By Andy Humphries - 2006

There has been a lot of debate on fishing forums about whether you can rely on the phase of the moon to help predict good days to catch barbel or if it’s all a load of hocus pocus. I have done a fair bit of research and come up with some answers but before I start, I have to say that although I think that the moon phase can play a part, the question is to what degree?

Certainly things like water temperature, the temperature ramp, clarity and flow are factors that have a huge impact on barbel feeding behaviour and these have been well documented over the years. In fact, barbel fishing could be regarded as predictable if you can fish only when conditions are ideal and indeed a lot of anglers will only fish for them when they are. Unfortunately like a lot of people, I have to plan my fishing trips around family commitments and also working a rotating day/night shift pattern and I can’t just drop everything and get out there. One of the reasons I first started looking into the Solunar Theory was to see if I could tip the scales in my favour and plan to get out when the moon phase was ‘good’. According to the Solunar Theory, the best days to fish are around the New Moon, followed by the period around the Full Moon and the periods around the Quarter Phases (the half moons) being not as good. I have plotted graphs of all the barbel caught by members of the Barbel Catchers Club over several seasons against the moon phase and there are peaks and troughs, although not always the ones predicted! I did find that the Full Moon was the best day of the Lunar Month to catch barbel by quite a long way. In fact one of my reasons to looking into the topic was that I had a good catch on one Full Moon when the river was cold, low and clear and I didn’t rate my chances but something spurred them on to feed. A lot of people have speculated that a bright night can be terrible for fishing although a ‘cloudy’ Full Moon could be good. The Moon exerts the same gravitational pull on a body of water even if there is a bit of cloud, so I don’t worry unduly about it.

After doing some original intense research into moon phases by going back through the Catch Returns of members of the Barbel Catchers Club, the Solunar Theory wasn’t coming through strong enough for me to justify continuing spending a great deal of time on it. I did still monitor what members of the club were catching and comparing it against the moon phase. In February 2004 the moon phase FM-1 (the day before the Full Moon) produced three doubles in a night including a 13 to one member on the Kennet. Another had a brace of doubles from the Hampshire Avon and the Warwickshire Avon also produced a double. The following months same moon phase produced seven doubles. This included a brace off the Severn for one member, a 13 off the Kennet, a 13 from the Thames and a 14 from the Mole. Considering that conditions were far from perfect, something certainly spurred some big barbel to feed that night.

I did find in my original research that there was a definite rise in the number of good fish caught just after the First Quarter. This was mirrored by my observations of fish that I had caught from the Bristol Avon. Armed with that knowledge, I tried to use it improve my catches. I had booked some time off work in early November that coincided with the days after the First Quarter. The river had been up after some heavy rain and a mild spell and was just dropping back. I was chomping at the bit to go as the Moon Phase was FQ+3 (three days after First Quarter), when a large obstacle was placed in my path. My daughter had a dancing lesson that evening but if I went fishing, it would mean that ‘She, the one who wears the trousers’ would have to take my four year old son as well and he used to play up with all those girls to show off to. (I taken them a few weeks ago and it wasn’t a great deal of fun!). Undeterred, I offered to look after him and go fishing when they came back. I packed the car in the afternoon and the second they came through the front door, I was out the back! I didn’t get to the river until 7 p.m. and it had been dark for a few hours but I wasn’t deterred. I had already looked up the ‘Moon Times’ for the day and High Point of the moon at Bath was at 21:03 hrs, which according to the Theory was a good time to catch. I fished six swims in rotation with a large lump of curried luncheon meat, staying in each for only about five minutes before moving on. I threw some soaked trout pellets in the swims after leaving to prime it for the next visit. I cast into one of my favourite swims that entailed an upstream cast and the bait came to settle directly opposite me a few rod lengths out. After a couple of minutes, I had a very tentative bite as the tension on the line increased slightly and I struck into a good fish that tore off. I don’t play fish lightly and she was soon in the net. I looked at my watch to record the time, it was virtually 9 O’clock and I recorded 20:55 hrs as the hooking time. I weighed the fish and found it was a pleasing 10 lb 11 oz. I have found that after playing one fish, swims normally die for a bit so I had no hesitation in moving. It was about an hour later that I was back in the original swim and I had a near identical line tightening bite and another barbel was soon fighting a losing battle. That fish was caught at 22:10 hrs, only about an hour after the High Point of the moon. That fish was even bigger at 11 lb 6 oz. Despite staying until after midnight, I couldn’t get another bite. I still try to get out on similar moon nights and I know that my catches show a higher success rate than would normally be expected.

Another time it came right was the day the Barbel Catchers Club have an annual fish-in and this time it was on the Wye. Unfortunately fish-in’s aren't always the most productive days to catch and so to maximise my chances of catching, myself and John Costello decided to fish the Severn on the way for a few hours before moving onto the more social side a bit later. The moon day was LQ+2 (two days after the Last Quarter) and I had already found out that the moon would be at the High Point at 08:15 hrs at Worcester. We arranged to meet at 7:30 hrs but when I got to the car park at 7 a.m., John was already there! John had already had a few and caught five fish in a couple of hours. I had a fish at 08:25 hrs on the pellet feeder that went 11lb 10oz. The following morning, fellow club member Richard Donnelly decided to fish the Severn on the way home and had a 12lb 8oz at 09:30 hrs. Considering that the moon rises approximately 50 minutes later every day, that was another example that the moon may trigger a feeding response.

It’s easy to pinpoint one or two fish that seem to prove the Theory but I would be the first to admit that there are countless others that don’t come anywhere near a moon time. However to claim that the Solunar Theory is totally flawed, is in my opinion, a bit blinkered. I have heard a lot of anglers spouting that it’s complete rubbish and that’s their prerogative but if some opened their minds, perhaps they too could tip the odds of catching in their favour.