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Spearfishing Basics


Important spearfishing safety tips


Two-thirds of the earth is covered in water. To experience freediving and spearfishing is a challenge like no other.
To become one with the ocean and enjoy what it offers is a fantastic experience.
But with any extreme sport, there are always guidelines that should be followed.

Basic safety rules
Dive Technique
Gear Safety
Spearfishing Safety
When not to dive

Get a little taste of spearfishing

Spearfishing from the shore

Shore diving is perhaps the most common form of spearfishing. It simply involves entering and exiting the sea from beaches or headlands and hunting around oceans architecture, usually rocks, Kelp and sand. Usually shore divers hunt between 5 and 25 meters deep, though it depends on location. In subtropical areas, sharks are less common, but other challenges face the shore diver, such as entering and exiting the water in the presence of big waves. Headlands are favoured for entry because of their proximity to deeper water, but timing entries and exits is important so the diver does not get pushed onto rocks by waves. Beach entry can be safer, but more difficult due the need to consistently dive through the waves until the surf line is crossed. Shore dives can produce a mixed bag of fish, mainly rock and kelp fish, but ocean game fish are caught from shore dives to Shore diving can be done with trigger-less spears such as pole spears but more commonly triggered devices such as spearguns. Speargun setups to catch and store fish include speed rigs and fish stringers on the divers floats and lines.

The use of catch bags worn close to the body is discouraged because the bag can inhibit movement, especially when descending or ascending on deeper dives. Also in waters known to contain sharks, it is dangerous and can greatly increase the risk of a shark attack. The better option is to tow a float behind you and thread your catch on to it as you continue your dive. Tying the float line to the speargun can be of great assistance in the event of a large catch, or if the speargun should be dropped or knocked out of reach.

Spearfishing from the shore
Spearfishing from a boat

Spearfishing from a boat

Boats, ships or even kayaks can be used to access off shore reefs and islands or ocean structure such as pinnacles or man-made structures such as Fads (Fish Aggregating Devices). Sometimes a boat is necessary to access a location that is close to shore, but inaccessible by land.

Methods and gear used for diving from a boat diving are similar to shore diving or blue water hunting depending on the prey sought. Care must be taken with spearguns in the cramped confines of a small boat, and it is recommended that spear guns are never loaded on the boat.

Boat diving is practised worldwide. Hot spots include the northern islands of New Zealand (yellow tail kingfish), Gulf of Florida oil rigs (cobia, grouper) and the Great Barrier Reef (Wahoo, dog-tooth tuna). FADS are targeted worldwide, often specifically for mahi-mahi (dolphin fish). The deepwater fishing grounds off the Three Kings Islands in New Zealand are great for spearing marlin and people travel worldwide to try and spear this trophy fish.

Bluewater spearfishing

Bluewater spearfishing is the area of most interest to elite spear fishers, but has increased in popularity generally in recent years. It involves accessing usually very deep and clear water and trolling, chumming for large pelagic and game fish species such as marlin, tuna, mahi-mahi, Wahoo or giant Trevally. Bluewater spearfishing is often conducted in drifts; the boat driver will drop one or more divers and allow them to drift in the current for up to several kilometres before collecting them. Blue water spearos can go for hours without seeing any fish, and without any ocean structure or a visible bottom the divers can experience sensory deprivation. It can be difficult to determine the true size of a solitary fish when sighted due to the lack of ocean structure for comparison. One technique to overcome this is to note the size of the fish's eye in relation to its body - large examples of their species will have a relatively smaller eye.

Notably, blue water spearos make use of breakaway rigs and large multi-band wooden guns to catch and subdue their prey. If the prey is large and still has fight left after being subdued, a second gun can be used to provide a kill shot at a safe distance from the fish. This is acceptable to IBSRC and IUSA regulations as long as the spearo loads it himself in the water.

Bluewater spearfishing is conducted worldwide, but notable hot spots include South Africa (yellow fin tuna) and the South Pacific (dog-tooth snapper). Bluewater pioneers like Jack Prodanavich and Hal Lewis of San Diego were some of the first to go after large species of fast moving fish like Tuna.

Bluewater spearfishing

History of spearfishing

Spearfishing is a form of fishing that has been popular throughout the world for centuries. Early civilizations are familiar with the custom of spearing fish out of rivers and streams using sharpened sticks as a means of catching food. Spearfishing today employs more modern and effective elastic- or pneumatic-powered spearguns and slings to strike the hunted fish.

Spearfishing may be done using free-diving, snorkeling, or scuba diving techniques. However, spearfishing while using SCUBA or other artificial breathing apparatus is frowned upon in some locations and is illegal in many others. Because of the belief of lack of sport in some modern spearfishing techniques, the use of mechanically-powered spearguns is outlawed in some jurisdictions.

Spearfishing in the past has been detrimental to the environment when species unafraid or unused to divers were targeted excessively. However, it is also highly selective and has an extremely low amount of by-catch; therefore with education and proper regulations spearfishing can be the most ecologically sustainable form of fishing.

The very best free-diving spear fishermen can hold their breath for durations of 2-4 minutes and dive to depths of 40 or even 60 meters. However, dives are approximately 1 minute and 15 or 20 meters are more common for the average experienced spearfisher.

During the 1960s, attempts were made to have spearfishing recognized as an Olympic sport. This didn't happen. Instead, two organizations, the International Underwater Spearfishing Association (IUSA) and the International Bluewater Spearfishing Records Committee (IBSRC) maintain lists of world records by species and offer rules to ensure that any world record setting fish is caught under fair conditions.

Modern-type sport spearfishing started on the French Riviera in the 1930s. At first, divers used no more aid than ordinary watertight swimming goggles, but it led to the development of the modern dive mask, swim fins, and snorkel. Some Italian sport spear fishermen started using oxygen rebreathers, and from that came the Italian commando frogmen.

In 2007, the Australian Bluewater Freediving Classic became the first spearfishing tournament in the world to be accredited and was awarded 4 out of 5 stars based on environmental, social, safety and economic indicators.

Purposes of spearfishing

People spearfish for sport, for commerce, or as subsistence. In tropical seas, some natives spearfish in snorkeling kits for a living, often using home-made kits. Spearfishing has been around for as long as humans have looked in the water and seen fish. Standing on the shore, wading in a stream, trolling in a boat, or diving underwater, we've been trying to catch fish for at least a million years!

Probably the first tool used for fishing was a simple wooden spear, or as they have become to be known, pole spears. The use of the pole spear is well documented as a fishing implement. From the earliest recorded history, there are paintings of people spearfishing. In cultures that have close ties to traditional roots, spearfishing is still practiced as a primary means of subsistence. Although difficult to prove, probably every culture that has lived near the water has engaged in spearfishing. From the arctic to the tropics, the oldest and purest form of fishing is spearfishing.


Spearfishing in New Zealand

In the days before conservation, New Zealanders were known for spearing giant stingrays, sharks, and the odd turtle. Now there is a large community of spearfishers that are out in the community promoting “fish for the future”. New Zealand's first spearfishing club was formed in Whangarei on the 22nd of May 1951. They had a dozen members. In February 1952 the first National Spearfishing Champs were held at the Bay Of Islands. Enthusiasm for spearfishing grew over the years until finally the first juniors competition was held in 1968 and the women’s spearfishing competition was introduced in February 1969. From then on, national and international spearfishing comps have been held yearly.