Introduction: How to Go Spearfishing and Be Safe and Responsible
Spearfishing involves stalking and shooting fish underwater with a speargun, often whilst free diving and without the use of air tanks. It is what might be called an 'extreme sport' and can have hazards comparible with surfing and windsurfing, but is not generally as dangerous as paragliding or horse racing. I've created this instructable in the following sections, with the most important at the front:
- Heath and safety
- Ensuring a humane shot
- Responsible behaviour
- Legal aspects
- Equipment required
- Spearfishing technique
- Video tutorial
- Random photos
If you cant get past the health and safety section, then DONT GO SPEARFISHING! After that, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding enterprise if you have the patience for it. The video does show clips of fish being killed so please don't watch it if this might upset you.
|Satisfaction:||..........||You need a lot of patience.|
|Hazards:||..........||Risk of drowning. Risk to other water users.|
Step 1: Health and Safety
Whilst sharks may certainly be a health risk in some areas, they are often not the most serious risks and I have listed the dangers in order of concern:
YOU are a potential danger to other people in the water so don't ever go spearfishing where other people are, or are likely to be, in the water.
Dont go speafishing if you have a medical condition such as a heart/lung problem, ear infection or if you dont have a reasonable level of fitness
Dont get obsessed with trying to retrieve a fish you have shot - surprisingly, many people have died this way.
In any situation, the deeper you dive, the more dangerous it will be. Common problems are shallow water blackout when re-surfacing, which is when you need your partner.
Dont over-strecth your capabilities by spearfishing when it is too rough, going too deep, staying under for too long or swimming too far. Always dive with a partner if diving below 6m.
Never load or use a speargun out of the water.
Wear appropriate clothing and equipment such as proper free diving wetsuit, large fins for power, gloves, etc. Always carry a diving knife.
Use the safety catch until just before you're going to take the shot.If you're with a partner, the person in front has the only loaded speargun. Be aware of where you are pointing the speargun and of the fact that it may miss-fire at any time, even with the safety catch on.
If you and your parner split up, always be aware of where your partner is and never stray out of pre-determined boundaries. Meet up again after a pre-determined time.
Water quality - is the sea clean in the area? Look for sewerage outlets, nuclear power stations etc. Dirty water will make you very ill and there are many places like this
Always tell someone where you are going and when to start to get worried if they have not heard from you.
Dont shoot anything too big or dangerous like conger eels, sting rays, sharks, seals etc.
Be aware of anglers - they can get very upset both when you are in and out of the water. More dangerous than sharks in my experience - not joking. Keep well away from anglers at all times!
Dont go spearfishing in shark infested water and if you really must do so, dont carry dead fish on your person. Sharks will be attracted to the blood and the probability of being attacked will rise in the order of approximately x100.
Look out for other predators in the water. The sea in your area may not be infested with sharks but there are normally sharks in most areas where there are fish. More common are seals, which would easily kill you if they chose to. Dont go close to baby seals unless you really know what you're doing. Other predators that may attack you are killer whales, conger eels, moray eels, sting rays etc. Ps. Killer whales prey on seals.
Jellyfish - some of them, particularly the purple ones, are dangerous.
Weaver fish - poisinous spines and very common in some areas, particulary N.Europe. Easy to step on by mistake.
Diving in wrecks - easy to get trapped inside boat hulls and old nets. Always dive wrecks with a partner. Watch out for conger eels, which are likely to scare you into a panic.
Make sure that your speargun is in good serviceable condition, especially the trigger mechanism. Clean it down with fresh water after every session.
Protect the tip of your spears from piercing inflatible boats. If you're in any kind of boat take flares, radio, mobile phone, spare engine, oars, life jackets etc.
Some fish have spines which can be quite nasty.
Much of the risks involved with spearfishing can be minimised by employing common sense - think carefully about what you are doing, where you are going, what your plan is and what your escape plan would be in case of emergency.
Step 2: Ensuring a Humane Shot
This is all about minimising the suffering of the fish:
- Never take 'pot shots' at fish - always ensure there is a very high chance of actually killing the fish.
- Don't try and shoot a fish if it is too far away unless it is a bigger fish and you have a more powerful speargun.
- A fish pointing away from you will be almost impossible to shoot, even at close range - wait until it shows it's flank or just abandon the shot.
- A fish facing towards you can be shot only at very close range. Some fish are attracted by the tip of the spear, believing it to be a small fish.
- Check what's behind the fish before you shoot. Quite often there are other fish behind it that might become wounded by the shot. In this case, either abandon the shot or wait until the other fish have moved away.
Step 3: Responsible Behaviour
Many points have already been mentioned such as ensuring a humane shot, but there are a few other things as well. One of these would be to make sure that your emergency back up plan does not heavily rely on the emergency services. If you have to be rescued by helicopter and you did not take oars for your boat you're going to feel pretty stupid and will have cost the tax payer about £10,000 a shot. Personally, It would probably put me off doing water sports ever again. Another thing to be aware of is over-fishing. If you find yourself in a shoal of large fish, is it really necessary to shoot each and every last fish? Public places - is it really necessary to walk across that crowded beach in your full camo gear with speargun and knife like you're some kind of special forces underwater operations agent?
One more point - Try not to disclose any good fishing spots on the internet or else the next time you go there you will find all the fish have gone due to overfishing.
Step 4: Legal Aspects
Check out the laws relevant to spearfishing and fishing in general in your chosen area. Some, but not all, of the laws you may encounter are as below:
- In many countires you have to be a certain age to buy or own a speargun.
- Most fish have a minimum size requirement and smaller fish are protected by law.
- Many areas have absolute bans on spearfishing, so do your research.
- Some fish have closed seasons, limited catches per family etc. in some countires.
