“Two minutes—Twenty-two seconds”

“Two minutes—Twenty-two seconds”
Your mileage may vary according to latitude and time of year, but approximately 2:22 is how long it takes for the sun to appear or disappear completely once it touches the horizon. Good things happen to those who prepare to be in the right place for this right time.

One June evening, Joe Richard, Greg McCann, and I, were anchored in Pass Cavallo, fishing for tarpon. We had much going for us with a light breeze, a modest green tide, a moon-under about to go off, and a live well filled with mullet and menhaden. Rods were bending and reel clickers were sounding off constantly on many non-targeted species.

During all of this Joe and I were discussing the fact that tarpon get very active as the sun gets low. Greg had been taking it all in and interjected, "Two minutes and twenty two seconds, that's how long sunset lasts." At the time I did not realize the importance of this information and, not to doubt him but, I was curious as to how long it would actually take.

My cell phone's stopwatch was showing about 1:33 when Joe yelled, "Tarpon Balloon!" I looked over just in time to see the live menhaden disappear in froth as a large tail slapped the surface.

Round and round we went with Greg keeping maximum pressure on the fish while gaining line. It was getting dark quickly and shadows on the horizon were all we could see. Joe manhandled the fish boat-side and removed the hook and a souvenir scale for Greg.

At this point we were well into nautical twilight when we turned the boat toward the lights of POC. Funny thing, while stowing gear for the run back my phone timer showed a little over 39 minutes, so much for the sunset timing. Since that fishing trip I have had many opportunities to prove Greg's factoid correct.

What does this mean?

The "official" definition of sunrise/sunset is when the center of the sun is 50 minutes of arc below the horizon. To a fisherman this means the time when the first part of sun peeks above horizon at sunrise, or the last of it dips down below at sunset.

This is a factthe sun rises and sets daily at a guaranteed mathematically predictable timetablethe one and only influence on the natural world that never changes. It is no coincidence that many times I've heard someone at the dock proclaim, "We hammered them thirty minutes before sunset and thirty minutes after."

Why should this matter?

An average fisherman can plan their fishing activity daily around this occurrence and produce moderate results. An accomplished angler will combine their fishing savvy and experiences, along with the effects of other influences, to maximize their catches.

My experiences have shown forage fish typically begin to shoal starting an hour before sunset. Moving about is nothing new for them as they are constantly pushed or pulled by currents. They may not realize it but they now have a time schedule and somewhere to go.

Thirty minutes into the movement it becomes crunch time as the refraction of light changes. Long shadows reach across and through the water decreasing the natural ability for forage species to detect imminent danger. Panic kicks in at this time if a safe spot hasn't been reached or the forage is not feeling cozy with the safety in numbers theory. Predators seek out the forage that is stressed, nervous or hastily moving. With the setting sun posed behind them they conveniently use the shadow to their advantage.

In these last thirty minutes of sunlight you may notice that all of nature is on a mission. The shorebirds are flying faster to roost, mullet start jumping randomly, deer and hogs are on the move and forage fish flicker on the water's surface. This is when it starts getting real good, you sense it, the forage senses it and, the predators know exactly where to be and when.

What about post sunset?

Once the sun disappears below the horizon there will be a gradual loss of light, but still enough to distinguish objects for the next 29 minutes. This window of light is known as Civil Twilight and occurs until the sun is six degrees below horizon. Once the sun passes this point its natural illumination lessens considerably and begins the period known as Nautical Twilight. It takes the sun 31 minutes to travel to twelve degrees below horizon. During this time only vague outlines of objects are visible. The horizon becomes difficult to distinguish from the sky and complete darkness takes over.

The bite continues often through Civil Twilight but then falls flat around the beginning of the next stage. There are always exceptions, especially if tidal flow is at its peak and/or a solunar influence kicks off.

Generally it is safe to operate your boat without spotlight during the first period of twilight and moving into the next period a spotlight may be necessary.

How to use this information?

For the best catches one must evaluate and put into action the benefits of both the predictable factors and the inconsistent variables presented to them. When combined these forces of nature contribute collectively toward the magnitude of each fish feeding period and your success.

The predetermined factors include the time of sunset, tidal level, tide movement, current flow and solunar influence. These factors are given and readily available, you need to look no further for accurate predictions than the solunar table included monthly in this publication. Knowledge is power, this information allows us the opportunity to formulate a game plan and put it in motion. When these factors are combined the direct effects will be compounded favorably, therefore increasing your odds of success.

The variables to take into consideration are ever-changing and less predictable. Water temperature, wind velocity and direction, wind current, atmospheric pressure and human interaction must be taken at face value and worked into the formula for success on a day to day basis.

For an example and to help with an explanation of what has been written here, I'll formulate a synopsis of a day in the near future. Using the Solunar Table pull out in this month's issue I will use this information outlined for Saturday January 3rd.

will occur at 7:14, straddling a nice ebbing tide through mid-morning. The tide chart shows the mean low tide to be at 10:39. Slack tide happens about the same time as the major (10:09am- 12:09pm). As the major is winding down the tide will have turned and starting to flood back in. The incoming tide picks up tempo and really starts moving in the afternoon. The moon is on the rise nearing horizon bringing with it a minor (4:38- 6:08pm). Around the time forage fish start to congregate, the tide is really pumping and nears peak flow around sunset (5:34 pm). As luck would have it, the minor influence will be felt through the end of civil twilight. This minor, when combined with sunset, makes for an excellent reason to fish until a spotlight would be needed for navigation.

As mentioned earlier the sun takes the same 2:22 to rise as is does to set. This article was written using sunset as the targeted time frame. Twilight times run in reverse before the sun rises and forage fish act accordingly. Any or all explanations and examples could be used for sunrise planning also.

January normally lends itself to tougher fishing due to the cold water temperature and the elements we are subjected to. If the wind calms and a weather window presents itself, nearshore structure holds good bottom fish. Red snapper, gulf trout, triggerfish, gag grouper, sheepshead, black drum and redfish can all be caught. The ship channel jetties harbor many of these same fish also, but the emphasis is put on the great tasting sheepshead this month more than others.

Make good use of the Solunar Table as often as possible, this information can turn a mediocre bite into an epic one. Stay safe and don't be afraid to fish until dark or later, the boat dock is going nowhere fast.