Spearfishing is an ancient yet still effective way for people to gather fresh, nutritious food. With no by-catch, habitat damage or pollution caused by the activity, spearfishing is the most environmentally friendly form of fishing -- and tons of fun!
It’s time to get out there and get yourself fed. But before you pull the trigger on a nice bass or snapper, you’ve got to get your equipment dialed -- or, in the beginner’s case, purchased for the first time. After you catch the spearfishing bug, you’ll want to get more gear that is specialized for certain fish, conditions, spots, etc., but in the meantime, here’s a list of what you’ll need to get started with what could one day turn into your favorite activity in the water.
Fishing license/understanding of regulations
Most states require a valid sportfishing license in order to hunt underwater. Check with your local agencies, fishermen supply shops, lifeguards, dive shops and experienced “spearos” to see what the rules and regulations are in your area before doing anything.
The fines for fishing without a license or shooting a protected species are massive, and the money spent on licenses generally goes to fish preservation, hatcheries and similar efforts, so it’s cash well spent.
SpeargunIf you’re new to the sport, it’s best to start with a smaller, less powerful gun than with what a more experienced diver would use. There are myriad options to go with, but a two-band, 90-centimeter (from the tip of the muzzle to the handle) wooden gun is a great starter and will work for you just fine as you hunt bigger fish in the future.
Our advice is to start with the basics and work your way up as your freediving progresses. Hawaiian slings, or pole spears, are a great and affordable way to get introduced to the sport as well. Pole spears are also perfect for hunting in shallow-surf zones, where you’ll most likely start.
WetsuitYou get cold quickly while spearfishing, so a good wetsuit is key to your success. And while the water could be a reasonable 70 degrees on the surface, it’s much cooler as you descend in search of prey. To stay in the water longer, and protect yourself from abrasive reef, jellyfish, spiny fish and sunburn, you’re going to need a thick, well-fitting wetsuit.
Wetsuits made for surfing will work, but a wetsuit specifically made for spearfishing is ideal. Not only are they warmer than wetsuits made for surfing, but they generally have a built-in pad that makes loading your speargun against your chest much more comfortable. Body Glove, JBL, Xcel and Riffe all make good spearfishing wetsuits.
FinsSpearfishing fins are longer and narrower than ones you’d use to body surf or swim laps. The most important aspect to picking out fins is to make sure they fit well. If they’re too tight, you’ll get blisters; too loose, and you’re bound to lose them.
Mask and snorkelDiving of any sort with a foggy or leaky mask is miserable. To ensure a proper fit, visit a dive shop and try on different masks until one sits just right.
The test is to put it on your face (without it being strapped to your head), suck in a bit of air through your nose and see if it falls off. If it stays on your face, you’ve found a good fit.
Don’t bother with a mask that has purge valves; they tend to break and can make pinching your nose while equalizing difficult. Ask for a large-volume mask that will give you a good-size field of vision as well.
To prevent fogging, simply rub toothpaste onto the inside of the mask a few times. A simple, J-shaped snorkel without purge valves or splash flaps is all you need.
Weight beltOutfitted in a thick wetsuit, you’re going to bob on the surface like a buoy. To compensate for the buoyancy of a wetsuit, you need to wear a weight belt.
The most popular belts for spearfishing are rubber and have a quick-release buckle should things go awry. While everyone is different, you should wear the amount of weight it takes to make your body have neutral buoyancy after you exhale on the surface. For reference, when I wear a 5/4 mm wetsuit, I strap on about 10 to 12 pounds of lead weights. You can also tie a line around the belt to use as a fish stringer.
KnifeA knife comes in handy when you need to dispatch a fish humanely and quickly. It’s also a good idea to have a knife strapped onto your body should you become tangled up in rope or seaweed.
You don’t need a big knife, as they tend to get snagged on kelp; look for something small with a nice, sharp edge.
Gloves/bootiesGloves will protect your fingers while you load your speargun, as well as keep you warm. Wetsuit gloves, like the kind you’d wear while surfing, will work, but they make your fingers cumbersome.
If the water is warm enough, don a pair of thin gardening gloves; otherwise, look into a pair made by Riffe specifically for spearfishing. Booties keep your lower extremities warm and create a soft barrier between your feet and your fins.
Never dive alone. It’s rule number one, yet every year you hear of divers perishing at sea when oftentimes a dive buddy could have saved that person’s life.
Besides that, there are a ton of reasons to dive with a friend or two: Everyone shares the day’s catch, fish tales can be verified, an extra arm is always nice when lugging dive gear around and sometimes fish need not one, but two “arrows” in them.
Don’t go out there thinking you’re the next Mark Healey or Brandon Wahlers. Take it slow. You probably won’t shoot anything for at least the first couple of dives. Don’t let that discourage you, and try to learn something each and every time you dive.
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