- Some countires specify you need permission from an authority.
- Some countires specify that you must have a doctor's certificate stating that you are fit to go diving.
- You may not be allowed to use air tanks for spearfishing, but please dont do this anyway as it is widely considered to be unsporting!
- Knives - many countries do not allow knives to be carried in public, including in your car, so check this out. Sometimes the law allows a knife to be carried if their is 'reasonable excuse'. This may also apply to spearguns.
Step 5: Equipment Required
Here's a list of the equipment that you will need, in order of importance:
- Speargun - There's two types available, pneumatic and band powered. Personally, I prefer the latter as the mechanics are much simpler and less prone to corrosion from the salt water. Some of the bigger spearguns allow extra bands to be installed and a reel for spearing bigger fish. Start off with a cheap small speargun and get used to loading it before getting a more powerful gun.
- Mask - If you're going to go deep, you'll need a low volume mask.
- Snorkel - Very useful for obvious reasons.
- Knife - Should be serrated on one side for cutting nets and stored on a leash in a lockable sheath. Never shoot a fish unless you have a knife to finish the kill.
- Wetsuit - Once you get more adventurous, you should get a specialised free diving suit in two pieces. The fabric will stick to your skin so soapy water is required for dressing/undressing. Otherwise, a surfing wetsuit is ok, but will have quite a bit of bouyancy, so more weights will be needed for diving.
- Fins - Specialised free diving fins are best - they're much longer and more powerful than everyday diving fins.
- Weight belt and weights - Use weights to help get down to depths of about 10 metres. Below that, you may not need weights at all due to compression of your lungs due to the extreme depth. Shallow water diving requires more weights than deep.
- Buoy - Useful for being spotted from a boat, particularly someone on your own boat. Others boats may simply ignore it or think it's a lobster pot so don't rely on it for safety.
- Gloves - Many fish have sharp spines and gloves will protect against painfull and blooding encounters. Also useful around jellyfish and for clinging to sharp rocks underwater.
- Fish carrier - If you get a fish this'll be useful! Make sure that the fish is secure and can't be accidentally lost.
- Boots - Protects your feet against rubbing inside the fin socket.
- Torch - good for looking in caves and wrecks.
- Diving watch - Useful for deep diving where you need to know the depth and time of the dive to judge your resurfacing decision.
- Boat - Great for getting to more remote locations or just going straight from one good spot to another without having to swim.
- Spare speargun - Very good idea to have this in your boat in case the other one gets broken for some reason.
Step 6: Spearfishing Technique
To start with, you'd want to use a small speargun, as mentioned before, and just go snorkelling in shallow water close to the shore. Don't get fixated on trying to shoot a fish, be relaxed and just enjoy the amazing underwater scenery. You might want to try a few short dives. To do this quietly and gracefully, you need to bob your head out of the water, take a deep breath, arch your back inwards, push your head down into the water and lift your fins up into the air to get a nice clean vertical dive. It takes a lot of practise! Once you hit about 3 meters you must equalise your ear pressure by squeezing your nostrils with one hand and gently blowing your nose. An experienced free diver will do this once every 5 metres or so, and some people can do it without holding their nostrils closed. If you look at the photo above, this shows an experienced free diver descending with his speargun outstretched in front of him, equalising his ears with one hand and gently propelling himself downwards with his giant fins. Once you reach a certain depth, often between 6 and 10 metres, a very strange and wonderful thing happens to your mind and body - it's called the Mammalian Diving Reflex (MDR) . Basically, you turn into a seal! At depths below 10m you will enter a meditative state, your heart beat will slow right down and you will feel incredibly relaxed. Not everybody can do this first time, and for some people their body may start to shake, in which case you should slowly turn around and steadily rise back to the surface.
At some stage you're going to see some interesting wildlife. Personally, I've encountered, numerous species of fish, eels, cuttle fish, octopus and sharks including wrasse, bass, plaice, mullet, sting rays, thornbacked rays, dog fish, Pollock, seals etc. Obviously, you'd only want to shoot decent sized edible fish, but it's really great to spend time observing all the other wildlife. If you can get a fish to take home, then this should be seen as a bonus rather than an objective.
So you see your first decent sized fish, you contain your excitement, you get a nice clean shot and now the fish needs to be retrieved and processed. The spear itself should be attached to the speargun with a heavy gauge nylon line and so you can drop your speargun and concentrate on grabbing the fish and the spear - don't drop the spear or you may loose it! If the fish is still alive, it may try to swim away and may get off the spear so you want to grab it as quick as possible and minimise it's suffering. Grab the fish, hold it against your body and carefully push your knife into the top of it's head into an imaginary triangle located behind it's eyes. Take care not to stab yourself or get stabbed by sharp fish spines. Now that the fish is dead, weave your fish carrier prong through it's mouth or head so that it is secure and wont come off as you swim forwards. Watch out for seals, sharks etc who will be attracted to your bleeding fish. If you don't have a knife, you're going to find it really hard to kill the fish and the fish will suffer more - so get a knife!
The other two photos above show some more advanced spearfishing techniques. One of the divers has a torch and is on the sea bed looking for a fish in a dark hole. The other diver is in a wreck in a camoflaged wetsuit holding onto a metal beam for stabilisation against the current. Another common technique that people use is to dive down to a likely spot and hide in the seaweed until a fish comes swimming along - it's a lot more effective than you might think!
Step 7: Spearfishing Video Tutorial (15 Minutes)
In this video we have everything for the beginner and advanced alike. Also, if you fast forward to 13:07, you can see some unique footage of baby seals underwater scratching their noses and generally being incredibly cute!
I'd really like a Go-pro camera to document my attempt to break into Glastonbury festival next year. Now that really would be a good instructable!