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So You Want To Be A Spearfisher?

Discussion in 'Deep Dixie Divers' started by Hetland, Jun 18, 2012.

  1. Hetland

    Hetland Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Gulf of Mexico
    2,702
    434
    83
    I've had a few people ask me about spearfishing lately, so I thought I would cut and paste parts of my responses to them into the public board in the event that others had similar questions, and also to encourage more experienced hunters to drop a few hints that I can learn from too :D

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    I'll start by saying that spearfishing is so easy a cave-man could do it. It's simple. But because we're doing this simple activity in an environment that is incompatible with human life, there are some important considerations that should always be the first things on our minds. You do not have to be a divemaster to spearfish, but you do need experience as a diver so that you can manage your life-support systems while task loaded at depth. You can only do this through diving.... a bunch.

    Last Summer two experienced spearfishermen killed themselves while diving our part of the Gulf Coast (one in Pensacola, another in Orange Beach). One of these guys had extensive experience as a spearfisherman. Personally, I've had my regulator knocked out of my mouth, and my mask knocked off more than once by big, and not so big fish.

    Remember that in our area, you're usually spearfishing in 80-120ft of water, and that you will be impaired by nitrogen and carbon dioxide narcosis. The depth multiplies your normal air consumption, and often you will be breathing at twice the rate you would breathe on a "regular" dive. You're also likely to have sharks show up once you pull the trigger (they respond to the sound of the speargun firing). Usually it's one or two sandbar sharks, but occasionally you'll see a nurse, reef, or bull shark too) All of this means that if you can normally dive for 45-minutes on a tank of gas (on an 80ft dive) you end up with a run time of more like 12-15 minutes while spearfishing. You can see where this would be a problem while fighting a fish, watching for sharks, and "forgetting" to check your air time remaining.

    My strong suggestion is to get AT THE VERY LEAST, 50 GULF DIVES before touching a speargun or polespear. It's probably smarter to get more dives in than that, but different people learn at different paces. Once you're ready to start hunting, start with small fish, like flounder and sheepshead, then work your way up to red snapper and more challenging fish. I say "challenging" in the context of managing the fish once they're shot. The shooting part is very, very, very easy, it's stringing, stoning, reloading, buoyancy, and gas management that takes skill and experience.

    One of the most important elements of spearfishing is species identification. A red snapper and a mangrove snapper look almost identical underwater, and groupers are very hard to tell apart while underwater. You can shoot a red grouper today, and have a fine meal when you get home, but shooting a gag grouper (currently closed) will get you a very expensive ticket, and shooting a goliath grouper will get you a stay in a jail cell, and a big fat fine. Learn how to identify fish not just by their color (useless at depth) but by their shapes, and fins. Also, memorize size limits, and remember that water magnifies everything, so you only want to shoot fish that appear 3-4 inches longer than the legal length (at minimum). Fish also shrink on ice, so that 16" scamp you shot two hours ago will not be legal when the FWC stops you coming back through the pass at the end of the day. They do everything they can not to gig you on fish sizes, but they can't overlook a fish that's 1/2 inch too short.

    Practice getting as close to a fish (any fish) as you can, and then try to get closer. Stay calm, try not to look them in the eye, and use an indirect approach. Swimming directly at a fish while giving him the stink-eye is a recipe for failure. While you're working on your diving skills, you're also working on your stalking skills, and learning what fish you can and can't shoot.

    When you're ready to pull the trigger and purchase a speargun, don't be tempted to buy an undersized gun. The length of the gun is directly proportional to it's power and range. This means that small guns shoot shorter, and don't pack the punch needed to penetrate heavy-bodied fish like our delicious red snapper. You can't argue with physics. Shorter guns will result in less fish. I've watched spears bounce off of fish because they were shot from too great of a distance, or with an underpowered gun.

    Most folks start out with a 48" wooden gun like JBL or Biller. I started out with a 48" Biller, and it's the gun I would recommend to anyone looking to get into spearfishing. It's the perfect balance between power, range, ease of use, and price. It's easy to get parts for all over, and it's (relatively) easy on the wallet. I currently shoot a 100cm railgun, which I love, but it's much harder to restring and re-band than the closed-muzzle wooden guns, and the resale value isn't as good, so you should be sure of what you want before buying a railgun, which is another reason I recommend the Billers to start off with. Railguns are not a good match for new spearfishers imo. Riffe makes beautiful, awesome guns, but they're too expensive for my tastes. Ocean Rhino guns are also popular, but they're too heavy for me, and have too much crap on them (I'm a Glock person, and the Rhinos are built for 1911-types imho). I have seen some mighty fine fish shot with the Rhinos, but, all of the guns mentioned here are simply tools. See if you can borrow a gun before buying, so you're sure you have the tool that works best for you. In spearfishing, it really is the Indian, and not the arrow that puts meat in the freezer.

    Hope this helps. As I said, the shooting is the easy part, in fact, I can't remember the last time I "aimed" my speargun, usually, it's point and shoot. Species identification, reloading, stringing, stalking, and most importantly, dive management (gas management, navigation, buoyancy, situational awareness, no-decompression limit monitoring) are the essential elements of spearfishing.

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    That's all I've got, the bare-bones basics. Hopefully someone else can chime in with some helpful tips.
     
  2. Bill Parker

    Bill Parker Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Hurst, TX
    378
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  3. RickyF

    RickyF Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Oahu
    611
    187
    43
    Very Nice!! Good things to remember.
     
  4. SuPrBuGmAn

    SuPrBuGmAn Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Tallahassee, FL
    12,436
    290
    83
    Excellent post Hetty
     
  5. JEC11718

    JEC11718 Barracuda

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Panama City Forida
    222
    21
    18
    I really like the post, my two cents..get a good hoop stringer.
     
    PatMyGreen likes this.
  6. dumpsterDiver

    dumpsterDiver Banned

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location:
    9,003
    4,669
    113
    Good information, but the recommendation for the gun size is specific to your location. If the visibility is poor, smaller guns are much better and for very clear water, a 48" Biller gun is way too short in my opinion. It's very important to get the right size gun.
     
    PatMyGreen likes this.
  7. SuPrBuGmAn

    SuPrBuGmAn Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Tallahassee, FL
    12,436
    290
    83
    This is a location specific subforum.
     
  8. Hetland

    Hetland Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Gulf of Mexico
    2,702
    434
    83
    Heh, I've successfully used a 48 Biller on all three Florida coasts, and never felt under-gunned, but yes, I'm talking about spearfishing between Dauphin Island, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida, and I'm talking averages. Someone who does a bunch of rig fishing might want to use a steel cable (frikkin' crazy) their line-shaft, and someone shooting natural bottom in Panama City might want to shoot multiple free-shafts.
     
  9. SuPrBuGmAn

    SuPrBuGmAn Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Tallahassee, FL
    12,436
    290
    83
    I use steel cable :p
     
  10. Tfast78

    Tfast78 Divemaster Candidate

    82
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    Very good info here!
     

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