By Max Kelley
I live for the water. Chasing the next biggest fish. That perfect day on the ocean. The buzz that comes from coming face to face with true underwater giants. I’ve been hooked on spearfishing since I was 15, and have spent every spare weekend in my wetsuit, finding new dive sites, testing new gear, and honing my skills at this sport. It’s almost an obsession, and I’d love to help you get involved in spearfishing, and maybe help you catch a fish or two in the process. Happy spearing!
Spearfishing takes you to another world. It’s almost meditative, as you kick your way through the water, searching for the right spot, calming your body as it screams for air, and waiting for the perfect moment to catch that one, perfect fish.
There’s no wonder it’s a sport popular all over the world.
But before you dive in, there’s a few tips I’d like to share. I’ve spent the better part of the last three decades in the water, and I’d like to give any newcomers a bit of a cheat sheet to understanding the sport, and ensure they’re starting off on the right foot.
Understand the spearfishing mentality
Despite the big speargun, most of the spearo’s (the term we affectionately give to those who enjoy spearfishing), are big nature lovers. Because spearfishing involves getting up close and personal with your prey, you quickly develop a healthy respect for the ecosystem. We’re highly selective in the fish we take, only ever enough for our personal needs. Plus, the species and select fish that we target are always within legal catch limits. It’s important you follow your local rules and regulations when spearfishing, and if you need any special fishing permits you have these too.
Kit yourself out with the right gear
There’s no mistake you’ll need quite a bit of gear to go spearfishing. As a kid, I started in a pair of boardshorts, using only a hand spear, a snorkeling mask and a pair of fins. However, with a few more items it’ll make your time in the water that much more enjoyable, and also safe. A wetsuit and dive gloves will help you stay warm, and a weight belt will help you dive to a decent depth. A dive knife is a must, and I’d also recommend a float line and stringer to hold any fish you catch, along with a “Diver Below” flag to notify any nearby boats of your position. Oh, and you’re also going need a speargun.
Where to find the fish
Depending on where you live, there will be a few different options for areas you can spearfish. Ask the staff in your local dive or fishing shop for advice, and be sure to research the local fisheries information. You don’t want to accidentally end up in a protected zone. In general, you can spearfish from the shore along the rocks and reef of a headland. Here you’ll find bream and luderick, and once you start pushing out into deeper water there will be sweetlip and jewfish, and even the odd crayfish. If you’ve got a boat and can get offshore this is where it gets really exciting, there’s nothing like coming face to face with a school of kingfish in the open ocean.
Getting in the water the first time
Spearfishing isn’t all that different to snorkeling. Make sure you’ve found an area that’s protected from any incoming swell, and enter the water. I spend the first couple of minutes ensuing my gear is in order, my speargun is loaded and ready, and you’re comfortable holding your breath and duck-diving down to the bottom. You will also need to practice equalizing your ears as you descend. If it’s your first time I’d recommend setting up a kelp target on a sandbank, and taking a few practice shots with your speargun. With your arm fully extended take your sight down the shaft and pull the trigger.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, start scouting around for a good ambush location. Because spearfishing isn’t about chasing the fish. It’s about being sneaky. The slowest fish in the ocean is a much better swimmer than you. You need to find a spot you can dive to, and take the fish by surprise. Perhaps an overhang, a crevice in the rocks, or a large bit of reef you can circle around. As you practice holding your breath it’ll get easier staying underwater, and don’t worry if you don’t catch anything on your first couple of dives. Your goal should be to get used to your gear, practicing with your speargun, and learning spearfishing techniques.
How to actually target a fish
Once you spot a fish to target, relax. If you’re on the surface take a breath, and dive down to a position you think the fish will swim to. Remember, if you’re kicking furiously or making too much noise, you’ll startle the fish and it’ll swim away. So be calm and stealthy. Once you’re in the perfect spot, turn the safety off, and get ready with your speargun in your dominant hand. When the fish starts getting close, extend your arm and wait until you’ve got a clear shot. The range of your speargun will depend on the size and model, but in general you want to be within a few feet of your target. Line up a spot on the side of the fish, your goal is for the spear to hit just behind the gills, and go straight through the backbone. Get it right, and the fish will die easily. If you’re a little off target, reel the fish in (it’ll be kicking around attached to your spear), and use your knife to quickly dispatch it and thread it onto your tow line. Reload and you’re ready to go again.
Remember to stay safe
This last point is the most important. The open ocean is a dangerous environment, and whenever you’re trying a new sport it’s important to stay safe. You’ve got a knife in case you get tangled. A tow line that advertises your presence to boats and gives you something to hang on to if you need a break. But the most important safety rule is to never dive alone. You need a buddy if you’re planning to go spearfishing. Holding your breath underwater can be dangerous if you push it too far, and shallow water blackouts are a real danger if you go too hard. Even experienced spearo’s never dive alone. My advice, is to get a mate involved as you try spearfishing too, and you’ll also have someone to back up all of your exciting new fishing stories.
To me, spearfishing is the ultimate sport. Chasing bigger and bigger fish is the ultimate adrenaline rush, as you push your own limits and test your ability to take down some real monsters of the deep. Often coming face to face with them first. It adds a whole new level to fishing, and also gives you a glimpse into the world beneath the water. I’m in awe every time I go spearfishing, and I wish you all luck as you start to explore the sport.