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2017 Total Solar Eclipse and its Effect on Fishing

Troy Thomas

fishing_total_solar_ eclipse.jpg

What effect will the Great American Eclipse have on fish when the skies grow dark across the middle of the United States? We asked some of the sport’s top pros to get their thoughts.

In one of the rarest celestial events of the past century, Americans from Oregon to South Carolina are gearing up for the Great American Eclipse.

The August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse, visible only in the U.S., will see the skies grow dark for a few moments as the moon passes in front of the sun on its coast to coast journey, something that few current Americans have seen in their lifetime.

In fact, the last time a total solar eclipse fell across any portion of the United States, the year was 1979 and President Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

The last time a total solar eclipse went across the nation? You’d have to go all the way back to World War I – on June 8, 1918, to be exact – when President Woodrow Wilson lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So obviously, this is an extraordinarily rare event that has plenty of Americans excited, especially those who will see the total portion of the eclipse.

Since this total solar eclipse will pass over some pretty solid bass country, many are curious about what type of effect this celestial event will have on fishing.

After posing that question to some of the sport’s top pros, some wondered if I had slipped, fallen hard, and hit my head on the front deck of a bass rig.

“I expect wild schooling action on every body of water around the country during the time that the skies go dark,”; laughed MLF Select pro and three-time BASS winner Ott
DeFoe.

“The bass will think that it’s the end of days and should feed like it’s their last chance for life,” added the East Tennessee on-the- water comedian. “If possible, you want to be out
on the water to experience total fishing bliss like you’ve never seen or ever will again.”

Then he added: “Oh, sorry, if you were serious.”

Then there was California pro Brent Ehrler, 2006 FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup champion and winner of the inaugural Major League Fishing 2012 Summit Cup event on
Lake Amistad.

“You need to ask someone like Aaron Martens on this since I don’t keep track of moon phases or any of that kind of stuff,” said Ehrler, before deadpanning one additional
comment.

“When the bass bite, I just reel them in,” he added with a grin.

If DeFoe and Ehrler are comically indifferent to the idea of the solar eclipse having an effect on fish, other top anglers aren’t sure.

Count bass fishing legend Kevin VanDam in that latter group.

“(I) have no idea,” said KVD, owner of 24 BASS victories, four Bassmaster Classic championships, seven BASS Angler-of- the-Year titles, one FLW Tour AOY title, and two Major League Fishing Summit Cups.

“I doubt it would have much effect being so brief,” added the sport’s GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), a Michigan man who now has some $6.2 million in career earnings.

Chad LaChance, host of the Fishful Thinker program on World Fishing Network agrees.

“My best guess is that it will be too short-lived to have any real major effect on fish,” said the Colorado resident. “I think that the smallmouth (bass) might briefly shut down and then commence to grubbing again as soon as the sun comes back out while the largies might do the exact opposite.”

“I also think that the overall lighting conditions on that day will play into the eclipse’s effect” he added. “In other words, if it’s already cloudy, there may be no behavior change at all.

Andy Montgomery, the MLF pro and Bassmaster Elite Series competitor from South Carolina, is another angler unsure about what to expect.

“Wow,” said Montgomery. “I really haven’t thought about that one yet. I’m going to assume that since it will be so brief, it may not have much of an effect, but I really have no idea.”

Then he added: “That’s a heck of a story idea though, I’m impressed.” When I informed him that the boss had assigned the topic, Montgomery’s humor came
out.

“Oh, I guess I gave you too much credit then,” he said with a chuckle.

KVD, LaChance, and Montgomery all make a good point about the eclipse’s brevity since the totality of the solar eclipse will only be a few minutes in any one spot, although the sun’s rays will be dimmed for an extended period on either side of the event.

On the other end of the spectrum are pros like Arkansas angler Mike McClelland, a longtime MLF pro and an eight-time winner in BASS competition, a bass angler who believes there could be a noticeable effect on fish.

When I asked whether or not he thought the eclipse would have any noticeable effect like triggering a feeding spell or a topwater bite, McClelland quickly replied: “You bet it will.”

Alabama’s Randy Howell, another MLF pro and the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion, agreed.

“I would think that it could cause a feeding frenzy,” said Howell. “Anytime the sky goes dark in the summer, fish rise up into the shallows and feed on top more. I think that throwing a Livingston Walking Boss Part II would be dynamite!”

Rounding things out on this topic is Arkansas pro Scott Suggs, winner of the 2007 FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup title and its $1-million- dollar winner’s payday.

“Bottom line here, this is something new, even to older people,” said Suggs, winner of the 2015 MLF Summit Cup title in Maine. "So I’m not sure anybody really knows what will happen during the eclipse.

“Will the deer get up and move, will the fish really bite more, what effect will it have on the tides?,” he added. “Or will it not have any effect on anything at all? It’s really a question more so than it is an answer.”

Suggs does have a solid idea for how to spend the day out on the water during the eclipse, bass fishing in the name of science.

“To really figure this out, you need a true test with two guys in a boat,” grinned Suggs.

“One can throw a topwater, the other can flip into heavy brush. If it’s a panic deal, then the fish might hold tight to cover, their strike zone will be smaller, and that’s probably the way to catch them.”

“If it’s more of a feeding frenzy kind of a deal, then the topwater bite might shine and that’s the way that you’ll catch them.”

“Fishing that way with two guys doing two totally different things in the same boat, that’s the only way to get a true test of what will happen during an eclipse and how best to fish
during one.”

Sounds like a good hypothesis to me.

Hey boss, can I have the day off on August 21? I want to go fishing, all in the name of science, of course.