Spearfishing for Beginners – The Complete Guide
Mar 19, 2019 | 8
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Spearfishing has been a part of human life for ages. Once practiced for survival, this ancient fishing technique has blossomed into a beloved sport practiced by people around the world. Technological advancements aside, spearfishing hasn’t actually changed much over the centuries. Still, 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.

spearfisher catching a fish

If you’re new to spearfishing, you’ll want to get familiar with a few basics. These are: gear, technique, and safety. We’ll explain each one in detail. By the time you’ve read this, you’ll be ready to dive right in.

Spearfishing Gear

Spearfishing doesn’t require a ton of equipment, but a few items are essential. Unless you’re scuba diving for big game, you won’t even need to spend a lot to cover all the basics.

Mask and Snorkel

The most important things about choosing a good mask are fit and visibility. Try different masks to find one that sticks firmly to your face, while giving you good visibility at all angles. Go for a low profile mask, which allows less air inside. This will make it easier to deal with the pressure difference underwater. Lastly, keep in mind that clear lenses are good for visibility in clear waters, while colored lenses can increase contrast in murky waters.

As for the snorkel, there’s no need to go fancy here – the simplest “J” shaped snorkel will do. You’ll do well to avoid any purge valves, because all they do is make bubbles and alert the fish to your presence.

Fins

Fins can be a powerful tool for getting around and conserving energy under water. If you need to choose, go for the bigger ones – your swollen feet will thank you. Quality plastic fins get the job done, however, newer fiberglass and carbon materials require much less energy to operate. The downside is that they come with a steeper price. For beginners, plastic fins should be just fine.

No matter which material you go for, you’ll need something between the fin and your bare feet. Spearfishing booties are sock-like protectors from cold and friction.

Spearfishing Wetsuit

There’s a wide variety of wetsuits to choose from. The one thing you should keep an eye out for is the thickness of the wetsuit. Depending on the water temperature you’re spearfishing in, you’ll want a thicker or thinner suit. Generally, for warm, short dives, a thickness of 1.5 mm is more than enough. Be sure to pick a wetsuit that can blend into the surroundings, or the fish will notice you.

You’ll also need a pair of sturdy, flexible gloves to give you a good grip on your equipment, as well as to keep you warm.

Weight Belt

Wetsuits are buoyant, so you’ll need something to keep you submerged. There’s nothing fancy about a weight belt, just make sure you have one.

Spearfishing Knife

There will be times when you don’t kill the fish on your first try. To dispatch the fish quickly and spare it from suffering, you’ll need a good, water-resistant knife. The knife can also be a lifesaver in situations when you get your feet tangled in weeds, ropes, or fishing lines.

Hawaiian Sling vs. Pole Spear vs. Speargun

Your weapon of choice is probably the most important part of your spearfishing gear. Depending on the fish you’re after, the waters you’re in and your budget, you’ll have three options. A pole spear, a Hawaiian sling, and a speargun.

a diver with a pole spear

How to Use a Hawaiian Sling

Pole spears are very similar to Hawaiian slings, and the two are often confused with one another. Spearfishers use both for close- quarter hunting, but there are a few differences. The Hawaiian sling is a fairly simple contraption, and it works much like a bow and arrow. It includes a spear shaft, and a shaft holder. The shaft holder is used to stabilize and aim the spear, and it comes with a rubber sling attached to it.

To use a Hawaiian sling, simply aim your spear with your weaker hand, and pull the sling with your stronger one. Don’t pull prematurely as this can tire you out sooner. When you have the fish locked in, release the sling.

How to Use a Pole Spear

A pole spear is a spearfishing weapon made out of fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, graphite, or wood. They are usually 4–10 feet long, with a threaded top to house the spear tip. There are two main types of spear tips: the three-pronged paralyzer and the single-pronged Tahitian shaft. The butt end of the pole spear is equipped with an elastic band. Lastly, there is a rope for retrieving the pole spear.

