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How To Fish By The Moon – The Ultimate Guide

For centuries, certain cultures have insisted that moon phases influence fishing. Many fishers are adamant that the Moon makes a difference and plan entire fishing trips in accordance with where the Moon is in its cycle. This leads many to try and learn how to fish by the Moon.

To fish by the Moon, you need to know where the Moon is in its cycle and arrange your fishing habits around it. There is a distinct set of “rules” that adherents to moon phase fishing insist upon. If you follow them to the letter, they maintain, you will reap positive fishing benefits.

Nonetheless, the concept of fishing by the Moon is not without controversy. Multiple facets can factor into a successful fishing strategy and moon phases certainly are something to consider. Read on to see what you need to think about if you decide to use the Moon as a guide for your fishing.

How To Fish By The Moon

It would be great if there was a sure-fire method of predicting when fish will be active and when they will feed. While a rigid timeframe might not be possible, many people believe that by paying attention to the Moon, creating a general timeframe is possible.

How Moon Phases Affect Fish Behavior

People who ascribe to the Moon phase fishing strategy are working on the same principle as when someone writes off odd behavior to “it must be a full moon.”

Basically, what they are saying is that the same behavior that allegedly makes a person act differently during a full moon affects fish behavior as well. This effect occurs during the Moon phases and during the daily trajectory of the Moon as it orbits the Earth.

How It Works

That the Moon affects Earth is not disputed. In fact, the Moon’s effect on Earth is significant in three ways.

Tidal Effect

The moon affects tides. High tides rise higher when under the influence of the Moon. We usually don’t think about the Moon’s impact on high tide until a major storm hits. If that happens during high tide or leading up to it, tidal storm surges migrate higher than usual waters (storm versus calm), with effects ranging from inconvenient to devastating.

The reality, though, is that the Moon exerts influence over every high tide, regardless of its phase.

Planetary Tilt

The moon also helps stabilize the wobble the Earth has as it rotates. The gravitational pull on the Earth helps hold Earth in place and stabilize its planetary axis. Without that, the Earth’s wobble would be erratic and unpredictable.

Sunlight, seasons, and the length of night would all be affected severely if the Moon suddenly disappeared.

Effect On Animals

As mentioned, many people write off bizarre human behavior as a result of the phase of the Moon. Animals often base their circadian rhythms on the Moon. This can affect mating, hunting, hibernation, sleeping and aggression.

Where Moon Influence Is Known To Affect Fishing

While the question of the Moon influencing freshwater fish is somewhat up in the air, there are at least two places where the influence is obvious and verified:

  • Saltwater fishing
  • Tidal affected waters

Saltwater Fishing

It has long been acknowledged by commercial fishers that the Moon affects the feeding cycle of ocean fish. Generally, according to many fishers, large females are the predominant catch before a full moon while smaller males tend to dominate a catch after a full moon.

Tidal Affected Waters

Freshwater that is heavily affected by tides – streams, rivers, and bays – that dump into or merge with the ocean – are also heavily affected by tides.

This effect can be particularly dramatic in two areas:

  • Places with dramatic shifts in tide
  • Places where saltwater predators can mix with freshwater fish

A fish’s hiding spot in high tide might be exposed in low tide. That same space, however, might be a prime hunting zone for that same fish once the tide comes in.

Additionally, shifts in tides can affect fish habitat, which can prompt a fish to move to a different location or it can initiate a feeding period. If a storm or major tide pushes bait fish up into estuaries during a full moon predator fish might follow. Additionally, storm surges can be heavily affected by high tide, which is driven by the Moon.

A particularly high tide can wreak havoc on prime freshwater fishing grounds. It can inject saltwater into the area, overturn or move structure fish hide in, or even cover fish nests with sediment. All of that is directly attributable to high tides which are driven by the phases of the Moon.

In both these examples, the effect of the Moon on fish activity is irrefutable.

The Lunar Period

The entire moon phase fishing theory is based on gravity – both ours and the Moon’s – and the affect both have on animals. That effect varies based on how close the two bodies are and the monthly phases of the Moon.

The 8 Phases Of The Moon

The moon has 8 main phases:

New Moon

This is the phase when the Moon sits between the Sun and the Earth. On Earth, we don’t see the illuminated side of the Moon because it is facing the Sun and we are behind it.

