Spear Fishing 101

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Updated: July 22, 2019

There’s an incredible way to catch a feed, and even if you don’t get dinner Bart MacKenzie found you can still have an amazing experience.

I’ve line fished for years and will never give it up, but probably my biggest passion these days is spearfishing. The creatures I stumble across underwater blow my mind. I’m at a stage now where securing a feed of fish is nearly guaranteed. Also, spearfishing keeps me fit purely because I want to get better at spearing.

In this article I’ll take you through the basics of spearfishing, how to get into it and some tips to help you develop as a ‘spearo’.

Getting Started

To get started in spearfishing, like most sports, you’ll need to get some equipment together. Obviously, you’ll need a speargun, mask, snorkel and flippers, but wetsuits are really important for spearfishing, too. Unlike other water sports where you might be really active, spearfishing means a lot of time just floating on the surface not using too much energy. The water can quickly suck the heat out of you and that effects your ability to hold your breath. Good spearfishing wetsuits are a worthy investment if you’re serious about taking it up. These wetsuits are very buoyant and you’ll need a weight belt and weights if you’re to have any chance of diving beneath the surface. A float and a float line, which connects your speargun to the float, is a necessity if you intend landing big fish. It gives the opportunity to let go of the gun and let the fish take line so it doesn’t rip itself off the spear.

You can then play the fish on the line like you would while angling.

Phone A Friend

Spearfishing is an inherently dangerous pursuit and spear fishing alone isn’t advisable. Having a few good mates to dive with is really helpful.

Due to shallow-water blackouts and the rare shark attack, freedive spearfishing claims lives every year. It’s best if you have a mate that you can go spearing with to look out for each other, and there are numerous groups on social media that are gold for finding dive buddies. Even if you don’t have a boat you can post on these groups that you intend on going for a shore dive and you’ll find some blokes/ladies keen to head out with you.

It pays to know a little bit about your local area prior to posting. For instance, check the local weather. If the swell is over a metre, shore diving is probably not a good idea. Also, an hour or so either side of high tide is generally the best time to shore dive as it drives the clearer water in from the depths. On the outgoing tidewaters from nearby estuaries often make the water dirty.

If you propose a dive at a reasonable swell and tide you’re more likely to get a buddy to dive with and less likely to cop flak from the online peanut gallery.

If you prefer a less virtual way of finding dive buddies, spearfishing clubs and underwater hockey clubs are worth checking out.

How To Spear Fish

One of the most important traits of a spearfisher is breath hold.

Being able to stay relaxed and hold your breath underwater is not something that comes naturally to most. However, with a little practice or training, you can improve, and at the start, improvements can be drastic. Freedive courses or underwater hockey training are gold and will boost your confidence and ability no end.

As I’ve said, swimming hard at fish seen from the surface is not the best way to spearfish. Despite what people say, most fish are not stupid. If they see a huge predator charging towards them, guess what they are going to do? Swim away. Fast!

Most people start off spearfishing in shallow water, and the key to spearing fish in shallow water is to find a spot that looks fishy. A fishy spot will usually have broken rocks with plenty of crevices for fish to hide. It’s also a good sign if you see little fish or non-target fish around. A favorite saying of mine is, “Where there are fish, there are fish”. It seems obvious, but fish school together and even if only little fish are obvious at first, bigger fish will not be far away.

Once you’ve found a fishy spot, dive down and lay on the bottom. Preferably, position yourself in a crack or behind a rock. Also, if you make sure the sun is positioned behind you fish will find it more difficult to see you. They’ll often actually come in closer to check out what all the fuss is about. The longer you can hold on the bottom the more likely it is a decent fish will swim in and present a shot. In shallow water I’ve had some of the most difficult fish to spear, such as spangled emperor or snapper, come into range very quickly when I was positioned well with the sun behind me.

Another Good Tip Is To Watch Youtube.

So much good info comes from Youtube. Search spearfishing in your local area, search spearfishing the species of fish you want to hunt, and search freediving techniques. Search spearfishing in Norway for halibut, spearing in Africa for mussel crackers and Dubai for King Mackerel. You’ll learn so much from just watching the way spearos from around the world hunt their fish.

Please also check out Bart MacKenzie on YouTube and Instagram for that matter, ha ha!

Sharks

Something I get asked about a lot, and something in the forefront of new spearo’s minds, is sharks.

In any healthy ocean ecosystem, you’re going to eventually come across sharks. They are an important keystone species that take out sick and injured fish to ensure the oceans remain healthy. If you’re in an area with lots of fish, chances are sharks will not be too far away. I often think of sharks like puppy dogs. Usually they are pretty friendly, however, there are certain times when they get aggressive. Just like dogs, sharks seem to become so much more cocky when they get in a group. They’ll always try to sneak up on you from behind while you are watching the other sharks, too.

If you get in a situation where there are a few sharks around I would recommend getting out and going to a different spot. Most of the time sharks are only interested in you if you’ve speared a fish. In some of the more popular dive spots sharks are conditioned to the sound of a spear gun shooting and come in straight away when you pull the trigger. In these spots you often only get to spear one or two fish before the locals let you know it’s time to move on.

Clear water makes sharks keep their distance. Dirty water and sharks is not a good combination. I prefer to spear sharky spots when the water is super clear, and with a mate watching my back.

In my opinion sharks add to the whole experience. Stay calm and dominant without being overly aggressive towards the sharks and it’s often the most exciting and rewarding part of a spearfishing trip.

Advancing Your Spearing

Once you become comfortable in the shallows, offshore spearfishing is where it’s at!

I spend most of my free time searching the offshore reefs for tasty treats. Bluewater hunting for large pelagic fish can be a thrilling adventure, but shore diving for mulloway in two metres of water can be just as exciting.

The more you dive the more you’ll be able to specialise and target certain species of fish. As I’ve previously mentioned, it can be a dangerous sport if you push yourself too far. Diving and training as much as you can with mates, and slowly increasing the depths you dive and time holding your breath, is key to staying safe.

Remember to always check the State’s rules and regulations, as they can vary. Certain areas can be closed to spearfishing, even if line fishing is allowed.

Spearfishing is a very rewarding way to spend your time. It presents an ongoing challenge that drives you to train, adapt and strategies. And unlike golf, at the end of the day you can bring home delicious fresh seafood like fish, lobster and squid to share with your family and friends.