To fire a pole spear, grab the pole with one hand, and pull on the elastic band with the crook of your thumb. You should pull away from the butt of the spear towards the top to create tension. Don’t pull too hard because your pole will bend, especially if it’s longer than eight feet. To prevent the pole from bending, twist the shaft as you’re pulling the band around it. Get a tight grip on the spear with the same hand you have the elastic band in, and free up your other hand, so that it can hold the retrieval rope. Aim with your arms out and release to fire the pole spear. Pull the rope to retrieve.

Speargun

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.

a spearfisherman holding a pneumatic speargun

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.

Float

The float is one of the most important pieces of spearfishing equipment. This brightly colored contraption is often inflatable and equipped with a flag. Attached to the butt of your spear with a float line, the float serves a few purposes:

  • The float alerts nearby boats of your presence;
  • You can resurface for air once you’ve speared a fish, without needing to hold on to your spear;
  • The float allows you to resurface for air if your spear gets stuck on underwater structure.

Spearfishing Technique

Depending on where you are relative to the water, there are three ways you can spearfish. These are shallow water spearfishing, freedive spearfishing, and scuba dive spearfishing. When people think of spearfishing in general, they usually think of the freedive variant, and with good reason. It’s by far the hardest, and according to many spearos, the truest way to spearfish.

a spearfisher swiming near the bottom with a speargun in hand

Shallow Water Spearfishing

This involves spearfishing from above the water line, or just under it. This is the simplest way to spearfish, both in terms of technique and the gear required. You can do it from a kayak, a boat, or even from the shore.

Freedive Spearfishing

As any spearo will tell you, you can’t be a good spearfisher before you’ve become a good diver. Mastering your breathing technique and learning how to behave underwater are essential for your safety, as well as your odds of landing that tasty dinner. Here are a few diving cues to follow:

  • Start small. Get a few shallow water dives in first, just to get comfortable in the water.
  • Relax and conserve energy. The slightest waste of energy will mean less time underwater, and less chance of catching the fish.
  • Equalize. This technique is used to make up for the difference in pressure. Just like in an airplane. Cover your nose, close your mouth, and try to blow the air out until you hear a pop. Don’t blow too hard, or you’ll hurt your eardrums!
  • Be stealthy. You’re not going to out-swim any fish, so you’ll need to rely on the power of surprise. Make your movements as slight and natural as possible.

Scuba Dive Spearfishing

Simply put, spearfishing with scuba gear will allow you to reach greater depths, where you can find bigger fish. Your dives will, of course, be longer and you’ll be able to truly study the behavior of the fish you’re targeting.

Spearfishing Safety Precautions

For all the fun it gives, spearfishing can be pretty dangerous. There are a number of ways you can get hurt, or worse. Fellow spearos in the water, underwater structure, Sharks, and just the fact that you can’t breathe all make spearfishing too scary for a lot of people. However, if you make sure to take a few safety precautions, you can minimize these dangers and make the most out of your spearfishing experience.

  • Always spearfish with a buddy. If you run out of air, get tangled or even attacked, you’ll need someone to help you out.
  • Never point your spear gun in the direction of another person.
  • Always leave yourself a time cushion. You don’t want to surface at the very last moment. There are countless things that can delay your ascent, so leave some room.
  • Avoid areas with high traffic. Boats may not notice you even if you have a float.

a diving spearfisher

From Miami to Sydney, more and more people are getting into spearfishing every day. While it may be physically demanding, spearfishing is incredibly fun and addicting. Not only do you experience breathtaking marine life first-hand, you also get an incredible sense of accomplishment, bringing that tasty fish in for dinner.

If you’re just getting into the sport, you’ll have to start slow and easy. There will be times when you’re just sore and exhausted. But then, you’ll catch your first fish. And then another. Suddenly, you’ll be going on deeper dives, catching bigger fish than you ever thought possible. Before long, you’ll realize that getting into spearfishing was one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

So, what do you think, is spearfishing something you would like to try? Or have you spearfished before? What are some of the best places for spearfishing in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below.

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