Primitive hunting is making a comeback. The call to hunt in the wild using techniques our ancient ancestors used has led to a boom in the hunting industry. Hunting with a speargun may be the most popular choice for spearfishing but picking up a pole spear is your best option to get back to your roots. This traditional hunting tool has entered the modern world and this guide will help walk you through.
What in the World is Spearfishing?
If you’re here, chances are you want to know more about spearfishing. Think of it as game hunting but in the water. Known as spearos, spearfisherman are the fishing world’s purists. The first form of fishing was back in the paleolithic times. It’s thought that hunters on land ventured into the water using the same spears they used on bigger game–alas, the creation of spearfishing.
The earliest known record of spearfishing goes back 16,000 years to a cave in France. It depicted seals that had been harpooned with a spear type weapon. There are references to spearfishing in the Bible and the Greek god Poseidon carried a trident, an early form of the pole spear.
In the simplest terms, spearfishing is the act of taking a spear with a line attached and hunting for fish. You throw or shoot the spear into the fish and haul them back in. Spearfishing is a pure way to fish as it requires you to be actively involved with your catch, uses no bait, and produces no by-catch. You’re also limited in your hauls to what you can carry on your stringer and you get to selectively choose which fish you’d like to hunt. This is, perhaps, one of the most environmentally friendly ways to fish.
What Do I Need to Know Before I Begin?
There are a variety of ways to spearfish. You can do it right from the boat, you can pop on a wetsuit and a dive kit and drop into the water, you could also just put on the flippers and mask and spearfish from the surface, or you can do it the traditional way and free dive. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these methods and see what gear is necessary.
From the Boat
This is definitely not the most recommended way to spearfish. Accuracy, visibility, and safety are all compromised by this method. More popular ways of fishing from the boat include a rod and reel or bowfishing. If you’re looking to spearfish from the boat, it’s possible but won’t be as fun or successful as the next two methods.
A quick warning before using scuba to spearfish, it may be illegal. Scuba lowers the “sport” of spearfishing as it gives an unfair advantage to the hunter. In areas where you are allowed to scuba to spearfish, it does allow you to get to the deeper fish.
By far the most popular way to spearfish is to snorkel. Staying on the surface of the water limits you to fish that roam near the top but is a quick and easy way to begin the sport. Snorkel spearos will hang out near sea walls, reefs, or fishing piers.
Spearfishing purists will say that you aren’t really spearfishing unless you have a pole spear in your hand and you aren’t strapped to an oxygen tank. If you think that’s you then keep reading but if it’s not, don’t fret–snorkeling is not weak or unmanly, it’s the safest way to spearfish.
Freediving requires a lot of skill to master and many practice for years before they’re considered good. It’s basically the equivalent of scuba diving without the tank. You’re able to get deeper into the water than snorkel spearos which allow you access to a better variety of larger fish like tuna, halibut, and grouper.
The process of freediving involves strapping on a pair of fins with your pole spear. You take a deep breath and dive below the surface to hunt. Freediving requires an enormous strength of will and an incredible set of lungs. It’s typical for freedivers to hold their breaths for at least 5 minutes per dive.
What in the World is a Pole Spear?
Many spearfishing purists will recommend that you use a pole spear as your first spearfishing tool. Spearguns both manual and gas powered are the most popular option but they can be cost prohibitive for the beginner spearo. Click here for my top pole spear picks.
How Do You Choose the Perfect Pole Spear?
Choosing the right pole spear is key to a successful hunt. Not all pole spears are made the same and you should make sure that the one that you choose works for your ability level. Here’s a look at the options available to enable you to make the best decision before you become a spearo.
Pole Spear Length
First, we’ll look at pole spear length. The only lengths you’ll want to concern yourself with are the five, six, and seven-foot spears. The larger the spear, the more range you’ll have but as a beginner, you’re going to want to stick with the shorter version. This allows you to stay in more shallow areas like reefs and learn the sport. As you get better, you’ll expand the size of your poles but the short pole spear will still get plenty of use.
Pole Spear Tips
The next option we’ll look at is the pole spear tip. There are three types of tips. These are the slip tip, the three prong, and the flopper tip.
The slip tip is best for an experienced spearo. It requires a lot of manual adjustment and the tips stick in the fish. They’re pricey and if you miss, you’ll damage the slip tip.
The three prong tip is known as the paralyzer. These tips aren’t designed to penetrate very deeply and are simply meant to stun the fish so that you can secure them to your line. They require speed and precision but are one of the best tips to learn spearfishing.
The third type of tip is the flopper tip. These tips often have a single barb and penetrate deeply into the fish. They’re more affordable than slip tips and do almost as well. These are an excellent tip to graduate to with a little experience on the three prong.
Pole Spear Materials
There are three types of materials that are mainly used when building the pole of a spear–aluminum, carbon fiber, and fiberglass.
Aluminum pole spears are the heaviest in the water. This makes them slower but also allows them to pack more of a punch when striking the fish. Carbon fiber poles are much lighter and stronger. They can handle small to mid-range fish extremely well but are a bit expensive. Fiberglass poles are the easiest way to enter the sport as they are lightweight, affordable, and effective. They are prone to splintering if you miss and slam it into rocks so take care. Click here for my top pick.
