How to Spearfish
The following ‘how to’ is a general guide for spearfishing shallow water (less than 15m) spearfishing, but not for open ocean or blue water spearfishing. It is written in mind of spearing tough game (such as sea bass), as should you be able to master the techniques suggested, the less wary fish should easily begin to make up part of your standard catch.
Although the following techniques are suggested for catching sea bass in temperate, intertidal waters, the techniques are also applicable to fishing game in warm or tropical waters over reefs or wrecks.
1- Know where to fish and what you’ll be fishing for!
Speak to local spear fishermen, or failing that, anglers, and find out where is good for what fish at what stages of the tide and seasons. If you’re finding this information difficult to come by, here are a few pointers:
- Although there may be fish around, are there any features that you can hide behind in order to get close enough to shoot them?!? Sea predators use features such as weed and reef outcrops to hide behind, so should you!
- Is the water going to be clear enough to see at least to the end of your gun’s range?
- Push of the tide usually provides for better fishing in tidal areas, and for non-tidal areas, times of lower/lesser light are when the big fish come in shallower looking for the little fish.
- How deep will you have to dive to reach a feature? Bigger fish will come in shallower during times and areas of faster moving water (I regularly catch 10 pound plus sea bass in waist deep water) in order to hunt the weaker fish, however BEWARE OF FAST MOVING WATER! Know areas of current and how they behave under different tidal conditions before taking to the sea. Also be aware that the seabed is much more changeable season to season than landmarks above the water, so don’t rely on being able to navigate a route that you planned whilst out of the water!
2- Inform someone of your plans.
If you’re going solo, it’s fairly sensible to let someone know where you’ll be going and what time you’re expecting to get out of the water. If you shoot yourself in the face or drown on account of dolphin rape then it won’t make much of a difference, but if you get taken by a flash current, having someone notify the coastguard whilst you’re helplessly floating out to sea could save your life!
3- Check your equipment!
Too often have I reached my destination to find that I have left something behind or something is broken. Double check that everything is in working order, and make sure that your session is planned in advance.
4- Suit up/load up!
If you’re not sure of what your gear does or how to use it, then find out long in advance! Accustoming yourself to the range of your gun is also very important. When at the water’s edge (do not fully suit up in 7 mil rubber on a hot summers day and then try to walk a mile over the rocks!!) or about to dive from a boat, suit up.
- If wearing a hood, be sure to have the seal of your mask against your skin and not the neoprene.
- Make sure that all of your adjustables are securely attached to you and will be within easy reach whilst submerged.
- Do not load your gun until about to submerge!
5- Load your gun carefully.
Do not fire your gun out of water! There is less resistance in air than in water, and so the spare energy will results in the spear bouncing back. Remember, the spear is attached to a string, which is attached to the gun, which is attached to you! When ready to submerge, load your gun with the safety catch on, and keep it pointed down.
- Ensure that the spear is properly secured in the trigger mechanism before pulling back the band, otherwise you may damage or even loose your fingers.
- Pull the band back on to the furthest notch towards the base of the spear as possible (ensures maximum power). To do this, place the butt of the gun into your sternum and pull back the band with both hands with the spear pointing away from you. This is often quite challenging and requires a bit of effort.
- Keep the safety catch on and the gun pointing away from danger when: Floating, talking to a buddy, near curious sea mammals, and exiting the water.
6- Move quietly through the water.
Spear fishing is about stealth, not speed, as it is impossible to outrun any fish worth catching. To remain stealthy in transit to weeds or reefs of interest, or whilst searching for fish from the surface:
- Breath slow and steady Not only will this conserve your energy and allow you to be more relaxed so granting you more bottom time, but it will also not alert fish to your presence. Do not clear your snorkel, instead raise your head above the surface of the water and allow it to drain.
- Propel yourself using a slow and steady bicycle kicking motion i.e. bring your knees up to your chest with each stroke and try not to allow your fins to break the surface of the water.
- Be aware of your shadow i.e. do not approach your favourite spot with the sun behind you.
7- Learn efficient diving.
