Jacob Wheeler again made headlines with another dominating performance at the recent Lake Guntersville BPT event. While I was taking note of this extraordinary angler’s accomplishments, I was also watching a backstory evolve that could clue us all in a little more.
I’m talking about tracking the appetites of bass. Bite windows. Major feeding periods. Those magic sessions when things “go off”.
With the advent of modern tournament broadcasts, we now see when this is occurring in real time. What many of us have speculated for years is right in front of our faces.
A case in point.
As reported by commentator Marty Stone, bite windows occurred daily during the Guntersville event, and the vast majority of all large fish were brought to the boat over short sessions. Occurring each afternoon, a flurry of action would be presented for the last hour of competition, blazing the ScoreTracker into a blur. Cameras cut from one 5-pounder to the next, then a 6 and a 7. A dozen top finishers would be in on the action. It was truly something to see.
Just what happened there, exactly? Was the flurry of big bass catches a mere coincidence? Perhaps it was weather-driven, as afternoon storms threatened several of the competition days. Or the anglers simply figured out the bass as the day went on.
Poppycock. Anyone who doesn’t see this as a direct example of bite windows simply doesn’t want to. The proof, in this case, was literally capable of being plotted on a graph. Hard, cold evidence.
I’m always excited to see examples of these types of things. For years, I’ve speculated that, when I was catching fish, many others were as well. Coming in at the end of the day, friends and I would discuss the happenings, though our samples were hardly scientific.
Now we see this does occur, more often than we may assume. Bass have periods throughout the day when they bite best. The top-tier anglers of the BPT and Elite Series get in on the action, resulting in frequent high-stakes drama we watch time and again.
Just what causes these peak periods? Is it as easy as checking a solunar table or the Fishing Timer on my trusty Casio?
Probably not. Try as we may to fit these periods into calendar or clock format, data isn’t always convincing.
Let’s jump back a bit and start with the basics. Lunar phases control much of the earth’s natural rhythms. Tides are a perfect example. Each day, here in my part of Florida, the tide will go up and down twice. Certain times of the year – when the moon is lined up with my place on earth – the tides will be noticeably stronger, resulting in more water fluctuations at a higher pace.
During tidal fluctuations, fish in tidal waters feed like clockwork. Yes, you can catch fish throughout all times of the day, but it becomes much easier during periods when the water flows.
Here, I’m using saltwater fish as an example. But not far from here, we could say the same for bass. Anyone who’s fished the nation’s top tidal bass fisheries has seen the unmistakable influence of the tide – controlled by the moon – on the feeding periods of bass.
Does that mean that bass in non-tidal waters feel the moon’s influence? Likely so, says most research on the subject. Bass certainly spawn around moon phases. Forage fish and insects go nuts around these cycles. And nearly any commercial fisherman – those chasing catfish to crabs – will tell you of the drastic catch differences around full and new moon periods.
To go further, many avid anglers who keep detailed records have evidence of major lunar periods outproducing other times. It’s important here to clarify the need for unbiased results based on repeatable samples.
For example, just because I tore the fish up on a spinnerbait today and not yesterday doesn’t mean I’ve got a rock-solid sample. We’d need long-term fishing records using repeating methods.
I’ve got a buddy with 40 years worth of shiner-fishing records from Florida at all times of year. That’s pretty rock-solid, and there are definite moon correspondences to successful days. Another industry cohort exclusively fishes big swimbaits in a half-dozen lakes, every day. Great samples that follow a pattern.
How about 40 professionals on Lake Guntersville, many of whom catch fish all at the same time. Pretty solid, if you ask me.
But is it the moon that’s tripping the trigger? Might be, but it would be hard to predict. First off, a solar calendar, lasting 365 days, is different than a lunar calendar. You see, it takes the moon just 354 days to cycle 12 times. Most modern calendars, it seems, are a reflection of individual societies more than nature. Look it up sometime and you’d be shocked at the number of different calendars there are in the world, and how drastic they are from those of yesteryear.
Anyway, tracking what a fish might feel, in terms of lunar influence, through a calendar or wristwatch is likely impossible. We try to track water flow the same way, but any avid tidal fisherman can tell you that our tidal calendars are somewhat relative. Besides, they change 50 minutes or so every day, quite less than precisely.
Perhaps it’s “solunar” influence that we should concern ourselves with. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard this term until a decade or so ago, when it seemed as if solunar thinking was aligned to explain all the shortcomings of lunar ideas. More investigation, however, shows that solunar theory was originally developed in the 1920s, and supposedly compensates for sunrise and sunset, dialing in the lunar period more locally.
Personally, I can’t see this as a refined method. We simply fall back into further manmade explanation for something we don’t understand in the first place. Throw more big words up there, maybe a prediction will come true.
Bite windows. We’re witnessing them in real time. Witnessing, not defining.
Around my place, bass seem to bite best in the afternoon. Most days that coincides with a steady breeze. Wind sets up a bit of current and water movement is always key, everywhere. Bass know the breeze is likely and feed when it blows. Food comes to them; less energy, more gain. So was all that action at 3 p.m. yesterday a bite window? Kinda.
Every spring, after being buried in mud for a year, trillions of mayflies hatch and emerge on the water’s surface around western Lake Erie, where bass, walleyes and everything that swims eat them with reckless abandon. The timing of this hatch, it’s believed, revolves around the lunar cycles.
This phenomenon, classified correctly as that of biblical proportions, creates one heck of a bite window. This year, things will likely kick off around the last full moon of May.
Which, in this case, is June 4.
Calendars being what they are, I'd best set my Casio.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)