OK, I’m Ready to Hunt–Tell Me How
You know what spearfishing is, the method that you’re going to attempt, and you’ve chosen a pole spear–now what? Spearfishing can be broken down into three steps: prowling, shooting, and securing your kill. It may sound simple enough but let’s look at what each step entails.
Prowling is exactly as it sounds–you’re creeping up on a fish to hunt. Above the surface, we can tiptoe, slide quietly, or hide around a corner. In the water, you’re at the mercy of the elements while sitting out in the open. You do have one advantage when spearfishing with a spear pole, however. They’re quick and easy to load.
While swimming, your spear pole will not cause a lot of buoyancy, so you’ll be able to present as non-threatening. Keep your eyes open, observe your surroundings, move deliberately and smoothly, and pick out your ideal hunting location.
Using camouflage behind rocks, kelp, or man-made structures in the water, you will lie in wait. Spearfishing with a spear pole requires you to be close, therefore patience is a key virtue. Follow the fish’s motions and patterns and be ready for your shot.
One of the most common errors that beginning spearos make is to swim around with your spear cocked and ready. The main benefit of a pole spear is its light weight. This will not only zap your oxygen but will also drain the energy from your body.
When you’re ready to shoot, you’ll need to load up your pole spear. To load the spear, you begin by looping the band over your hand while using the thumb and forefinger to anchor the line. With the same hand, reach to the top of the spear. The higher you go, the stronger and faster your spear will be while hunting.
You’re going to want to make sure that your shot is worthwhile so be aware that you need to hit what’s called a “stone” shot. In spearo lingo, a “stone” shot is better known as a kill shot. For a proper “stone” shot, you’ll want to aim for the fish’s spine. If you hit it in the spine, you’ll limit its movement but if you hit it in the base of the spine, that’s the bullseye. This is typically just north of the gill above the fish’s eye.
Securing the Kill
Once you’ve hit the fish and your spear is firmly in place, you may think that you’ve accomplished your goal. This is true, almost. Many a beginner spearo has lost their hunt after hitting it flush. This can happen for a number of reasons but we want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
When shooting, it’s important that you not only catch the fish but you drive the spear deep into the fish and angle the pole upwards towards the surface of the water. This will allow you to secure the fish on the pole spear with the free hand and string it up so that you may keep fishing.
Now That I Know How to Spearfish, What Are the Best Fish to Hunt?
This is a highly subjective topic as many spearos will have their own favorites but according to AquaViews, an online scuba magazine, here are the top five fish to hunt when spearfishing.
- Halibut – One of the most delectable fish in the sea, halibut can be found all along the west coast of North America. These guys can get quite large so be sure you have a bit of experience before hunting.
- Yellowfin – These delicious fish can be found just offshore of the California coast. They can get quite large, so many spearos use a speargun but if you’re willing to fight for your catch, this is a great fish to hunt.
- Grouper – These ugly, spiny fish are a blast to hunt. They scare easily and can get aggressive during a hunt making it a true sport fish.
- Hogfish – All around the Florida Keys and the Caribbean you’ll find hogfish. This tasty fish is one of the easier fish to catch for beginners.
- White Fish – Isn’t white fish a description of many types of fish? Yes, yes it is but this type of white fish can be found around the Channel Islands in Southern California. They are difficult to catch which makes them a more attractive hunt.
Pole Spear Recommendations
Click here to see my top pole spear recommendations.
Do You Have Any Extra Spearfishing Tips?
Of course, that’s what this guide is for! If you read nothing else, this is your section. These tips will turn you from zero to hero on your next spearfishing adventure.
- Scope Out Your Spot – Finding the perfect dive spot to spearfish is a definite challenge. The ocean is a confusing beast and should be treated with care. Scope out your spot by diving without your pole spear first. This will allow you the opportunity to find the exact spot to hunt.
- Calm Down – You’re in the fish’s habitat and any unwelcome or alien movements will trigger their fight or flight instincts. Keep your movements calm and smooth to minimize the impact you make on the hunting environment. The smaller the movements and smoother you are in the water will allow you to spot the bigger fish without scaring them away.
- Use Your Eyes – Don’t use your body and head to look. Use your peripheral vision and really pay attention to your surroundings. Notice movement out of the corner of your right eye? Observe the direction and slowly shift your body that direction while keeping your eyes locked onto the target.
- Use What’s Available – Again, this is not your habitat, you are at the disadvantage in the water. One way you can turn this into an advantage is to use what you have available. See some strands of kelp, a boulder, or fishing pier pole? Use them as cover to get the jump on your hunt.
- Don’t Rush – This may seem like a rehash of calm down and it is. Spearfishing is not a speed sport–it’s more of a chess match. Use your air wisely, plan your approach, strike when ready, and be sure that safety is your number one priority.
Spearfishing is one of the most hands-on ways to catch your next dinner. Using a spear pole only amplifies the feeling you get when you reel in a big catch. Regular fishing will seem boring when compared to spearfishing. Whether you want to freedive like the purists or strap on an oxygen tank and scuba your way to glory, a pole spear is the ultimate tool of choice. It’s light, effective, and interactive–all things necessary to have a blast while learning an invaluable skill. Click here and here to see some pole spearing videos.