Waxing Crescent

The Waxing Crescent is a transitional stage that lasts for around one week. Only a sliver of the Moon is visible during this phase.

First Quarter

During the First Quarter phase, the Moon sits at 90-degrees to both the Sun and the Earth. The angle means we only see 50% of the side of the Moon that is lit up by the Sun, which corresponds to a quarter of the Moon’s total area.

Waxing Gibbous

This phase is when the Moon looks very close to full, with “waxing” meaning gradually increasing.

Full Moon

Occurring about 2 weeks after a new moon, a full moon is the phase when the Sun, Earth and Moon align with each other. The result is that we see the lightened side of the Moon, which faces us on Earth. It looks like an imperfect but complete circle and is often very bright.

Waning Gibbous

During this phase, the Moon looks full and gradually loses that circle shape as the days pass.

Last Quarter

This phase is the reverse of the first quarter. Again, we see just half of the illuminated portion, or a quarter of the total area of the Moon.

Waning Crescent

We once again see just a sliver of the Moon, before entering back into the new moon phase.

Four Daily Periods

The influence of the Earth rotating around the Sun, and the effect of the Moon rotating around the Earth, are either at their strongest or weakest at four times each day. The only variable is the phase that the Moon is in. During a full moon, the Moon has the biggest impact on Earth. During a new moon, it has its least.

Within that context, the four daily periods are:

Major Period One

This is when the Sun and the Moon are very close to being perpendicular in any given location. During this phase, the Moon will be directly over the angler.

Major Period Two

This happens when the Sun and the Moon are once again almost perpendicular in any given location, but this time the Moon is directly below the angler.

Minor Period One

This phase is when the Moon rises, and it occurs when the Moon is angled 90-degrees to a specific location.

Minor Period Two

As the Moon sets and becomes angled 90-degrees to a specific location, this minor period applies.

Each phase is six hours apart. Each phase occurs at a different time each day.

How This Affects Fish

The fishing by the Moon phase theory maintains that fish feed during the major periods. Fish will feed during the minor period if an opportunity presents itself, but generally, fish are not inclined to feed during these times.

The theory holds that major moon phases trigger activity and feeding instinct in most fish. It also holds that for the minor periods to yield active fish, some other factor must be at work.

Other Factors

That could be that fish are fattening up in preparation for the winter, which prompts them to override any external influence, or that a weather event made food scarce. Or, it could be in the dead of winter, when fish are extremely selective about when they will exert energy.

While there is not much direct scientific proof that the Moon influences fish behavior, it stands to reason that the Moon could still be one influence on fish behavior. Many anglers time their fishing based on when they think the Moon will trigger fish to move or eat. They will only fish when the Moon is in one of the major periods or will stop fishing if the Moon is approaching a minor period.

Why Moon Phase Fishing Isn’t Effective

Critics of the theory of fishing by the Moon say that there is simply not enough proof one way or another to say that moon phase fishing is effective. In addition, they argue, there are far too many influences that spawn fish activity or feeding to say any single influence has much sway.

To understand this, it helps to look at a list of possible external influences on fish behavior and consider how they influence fish activity.

Those factors could be, but are not limited to:

  • Time of the season
  • Barometric pressure
  • Storms that affect water quality
  • Extremely hot or cold weather and/or water
  • Flooding
  • Abundance of food
  • Need for fist to replenish energy and prepare for winter

It can be proven that each of those characteristics affect the activity and appetite of fish. If, for example, you are fishing during the bass spawning season, virtually nothing will prompt a female bass to eat if she is guarding her nest.

Fish do seem to feed more as a high or low-pressure system swings through, but they generally do not feed immediately following a barometric pressure change. Sometimes there is an abundance of food and fish limit their feeding. This can happen when flooding expands their roaming range. The most significant environmental influence, however, is the condition of the water the fish live in.

Warm Water Fish Behavior

When the average water temperature in any lake, pond or river exceeds 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, a fish’s metabolism speeds up significantly. As the water increases in temperature, so does their appetite until the water starts to reach a stage when oxygen is actively depleted. When that happens, their feeding habits become limited once again.

