens as the moon waxes until it's half moon, and then starts to go up again.
- Tide strength does the same; strongest tides at full moon, lessen until the half moon, and then gets stronger as we approach the New moon
- Where the moon is overhead, underfoot, or on the horizon is based on your exact position, and is why the printed charts you get are never perfectly right.
Welcome to the world of solunar tables. If you are on fish and they don't want to eat? They're just not hungry. In almost every one of those situations, the majors or minors just passed. If you fish when you can, and the bite isn't on, it is like weather in Florida. Just wait a short while and it will change.
- Tags: Charlotte-harbor, fishing, moonrise, moonset, solunar, solunar-tables, tampa, tampa bay, tides