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February 05, 2013

Marlin and The Moon

Striped-Marlin Bites Provide Clues as to How Lunar Cycles Affect Fishing


Marlin Moon

The author crunched the numbers from more than 65 years’ worth of New Zealand catch records to determine if there was any significant correlation between the number of fish caught and the phase of the moon. (DLR, CC-BY 3.0 / Rolf Hempel; Brandon Cole [inset, top]; Doug Perrine [inset, 2])


In their endless quest to understand the mysteries of their quarry, fishermen consider just about every factor imaginable that could affect the movements and feeding patterns of fish. Time of year, water temperature, sea conditions, atmospheric pressure, time of day, wind direction and weather are some of these factors, and I believe that many of them do have an effect on various species of fish. Looking for a single factor that applies to all fish, I soon found that for any general rule, there are plenty of exceptions; factors that seemed to affect one species did not seem to affect others.

One of the most commonly accepted atmospheric forces that anglers rely on to predict a hot bite — moon phases — is still hotly debated. One night, on a small island in the Tongan group in the South Pacific, I sat down to a kava party with a group of village fishermen. This mainly consisted of singing and tossing back coconut shells full of the earthy, narcotic brew made from the kava root. During the time between when I sat down and when my lips and my brain went numb, the topic of the moon’s effect on fishing came up. Tongan fishermen do a great deal of fishing at night for reef fish. This, I thought, could be most illuminating — with centuries of fishing knowledge, passed down from father to son, these guys must have it all sorted out.


marlin fish
(Doug Perrine)

“What,” I asked during a break between songs, “is the best moon to go fishing on?”

“We like to go fishing on the night three days before the full moon, the night of the full moon, and the night three days after the full moon,” one answered.

“Ah, this three-day gap is important, is it?” (This could be it, I thought — the great secret!)

“Oh, yes. That’s how long it takes us to save up for the petrol.”

It was right about then that I realized that there was not going to be any simple answer to the question of lunar cycles and fish behavior.