I’m not gonna lie, when I think of spearfishing, I think of Tom Hanks in Castaway. I remember how he was effortlessly tossing a spear, cutting clean through the water and hitting his target right in the middle. In the fight for his life, Hanks – or I guess I should say Chuck – became the master of this fishing technique.
While Chuck Noland was pretty awesome and smart, he wasn’t entirely original. Spearfishing is one of the earliest fishing methods known to man, and one that can be traced all the way back to the Paleolithic times. In other words, people have been sharpening sticks and jabbing them into their food for eons.
Of course, times have changed, and we don’t need to rely on sharpened sticks or barbed poles to fish anymore. We’re also probably not going to be stranded on a deserted island with Wilson, a volleyball, as our only friend.
However, spearfishing is still quite a popular sport. You can spearfish from a boat, while shore diving, or even go blue water hunting. It all depends on your skills and patience level. (On some of these trips, you might be floating around for a long time before you see a fish.)
Whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned Chuck Noland type, you need to go over the basic safety rules and regulations. You also need to make sure that you’re buying the right equipment.
Sit tight, because I’ve got you covered!
The first thing you have to worry about is your gear. Here’s a basic list to keep in mind:
- Weight belt
- Fins and socks
- Gloves and spearguns
Let’s start with masks. First and foremost, you need a mask that fits you well and that doesn’t fog up as you breathe. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see well, which can be dangerous. The best way to find a well-fitting mask is to visit a local fishing/diving store. Let the sales assistant help you out, and explain what type of spearfishing you are planning on doing.
In general, if you’re going on a deep dive, you need a low-volume mask. The volume refers to the amount of air space inside the mask. A low volume mask is going to fit closer to your face, and you’ll be able to quickly clear it of water, if necessary. Note that low volume masks don’t offer the greatest vision.
If you’re diving in shallow water, try a high-volume mask. You’ll have a greater field of vision and a sense of openness. However, it takes more effort to clear these masks of water.
Next, you’re going to need a snorkel that attaches to your mask. In general, a traditional, J-shaped snorkel should do the trick. However, make sure that the mouthpiece is comfortable and not too hard. Otherwise, because it will irritate your teeth, gums and tongue!
Also, you may consider getting a snorkel with anti-fog lenses and a purge valve. The purge valve is a one-way valve that makes it harder for water to enter. It also makes it easier to drain water that gets in. Generally, for me, it all depends on the brand! Otherwise, I’ve found that some of these features break or are just not worth the money.
The first step to buying a wetsuit: make sure it looks good.
Just kidding. You might never find one that looks particularly flattering. Deal with it.
You need to get a wetsuit that is going to keep you warm. The longer you stay warm, the longer your dive will be and the more fun you’ll have.
For tropical waters, the wetsuit is more of a protective outer layer than an insulator. As such, you can try a wetsuit that is between 1 and 1.5 millimeters of thickness. You may also go for a spandex or stretch fabric suit, which will provide protection but allow for mobility.
For colder waters, try a suit that is between 3 and 5 millimeters thick. Otherwise, you’ll need a suit that’s 7 millimeters thick for very cold waters. Oh, and you should definitely get a suit with a hoodie, because you’ll lose most of your body heat through your head.
You may be wondering why the heck a weight belt is part of this spearfishing equipment checklist. If you are, you need to learn more about wet suits.
In general, wetsuits are extremely buoyant due to the materials that they’re made out of. If you want to actually dive, you need something to stop you from floating back to the top.
That being said, you need to take every precaution not to use a belt that is too heavy. In any case, you should definitely consult with someone at a dive shop before you buy a weight belt and do a buoyancy check. It’s also wise to get a belt with a quick-release buckle.
Fins and Socks
Remember being a kid, trying to wear fins in your pool for the first time and feeling like the most awkward merman ever? The truth is, fins are an extremely useful spearfishing tool. However, you need to make sure that your fins are comfy and not too hard. You don’t want blisters or foot cramps, and you definitely don’t want to lose your fin and watch it sink to the bottom of the ocean.
If you get closed heel fins, make sure to get fitted while wearing neoprene socks. These are thick, insulating socks that kind of look like an extension of your wetsuit. Your thickness options are typically between 2 and 3 millimeters.
Gloves and Spearguns
Gloves might not seem all that necessary. However, you’ll be wishing you had gotten some gloves after touching the spine of a fish or some coral. Personally, I like a glove with a leather palm. I don’t feel encumbered by the glove, and I can use my speargun with more precision.
Speaking of spearguns, you’re probably wondering why I’m only just getting to them. Answer: I didn’t want you to skip all the important stuff!
There are two main types of spearguns: band or sling-powered spearguns and pneumatic spearguns. Band or sling-powered guns are very popular because they are easy to use and facilitate your aim at a fish. If you use these guns on bigger fish, however, the shafts might bend.
Pneumatic spearguns are powered by air rather than by bands or slings. Consequently, you’re going to need a loader for these guns. On the other hand, some of my spearfishing buddies prefer these types of spearguns because they’re easier to maneuver. In any case, it is important to note that these guns make noise when fired, which may scare off your target.
Types of Spearfishing
If you’re a newbie and all of this equipment and information feels kind of overwhelming right now, I get it. We all went through it. But perhaps I can spark your interest again by talking about the actual sport instead of all that technical stuff.
There are three main types of spearfishing: shore diving, spearfishing from a boat and blue water hunting. Overall, shore diving is very popular, because you can walk right into the water. (Just don’t bring a harpoon to a crowded beach. You’ll get arrested.)
You can usually shore dive between 5 and 25 meters deep, but it depends on the regulations in the area where you are. In addition, it may seem easy enough to walk into the water, but be careful about big waves. Imagine trying to wade into a huge wave and not lose your fins, spear, goggles and everything else.
Spearfishing from a boat adds an extra sense of adventure, though you do not necessarily have to go out to deep waters. You may simply need the boat to access a location that you wouldn’t be able to get to by land.
Blue water diving also involves a boat, but it takes place in much deeper water. This is where spearfishing becomes an expertise. You’ll be up against huge game fish like marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi, the water will be cold, and you might have to spend hours without seeing a single fish. On top of that, your low-volume goggles will make it harder for you to see.
To learn more about the basics of how to fish, download our comprehensive beginner’s guide!
Best Places to Go Spearfishing
So, you’re ready to start your adventure. Where do you begin?
If you’re looking for a tropical vacation in the U.S., I’d recommend the Florida Keys, Hawaii and California (particularly San Diego!). The Keys are a great place to start if you’re a beginner, though there are plenty of deeper waters to explore if you’re more experienced.
Hawaii is an excellent place to discover the history and tradition of spearfishing, and a great opportunity to catch some mahi-mahi, billfish and barracuda. However, be mindful that the western islands don’t allow scuba spearfishing.
San Diego, California is home to the Pacific halibut, one of the biggest flat fish known to man, as well as yellowtail, barracuda and Bonita. If you’re just starting out, you can find plenty of spearfishing lessons here.
Some of the top-rated spearfishing destinations outside of the country include the country of Cape Verde and Krabi Province in Thailand. Cape Verde is known for its gorgeous beaches, sparkling clear waters and amazing game fish. You’ll be able to try your hand at yellowfin, dorados, snappers and wahoo.
If you’re thinking of spearfishing in Thailand, you’d better bring your A game. The Krabi Province is home to some fish you won’t see anywhere else. For example, you may see mangrove jacks, grouper, milkfish, golden snappers and more. The icing on the cake? You’re in a beautiful setting that feels like paradise.