Spearfishing has been a human endeavor for ages. Once practiced for survival, this ancient fishing technique has blossomed into a beloved sport practiced by people around the world. Although there has been some technological advancements, spearfishing hasn’t actually changed much over the centuries. However, to spearfish successfully is no easy feat, especially if you’re just getting into the sport. Today, we’ll cover all there is to know about spearfishing for beginners.
What Is Spearfishing
Although spearfishing is a similar activity worldwide, it is also as different as the destinations where it’s practiced. Fish are not the same everywhere and neither is the equipment made to hunt them. An example is polespears and slings popular in the Bahamas and Bermuda compared to spearguns found all over the rest of the planet. Spearguns are unique in design as well, often due to the differences in the underwater terrains and the waters where they are found. Spearfishing regulations and diving methods vary from one country to another and sometimes from state to state.
Of the Seven Seas only the North Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean are realistically suitable for divers to Spearfish, along with much lesser areas in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Areas of origin for spearfishing throughout the world include the Mediterranean Sea, USA coastlines and islands, Caribbean Sea, Central America, South Africa, Australia and the South Pacific islands.
Spearfishing has come a long way from just being a way to put dinner on the table. Many divers in spearfishing hot spots formed clubs and organized tournaments. In a period of 60 plus years not only has spearfishing become a competitive sport but it has also spawned an industry around it. Dive shops started popping up and companies began producing diving equipment as well as spearfishing gear. In the last 15 to 16 years spearfishing has seen extreme growth, especially while freediving, due to the rise in freediving training courses from international training agencies. Today divers are traveling to remote destinations worldwide in search of world record fish. At the same time spearfishing has been a leading segment of overall fishing to recognize and practice sustainable fishing. Divers are the first to see stresses to the marine environment and the effects of not only fishing but also habitat loss and climate changes.
Although much spearfishing occurred prior to the rise of competitive spearfishing, very little of it was consistently recorded. In 1947 some early dive clubs began forming an organization to standardize spearfishing regulations around the world and in 1950 the International Underwater Spearfishing Association, (IUSA) was founded. World Spearfishing Records with photos and information have been kept ever since and can be found on their website. The organization has changed with the times, closing the 220th-century records at the end of 1996 due to changes in regulations and starting the 21st-century records. The IUSA also added new categories for slings and polespears in 2013 which stimulated hunting new world records using more primitive gear. The World Underwater Spearfishing Competition is organized by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) which was founded in 1959 and comprises over 130 federations from 5 continents organizing international underwater sporting events. Spearfishing information and competition results can be found on their website. Today many spearfishing national and state records and competitions can be found online as well.
Spearfishing brings with it all sorts of dangers—from sharks and eels to getting tangled in stray fishing nets. But there’s a bigger danger to spearos that is inherent in every water sport and that’s drowning. In fact, drowning is, or should be, a serious concern for every spearo, regardless of their level. That’s where our first dive tip comes in.
Research you dive spots
If you’re just starting, you probably need to go to the local dive shop for supplies. Ask the employees there where the beginner spots are, and what to watch out for. Some spots are only safe for experienced divers as rough waters, currents, or tough terrain can make diving unsafe for beginners.
If you can’t find anyone to talk to, scope the spot out yourself. If you wouldn’t be comfortable snorkeling there, don’t take your spear out. When you’re just starting out, you’re better off avoiding any spots with rough surf or depths greater than 20 feet.
As the saying goes, if in doubt, don’t go out.
Have a dive buddy
Shallow Water Blackouts result from a lack of oxygen in the brain called hypoxia. When a blackout occurs you only have about 2 minutes to act before brain damage and death become imminent. That’s why diving with a buddy is absolutely required for everyone, no matter how many times you’ve done it. Do not dive alone.
Use a dive knife
Dive knives are useful for effective fishing and safety. Not to mention, who doesn’t like to hunt with a knife strapped around their ankle. The dive knife is good for cutting yourself, or your dive buddy free from nets or ropes you might become entangled in.
It’s also useful for finishing off any fish you’ve speared. This is a more humane way to kill the fish, and by quickly “braining” the fish, you’ll make sure to secure the catch. To brain a fish, stick the knife in the top of their head and move it back and forth.
Don’t put your hand into dark holes
This should go without saying but there are always horror stories about eels clamping on to divers’ arms. If you are bitten by an eel, just know that when it clamps down on your arm with its razor-sharp teeth, the last thing you should do is pull it out. An eel’s teeth curve inward, so if you try to rip your arm out, you’ll be ripped to shreds.
Your best bet is to avoid the situation all together. Don’t put your hands anywhere you can’t see them—between reefs or in dark holes and caves. Also, be aware of where you place your hands. You might unconsciously brace yourself with your hand when taking a shot or trying to get a better view.
Then there’s the speargun. The basic components of a speargun are the spear, the barrel, and the handle with the trigger mechanism.
There are two main types of spearguns: pneumatic and band guns. Pneumatic spearguns use air pressure to fire blades. Older versions of pneumatic spearguns often underperformed in deeper waters. However, newer, airtight models are much more powerful in all depths. As for the band guns, they are a good all-around spearfishing weapon. You’ll need a little skill to load them underwater, but otherwize, they are very easy to use. Pneumatic guns are usually measured by the size of their barrel, while band guns are measured by their total length.
How to Load a Band Speargun
To operate a band speargun, the first thing you’ll need to learn is how to load it. To load a band speargun, you’ll need to get a good grip on the handle of your gun with one hand, so that you can extend the other to reach the band. Once you’ve done this, position the handle firmly against the middle of your chest. Release the handle and use both hands to pull the band across the shaft until you feel a click. Good work, you’ve loaded your speargun!
Firing a speargun isn’t difficult, but like any skill, you’ll need a lot of practice to become good at it. Many spearguns have a powerful recoil. To avoid getting injured, you’ll need to learn how to aim without leaning into the gun. Extend your arm and pull the trigger. Most spearguns have barbs near the spear tip, which open up once the spear pierces through the fish, locking it securely. Now you can pull your prey in without the risk of it getting away.
Buy the right the gear
Spearfishing doesn’t require a ton of gear, but it’s important to get quality stuff. Don’t scrimp on masks, gloves, or fins. If the water you’re diving in is cold, consider getting a wetsuit. You’ll be in the water for at least a couple hours and even in relatively warm places, you can get uncomfortably cold.
Improve your breath hold
It’s standard for an experienced diver to hold their breath up to three minutes. It allows you to pick a spot on the seafloor, or behind a rock and wait until a fish comes along. Whereas people without the ability to hold their breath must rely on staying hidden on approach and while aiming.
This will take time to develop. But there are some things you can do to improve right away. Staying warm, getting good fins, and going slow will all improve your breath hold. Avoid pushing it when you’re out there diving, though. No fish is worth risking a shallow water blackout.
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Remember, you are entering an alien world when you venture beneath the water’s surface, and things can go wrong quickly. Nothing replaces proper training when it comes to surviving a dangerous situation in the water. Regulations for spearfishing vary widely, so be sure to check your local laws before you begin. Consult a dive shop or dive club and then get started. You’ll never forget that first fish.