Killing Fields

So you’ve been hook and line fishing for a while now and are starting to get curious about spearfishing and the world that lies beneath. Perhaps you’ve been surrounded by a school of dolphin that wouldn’t bite anything you tossed at them and wished you had an effective way to put a few fish on ice. Or maybe you’ve seen impressive hauls from spearfishermen and need some direction on how to get started. No matter your interest in spearfishing, you must first understand the safety aspects before going out and purchasing a speargun. Only after you’ve taken a freediving class and are comfortable with your abilities will you be able to safely and successfully hunt game fish on their own turf.


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Photo: Jason Arnold

The three types of weapons available to spearfishermen include spearguns, pole spears and Hawaiian slings. It’s important you choose the appropriate tool for the job and for your particular abilities, in addition to the type and size of fish you plan on hunting. The last thing you want to do is carelessly wound a fish so selection is also about stewardship.

When attempting to shoot large fish a reel or floatline is mandatory, or you risk the fish swimming away with your gun.

Spearguns are the quickest path to success for many. They offer the longest range and are easy for a novice to get the hang of on the first trip. A speargun consists of a handle with a trigger mechanism connected to a barrel or stock, and a spear. Most spearguns are powered by oversized rubber bands, although pneumatic guns are also an option. Most seasoned spearos prefer rubber band powered guns because they are more affordable and easier to use. The guns are made from either tubes of metal that make up the barrel, or wood. The length of spearguns can range from 2- to 6-feet or more. A short speargun is used when space is tight such as when you are trying to shoot a grouper under a rock ledge. The longer guns are made for open ocean hunts and are used when maximum range and power are needed. This is the case when targeting wahoo, tuna
and cobia.

The spear itself is made from metal and is slightly longer than the overall gun length. While there are many brands and styles of spearguns on the market, spears designed for spearguns feature notches in the shaft to connect the bands. The spear is then typically connected to the gun with a line that is two or three times the length of the spear. Some spearos don’t use a line at all and choose to freeshaft, but this requires precise shot placement on the fish so it doesn’t swim away with your expensive spear. Another option is to use a breakaway rig where the spear is attached to a buoy at the surface. With this configuration, once the trigger is pulled there is no longer a connection to the gun.

Another option is a gun with a reel that allows the fish to run once shot, similar to hook and line fishing. When attempting to shoot large fish a reel or floatline is mandatory, or you risk the fish swimming away with your gun. Floatlines are mandatory for very large fish such as yellowfin tuna, and sometimes multiple buoys are needed to keep the fish from pulling the entire rig deep underwater, never to be seen again. Floatlines range in length from 25- to 100-feet or more, depending on the depth and species being hunted. While there are numerous variations and ways to rig a speargun, you’ll find the preferred method that is comfortable for you after spending some time in the water.

The tip of the spear can either have a flopper or slip tip. A flopper tip acts like a barb on a hook. Upon penetrating the fish, the flopper opens and prevents the fish from sliding off the spear. Although more expensive and slightly more involved to use, slip tips offer a superior way of securing the fish to the spear. Once the slip tip penetrates the fish it detaches and turns perpendicular while still being held to the spear with heavy-duty line or cable. This is the preferred tip for experience spearos because powerful fish are less likely to tear off once shot.

A more primitive way of spearing fish is with a pole spear. It consists of a pole with a tip at one end and a rubber loop at the other end. Pole spears range in length from 3- to 10-feet or more, depending on use. Longer poles are used when bluewater hunting and maximum range is needed, whereas shorter poles are used in tight quarters on the reef or around wrecks. The poles are made from fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum or graphite. If speed is desired a lighter pole spear should be chosen. However, the tradeoff of using a lightweight pole spear is that it will have less penetrating power. Pole spears come in either one, two or three pieces depending on whether or not you need to break it down for easy transport.

The tip of a pole spear can be similar to a speargun shaft and have either a flopper or a slip tip. Just like a speargun, a slip tip prevents the fish from escaping once speared. Another popular option is a paralyzer tip, which is a three-pronged barb. A benefit of pole spears is that the tips have threads, which allows for easy switching of tip types.

To use a pole spear the rubber loop is held between the thumb and forefinger. The spear is then loaded as the hunter reaches up the pole, stretching the rubber band, and the pole is held with a tight grip. To shoot the spear the grip is released while the arm is extended and pointed at the target. When first using a pole spear, or after a long day of use, fatigue in the holding hand can be problematic.

The range of a pole spear depends on a number of factors including band thickness, band stretch length and weight of the pole. Roughly speaking, the range will be the distance of the stretched band when loaded. This limited range can present a big challenge to the spearo and often requires the mastering of stalking skills in order to get close enough to the target without spooking it.

Like pole spears, Hawaiian slings are triggerless solutions used by spearos looking for more of a challenge, or in places where spearguns are banned, such as in the waters of The Bahamas. Hawaiian slings are simple devices that consist of a spear shaft and rubber tubing attached to a piece of material with a hole in it. To fire the sling the spear is placed through the hole in the piece of material. The hole is slightly larger in diameter than the spear shaft. The back end of the spear is then placed into the rubber and pulled back, much like a bow and arrow. When released, the rubber propels the shaft forward and into the target. Shot placement is especially important with Hawaiian slings because a fish can swim away with the spear if you are not careful.

Whichever weapon you choose it is important you care for your equipment. Always rinse with freshwater and never store outdoors. The rubber bands are critical to the effectiveness of your hunts and the sun’s relentless rays can deteriorate the rubber. It’s also important to note that spearguns are very dangerous weapons and should only be loaded and fired underwater.

When it comes to selection there’s an incredible amount of diversity and every choice has its pros and cons. Similar to sport fishing with rod and reel, you wouldn’t head offshore with a single outfit. Ultimately, you’ll need a variety of weapons for a range of conditions and targets. Stay safe and enjoy a new and exciting way of selectively catching fish!

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