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Adventure, Fish / March 1, 2016

Spearfishing 101

Written by: Eric Billips

What do you get when you combine, diving + hunting + fishing?  SPEARFISHING!  Spearfishing is one of the fastest growing trends in adventure sports right now.  But like other hardcore adventure sports, to get into it, you need proper training and knowledge of local rules and regulations.  So jump on my shoulders for a tutorial, on the art of spearfishing.

The history of spearfishing dates back thousands of years.  It was the primary form of fishing for many countries especially during paleolithic times.  The Cosquer cave in southern France has cave drawings from over 16,000 years ago depicting men spearing fish and seals.  Even the “God of the Sea”, Poseidon, is usually depicted carrying a trident.  The history of modern spearfishing is more applicable to present day hunters, free-divers and all diving in general.  Spearfishing really started gaining popularity in the 1920’s.  The coasts of France and Italy were loaded with adventure seekers who were popularizing the sport.  These hunters were constantly looking for advantages in the water.  Because of this the modern dive mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit were developed.  In the 1930’s Italian sport spearfishers started using rebreathers.  This caught the attention of the italian military and was the genesis for modern day scuba diving.

Cocking the gun

Spotting the prey

There are two types of spearfishing.  Free diving or breath-hold spearfishing and spearfishing on scuba.  There are many debates that have taken place at ocean side dive bars about which method is better, harder, more exciting etc.  The debate refers to the countries that allow both spearfishing by breath hold and on scuba.  The United States happens to be one of these countries.  The debate is typically warm hearted and harmless.  Most seasoned spearo’s here in the States are both breath hold hunters and bubble blowers and understand the reason both forms are allowed.  But occasionally the debate can be heated and misunderstood.  Certain countries do not allow spearfishing at all and some allow breath hold only, while others allow both breath hold and scuba hunting.  There are multiple reasons for this, one is geography and overfishing.  Many countries that don’t allow tank hunting have very limited shallow water areas surrounding there country.  Many areas coastlines drop off to extreme depths just a few miles off the coast.  This would allow over-fishing regardless of gear type.  But we are very fortunate here in the United States.  We have thousands of miles of shallow bottom area.  We also impose regulations regarding size and limits.  Here in the United States spearfishing is spearfishing.  Call yourself  a spearfisherman regardless of your gear, and be proud.

Whether you decide to spearfish by freediving or on scuba, you need to get the proper training.  This statement could not be more important to abide by.  If done correctly with proper training, spearfishing is a fun, rewarding and a safe sport.  If done without proper training it can be deadly.  So after reading this if the sport of spearfishing interests you, I’ll supply a few training agencies for both freediving and scuba that you can contact to get the proper training to insure safe, sustainable, and successful spearfishing.

For the sake of simplicity we are going to focus on spearfishing on scuba for this article.  I will definitely follow up with an article on freediving.  Stay tuned to this website for that.

First step is becoming a certified scuba diver.  Once that is complete (and you log some dives) you can now dive into underwater hunting.  Like any other sport spearfishing requires a certain skill level.  Before you decide to take on the added task of hunting underwater in a sometimes unforgiving ocean environment, you have to ask yourself if your dive skills are ready for it.  Divers should have at least an intermediate skill level.  You should be comfortable with your air consumption, buoyancy and navigation skills.  Also, when spearfishing compared to just recreational diving, you’ll be swimming at an increased rate.  Plus the added adrenaline rush of shooting, fighting and stringing up fish, can overexert a diver in poor physical condition.  So get certified, get some experience diving, get in good health and than take up the exciting sport of spearfishing.

“So get certified, get some experience diving, get in good health and than take up the exciting sport of spearfishing. ”

Once you’re a decent scuba diver and decide to get into spearfishing, you need to purchase some gear.  All your recreational scuba gear will work for spearing but there are some upgrades and necessities that will give you some advantages and keep you safe.  So before your spearfishing class pick up the following:

  1. Black skirted mask-This works like your standard ball cap by preventing light from entering the mask through the sides and helps with stalking prey.
  2. Long blade fins-These fins will give you the added power needed to ambush wary fish.
  3. Camo wetsuits- Not critical but they are super cool looking and do aid in confusing fish.
  4. Gloves-Absolute necessity.  There are sharp things on the guns, stringer and fish.  And you will cut your hands on one of them if you don’t have a good set of gloves.

Some miscellaneous gear worth picking up.

  1. Safety sausage- This cheap device could save your life.  Its easy to get off course when chasing fish.  So if you come up and you’re in current and can’t get back to your boat.  Inflate this and you will be seen, picked up and live to spear another day.
  2. Mesh bag- Roll it up and put in your pocket.  You never know when you’ll come across some tasty lobster and you’ll need a bag to put them in.
  3. Camera-You’ll see some of the oceans craziest critters while spearfishing.  Always have a camera to bring back your experience to the land lubbers.

Now its time to talk about spearguns.  There are two types of guns, banded and pneumatic.  The pneumatic is a dying trend and only a few old salts continue to use them.  With banded guns being the popular method, we’ll focus on them.  The banded gun uses surgical tubing to propel the spearshaft.  The tubing has metal, braided wire or mono wishbone at the end of each band.  The tubing is stretched to the base of the spearshaft and the wishbone is fitted into notches on the shaft.  Banded guns come in various lengths and material.  The surgical tubing size corresponds with gun length and hunters individual strength and reach. More times than not you’ll be hunting with a wood banded gun, around 48 inches in length.

The hunt pays off

One of the most asked questions I get when I bring up spearfishing is “what about sharks?”  Spearfishermen are rarely threatened by marine life.  There are instances but many of those could have been avoided or were a direct result of feeding or harassing the animal.  There are a few species that seem to get brought up in any spearfishing conversation.  The first and most common is the shark.  Shark attacks on spearfishermen are almost non-existent.  But sharks are apex predators and you are in there environment.  They may come in for a closer look if you have there menu items hanging on your stringer.  If you feel a little uneasy, simply get out and move to another spot.  Eeels are another critter that people wonder about.  They do look menacing and can sport a nasty bite, trust me.  But divers who have been bitten by eels were either feeding them or reaching in holes for lobster.  Eels will seldom ever leave there home and are quite shy.  Finally barracuda with their gnarly looking teeth certainly must mess with spearfishermen?  Nope.  They are very curious and may swim pretty close to get a look but seldom do anything more than that.

I could go into techniques, safety, hazards, rules and regulations, what fish to shoot etc etc.  But that really should be something you learn when you go through your course.  This article is to give you the basics about spearfishing and the best and safest way to learn and hopefully wet that adventure whistle.  Its by no means a replacement for proper training.  So I’ll leave those details to your instructor.

So lets recap.  If you want to scuba dive, hunt and fish, all at the same time, and bring home fresh fish with a sustainable method, than spearfishing is for you.  First get certified in scuba diving.  Next get some experience in diving.  Go to Hawaii or the Bahamas or the Florida Keys and dive, dive, dive.  Now its time to get into spearing.  So grab some needed gear to help you and keep you safe.  And than finally, sign up for an underwater hunter course. After you’ve completed your course, I assure you your scuba diving life will never be the same.  You’ll constantly want to be diving while hunting while fishing.  You will have the fever and the only prescription will be… more spearfishing.

To get scuba certified check out

To get “underwater hunter” certification check out or

about the author

Eric Billips

A hobby became a passion and then a dream became a reality for Captain Eric with the opening of Islamorada Dive Center. Eric traded his business suit for a wetsuit when he moved to the Florida Keys from Michigan.

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