Until then, though, fish are largely concerned about three things:

  • Feeding as much as possible
  • Breeding successfully
  • Protection from predators above and under water

When those three things are the prime motivators, fish eat when a meal presents itself if it does not look dangerous to the fish. There is also the instinct to build energy after a long winter, to court and mate and to prepare for the winter ahead. Those factors tend to override everything a fish does.

Mating

About the only thing that will distract a fish from searching for food and eating it is mating. When spawning season starts, both male and female fish tend to eat less, until mating has occurred. Then male fish (in general) start to feed as most female fish guard the nest and eggs.

Once that is over all bets are off. A fish in late spring through summer, if the water warms, is an insatiable eating machine. When it is in that mode, it is not likely suppressing its appetite because of any external influence short of the abundance of food being altered.

It is possible it might become a more voracious feeder depending on what phase the Moon is in. There is no need, though, for an “on switch.” When the water heats up to the point that oxygen starts to deplete, fish will eat opportunistically, regardless of just about all other factors (that does not mean they are easy to catch). 

Cold Water Fish Behavior

When the water level dips below 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, fish will hunt, chase prey, and eat, but are much more cautious. They will chase prey they decide is vulnerable but will generally leave anything they consider to be a fair fight. Their goal is to feed themselves, but not over-exert as that wastes energy.

Once the water goes below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, fish still feed, but it is even harder to get them to bite. That holds true through winter. Fish may be more active during certain moon or tidal schedules, but when the water is pushing 38 degrees Fahrenheit, fish only go after food when they are sure the prey is easy to catch and will not put up a fight.

Moon Phases Do Still Play A Role In Fishing

While it is impossible to prove that moon phases prompt fish to move or feed, it is reasonable to assume that the Moon plays a role in affecting fish behavior. This includes motivating fish to feed or roam their normal habitat in search of food.

The Moon is, however, just one factor, and it is unclear if it is enough of an influence to warrant altering normal fishing habits. More likely, the Moon combines with other factors and together this combination affects fish activity and feeding behavior.

For example, in the middle of summer, multiple factors could influence fish behavior:

  • Hunger and the need to replenish energy after spawning
  • Barometric pressure swings due to summer storms
  • Flooding
  • Water temperature
  • Abundance of food in and on the water (insects, waterfowl, etc.)

In addition, the Moon might be at its peak in terms of its effect on the Earth. This might prompt some fish to actively feed, versus engaging in opportunistic feeding.

Cold Water Effects

The same can be said for colder water. A fish’s metabolism slows down when the water cools. Add to that a lack of bait fish, which die off in late fall, and a fish might only feed when the opportunity is irresistible.

In addition to that, the Moon might be in the new moon phase, further reducing the chances a fish will be active or feeding. In each scenario, the effect of the Moon is likely not enough to stop the general feeding trend of fish. It might, however, serve as the tipping point, sending fish into active feeding or prompting them to be inactive.

Moon Phase Fishing Tips

Understanding how and why the Moon might affect fish activity and feeding is important. In addition to that general knowledge, however, there are certain fishing tips that those who use moon phases to fish insist will boost the success of a fishing trip if followed.

  • Most fish will feed pretty relentlessly during the week of a full moon. That means you should fish three to four days on either side of the full moon.
  • Fish are also active on either side of the major and minor periods. A good strategy is to fish 90 minutes on either side of each period.
  • If fishing during a new moon, your best bet is to fish during the day rather than fishing at night, dawn or dusk.
  • A tide going out will prompt fish to feed. Plan to fish during the week of the full moon when the tide is heading out to maximize fish feeding opportunities.
  • A half moon at sunrise or sunset generally yields good fishing.
  • If a major or minor period falls during dusk or dawn, the fishing will likely be very good.
  • A major swing in barometric pressure will prompt fish to feed. Watch the weather and try to plan on fishing when the lunar influence is significant, and when a front is moving through.

If you follow this advice, you are not guaranteed to catch fish. You are, however, increasing the odds in your favor that you will catch fish.

Final Thoughts

To fish by the Moon, it’s important to first understand each of the Moon’s phases and how they can influence fishing patterns. Then, you can form your fishing habits based on the phase the Moon is in when you plan to go fishing for the best results, although you’re not guaranteed to be successful.