Most spear fishing not carried out in shallow, fast moving water, will require you to dive below the surface and to remain on the bottom. Whether you have seen the flick of a tail or simply a bed of weeds that looks like it could hide you, you will have to swim downwards towards the bottom in order to get there.
- Firstly, relax and take a few, slow deep breaths. Just as you inhale your final deep breath, remove the snorkel from your mouth (it’s quieter) and gently raise your knees to your chest whilst allowing your head to sink.
- When vertical, straighten out your legs and you should begin to sink (providing you have sufficient weight on your belt/vest) with only minimal, gentle, leg kicks. Make as little noise as possible.
- Equalise if necessary by holding your nose whilst very gently squeezing air towards it. This should relieve any pressure on your ears.
- When approaching the bottom, exert as little energy as possible and calmly lay in wait- the calmer you are, the more bottom time you have.
- Be aware that pressure increases with depth and so you will become heavier the deep you go. Diving with a heavy belt will make swimming back up to the surface difficult.
9- Hunt calmly and be patient.
Once in position you will notice very few fish around. This is because they have seen you approach! The longer you stay on the bottom, the more fish will return to that vicinity. Here are a few tips to help you bag some prize fish.
- As most fish of interest are generally carnivores, they are usually more wary of alien objects but are equally curious. Unless they are randomly cruising through, they will be the last to return to your dive area. Relax and be patient.
- If a fish of interest darts off after having seen you dive, stay motionless where you are as very often they return to get a closer look.
- There is no point facing anywhere that your gun is not! It will take too long to move your gun to point towards your line of sight should you be looking in the opposite direction! Move your gun slowly and steadily with your line of sight as you look back and forth.
- Be patient, wait for a fish to turn profile, although once a hunting fish has made eye contact with you, you have to take the shot pretty quickly as chances are it won’t stick around.
- You only have one shot at a fish so make it count but do not hesitate!
- Aim for the gills. This way the fish should be held firmly on your spear, and you’ll be aiming for a target with a generous buffer allowing for minor inaccuracy either side. You’ll also be not be putting a big hole through the nice stuff that you want to eat.
10- Follow your shot and secure your fish.
You’ve taken your shot so now what? If you’ve missed it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t have a chance at the same fish again, so curse until your heart is content as very few people will hear you through a snorkel. If you hit:
- Follow your shot! You may have hit the edge of the fish and so the spear may rip out, the spear may not have pushed all the way through or the fish may wriggle the hinged barb at the end of your spear into a neutral position allowing it to un-spear itself. Follow your shot immediately.
- Secure your fish. Fins are often spikey and most fish will use them as a defence mechanism. Firstly, ensure that your spear has passed all of the way through the fish and that the hinged barb is engaged. Secondly grip the fish by the gills as this is the firmest part of its’ body. Thirdly, if having speared a larger fish (over 6 pounds), you may need to secure the rest of its’ body using your thighs.
- Whether using a bag or not, you should always paralyse your fish in order for you to carry on fishing. This is best done with a sharp diving knife. Your point of entry depends on the species of fish caught, but what you’re looking to do is to sever the spinal column just behind the head. A wriggling fish may cause you to slip and stab yourself. The quicker you secure and then sever the spinal column, the less trauma you are causing the fish so do not mess around! Do not cut the head off as otherwise it will be impossible to use a fish stringer to keep your catch attached to you.
- If using a stringer, thread the bar through the open mouth and out of the gills of the fish. Be sure to re-secure the bar as otherwise you may loose it when you return to hunting mode! If using a net, be sure that the fish is sufficiently paralysed as otherwise it will disturb the rest of your session and it may stab you with its’ spikey fins!
11- Process your catch.
Unless selling to a restaurant (most countries require you to have a licence to do this, although most chefs are happy to cast a blind eye), I always find it less smelly and messy to process your catch the moment you land it whilst still at the water’s edge. Please make sure that your catch is dead before you scale and gut it.
- Abide by fishing regulations! Fines can be costly and ignoring regulations may mean less fish available in seasons to come.
- Learn the dangers of the water you’ll be using.
- Do not day dream! The scenery may be pretty, but chances are that the moment you switch off, that monster you’ve been so eagerly awaiting will float by.