Hold Up, What About Rules and Regulations for Spearfishing in Florida?
This is definitely where you should start before rushing out on your Florida spearfishing adventure. The state of Florida defines spearfishing as the catching of a fish through either a hand or mechanically propelled spear. The spear may be barbed or even barbless and must be done by a person swimming on the surface of the water, or just below.
A very specific definition also means a very specific set of fish which cannot be hunted with a spearfishing tool. Here is a quick rundown of the fish that are off-limits when spearfishing. If a fish is not on this list, it can be assumed that they may be harvested. Always good advice–be sure to check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website to check if this list has been updated.
- Manta Ray
- Spotted Eagle Ray
- Blue Crab
- Ornamental Reef Fish
- Stone Crab
- Goliath Grouper
Aside from these fish, almost all others are free to be fished using spearfishing methods. There are a few more rules, however, that must be followed when visiting Florida. A big one that many may overlook is that you may not spearfish in any freshwater source. Another is spearfishing within a 100-foot range of a public ocean source. This includes beaches, piers, and bridges. The final restriction of the rules and regulations is to not be within 100 feet from any jetty or sandbar.
Great news for spearos is that the licensing for spearfishing is the exactly the same as any other saltwater fishing license. This keeps the barrier to entry of the sport at an accessible level.
Sweet, Now I Know the Rules, Tell Me What I’m Getting Into.
Florida has a rich and vibrant history of spearfishing. The first sport divers hit the water in the 1930s and since then, the sport has evolved over time. Where once spearos carried a pole spear and wore copper goggles–usually homemade–today’s modern spearos have the latest gear and tools that cut down on a lot of the risk that one might encounter in the water.
Many places don’t allow spearos to use scuba gear to hunt for fish. Instead, they opt for freediving and snorkeling to accomplish their goals. Florida, however, does allow for scuba to be used in spearfishing. This opens up a lot of deeper waters that would be inaccessible to those who freedive. Spearfishing in Florida is unique because you get to combine two different sports into one. Spearfishing is quite the experience in and of itself but adding diving into the mix transforms it into the ultimate adventure.
Your experience will vary as the type of spearfishing excursion you choose to go out on will be different for everyone. If you’re scuba diving, your options are endless. When freediving and snorkeling, you’re limited to shallower waters. It’s recommended that you start with spearfishing while close to shore, first, before venturing into deeper waters.
A great choice for anyone visiting Florida is to head out on a spearfishing charter. Oftentimes, these helpful and experienced spearos will have gear for you to rent, will train you how to use the equipment and what to do in the water, and take you to the best spots. It’s a perfect way to try out spearfishing without the investment.
OK, I’m In! Where Are the Best Places to Spearfish in Florida?
Honestly, wherever you go in Florida, you will find quality spearfishing available. Being a peninsula, there is water everywhere you look. The gulf is on one side of the state, the Atlantic Ocean on the other, and to the south is the Caribbean. A wide variety of habitats exist to find something to fit everyone’s ability level.
Everyone’s experience will be different and some may be more successful than others depending on your location. Let’s dive into the top destinations around the state to spearfish.
One of the best locations for beginner spearos is the city of Destin in Florida’s northwest. Lying on the Gulf of Mexico, Destin offers a wide range of options for a spearfishing expedition. Boasting a large beach area that allows spearos to fish directly offshore makes it a great choice for families. The jettys near the Norriego Point area is a common location to spearfish. Red snapper is one of the prized fish in the waters near Destin.
Just west of Destin, along the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find the coastal city of Pensacola. In this area alone, there are over a thousand artificial reefs creating habitats for fish just off the coast. These habitats are filled with some of the healthiest and, we’ll say it, delicious fish around. Grouper, snapper, tuna, and mahi-mahi are just a few of the fish you’ll find swimming around these reefs. Your best bet is to take a charter in this area as they will guide you to the best spots for the fish you’re looking for.
Looking for some massive fish while diving the blue water of the Atlantic Ocean? Panama City is the destination for you. This is one of the better locations for hunting the invasive lionfish. These gorgeous fish love to take over the environment in which they exist. This is why the state of Florida has declared open season on the lionfish by literally creating a year-round fishing option to hunt them.
You’d think having the weather, beaches, and crystal clear water would be enough to make Miami the perfect destination. You’d be right, but for spearos, it’s an even better vacation location. One thing that sets Miami apart from other spearfishing destinations is that they have an abundance of lobster. While illegal to spearfish, lobster is still legal to catch. Many spearos will dive down, use their hunting tool to coax them out of the holes and catch them. I think this is a cool spearfishing video.
On the southwest coast of Florida, on the gulf side, lies the affluent city of Naples. Take a drive down the street and you’ll see million dollar mansions and $100,000 luxury vehicles. Just past this extravagance lies one of the better spearfishing locations in Florida. It’s one of the few locations that offer a spearfishing club. Promoting ethical practices, these groups, like the Naples Spearfishing League, have fought to reopen restricted waterways to spearfishing.
The Florida Keys
A common phrase around spearos in Florida is “there are two places to fish in the state–Florida or the Florida Keys.” Quite frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a better location for spearfishing. Shallow waters make it accessible to any skill level. Deeper waters with artificial reefs allow for more challenging hunting with bigger prey and larger rewards. Freediving, scuba, or snorkel are all available to hunt in these waters. It is, hands down, one of the best places to fish, let alone spearfish, in the world. Spearfishing in The Florida Keys.
How Do I Stay Safe When Spearfishing in Florida?
Often the most overlooked section in spearfishing guides is safety. You just hop in the water and shoot off the speargun, right? Wrong. It’s important that you take safety precautions when fishing in Florida’s waterways specifically.
It’s no secret that a massive variety of sharks call the water around Florida home. It’s also no secret that they prefer an easy meal. What could be an easier catch than to just snatch your hard earned fish off the line? This is why it’s imperative to be shark aware while in the water. Sharks will defend themselves if provoked. Since they’re illegal to hunt in Florida, stay away. If a shark does begin to become aggressive–calmly leave the water. This goes if they are hovering and following your catch as well.
While sharks do pose a danger, don’t overthink the situation. They’re just on the lookout for food that they can catch. You won’t make much of a good meal. Your true risk of fish is in the types you catch. It’s not uncommon for a spearo to hook a catch only to have it bite back. Not life threatening but can definitely ruin your day.
Top Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my top recommendations, I found super useful when spearfishing:
Spearfishing is a once in a lifetime experience that all spearos should add to their bucket list. Whether you head to the Gulf, Atlantic, or the Keys, an adventure awaits. Just remember to dive within your limits, fish with a partner, and have fun. With the proper training and preparation, you’ll have a phenomenal time on the water. The experience is worth it and chances are, you’ll be coming home with dinner.