Last modified on March 12th, 2022 at 10:49 am

Spearfishing for Beginners

There are three main ways to spearfish. You can shallow water spearfish, freedive spearfishing, and scuba dive spearfish. Many spearfishing enthusiasts feel that the freedive method is the most challenging but most authentic way to spearfish. 

This is based on the supposition that freedive is the closest to the methods used centuries ago. The Greek historian Polybius (ca 203 BC – 120 BC) describes hunting for swordfish by using a harpoon with a barbed and detachable head. 

This sport was once employed for survival, and some divers, such as the Tagbanua people of the Philippines, still depend on this form of fishing for their livelihood and sustenance. 

Whether you tend towards being a purist in the sport or using all the advantages of modern-day techniques, spearfishing is a fun and exciting sport that is well worth learning.

Spearfishing for Beginners 

Safety First

As with any sport you are new to, there can be safety issues simply because the sport is unfamiliar to you. Spearfishing, however, will hold some dangers for the participant no matter your skill or experience level. You are using a weapon and will be in the water, and both of those factors mean that there will be safety protocols to follow to keep yourself safe.

1. Dive with a Friend

A driving buddy is essential when spearfishing as in any diving activity. Blackouts can occur in any depth of water. If you blackout or end up unconscious underwater, you have about two minutes before death, or even brain damage occurs. This is why it is essential to have a diving buddy any time you enter the water to spearfish.

2. Do Your Research

When starting spearfishing, you’ll likely head to your local dive shop to get supplies. While you’re there, ask people about the best beginner’s spearfishing spots.

Although they may yield more fish, some fishing spots are hazardous for beginners and should be avoided.

There could be rugged underwater terrain, currents, undertows, and that sort of thing. When you are first learning how to spearfish, try a calmer spot to begin with.

If you can’t find any local information at your  dive shop, try online. Look at these spots and see what other divers are saying.

Also, go to the spearfishing spot you have in mind and investigate. Would you snorkel there? If the answer is no, don’t spearfish there.

For beginner spearfishing, it is best to start in waters shallower than 20ft and avoid rough waters.

3. Take Care With a Spearfishing Gun

Never load or use a speargun out of the water. When you are firing a speargun in water, there is resistance. Out of the water, there is no resistance, and the spear can recoil back into your face or body.

4. Take a Dive Knife

A dive knife is an extremely useful tool. They aren’t too expensive and could well save your life. And yes, having a knife around your ankle makes you feel cool too!

Dive knives are essential for cutting yourself or a friend free from ropes and nets. If you get caught in a fishing line, which is virtually invisible underwater, you will never be able to break it with your hands. That is where a dive knife will be a life saver.

Also, they are good for cutting trapped fish and other marine life free from nets and snags. A dive knife is also the tool you’ll use for dispatching any fish you spear too.

5. Don’t go Searching in Dark Holes

You know that monster that used to live under your bed when you were younger? Well, that monster is now lurking in the dark holes under the sea.

The last thing you want to go and do is stick your hands in these dark holes. Also, don’t poke your spear in these holes either.

Eels, according to horror stories, love clamping down on diver’s arms that do this and they have super-sharp teeth so getting them unclamped is nearly impossible.

Your solution to avoid meeting an eel in this way is just to avoid poking your hands and arms into their homes.

If an eel came and poked their head into your home, you’d bite it, so you can’t blame the eels for doing the same!

6. Start with a Pole Spear

Pole spears can be an excellent way of learning how to spearfish. They aren’t too expensive, and they are easy to learn how to use.

Using a pole spear can teach you to navigate the water while holding a weapon. You’ll also learn the basic skills you need to become an expert spearfisher.

Another option you have is to look for a quality speargun that can also help make life easier.

7. Start Small

This relates to choosing your dive spot. There is no point in hunting the biggest fish in the sea the first few times you go spearfishing.

Focus on smaller fish because targeting smaller fish is a great way to build your experience and practice your aim.

Try fishing in shallow waters near reefs and jetties, for example. These waters provide great hiding spots for you, so it’s much easier to find the fish you’re chasing.

8. If Possible, Find a Mentor

If you know someone that is already experienced in spearfishing, get as much advice from them as possible. Ask questions, get tips and learn as much as you can.

Going spearfishing with that person is a bonus, but the advice you can gain from their experience is invaluable.

9. Own the Right Gear

You’ll need the correct gear for spearfishing, and it is vital to have the right stuff. If you have improper equipment, it will be a handicap to learn a new sport. There are dive shops that will rent you gear if you want to try sportfishing before investing, and that would be a good option for a newbie.

Once you decide to take the plunge (pun intended!), here are some of the essential pieces of gear that you will need:

Mask and Snorkel: Choose a mask that fits well and gives you good visibility. You will want one that adheres firmly to your face and provides visibility from all angles. The snorkel can be a simple “J” shape. Most divers avoid purge valves because they make bubbles and signal your presence to fish.

Fins: Fins will be the means that you propel yourself through the water. Like Goldilocks, you want a pair that is just right. If you get them too small, you will have to work hard to gain any distance. The weight and cumbersomeness of large fins will eat up your energy. Newer fiberglass and carbon fins take less energy to propel yourself though the water, but they are also more expensive.

Wetsuit: Determine where you will be spending most of your time spearfishing. If you are in cooler waters, you will want a thicker wetsuit. If you will be in warmer waters, a suit that is 1.5mm thick is more than enough. Invest in a pair of sturdy, flexible gloves that will help you hold onto your equipment and keep your hands from being cut on sharp underwater surfaces.

Weight Belt: Because a wetsuit is buoyant, you need a weight belt to keep you under the water. Depending on the depth you are diving, you may need to add weight. As a general rule, to find the amount of weight you will need, take the thickness of your wetsuit and then add 2 to get the point to start at.

Here is an example:

  • 3mm wetsuit = 3 + 2 = 5kg of starting weight
  • 5mm wetsuit = 5 + 2 + 7kg of starting weight

When you are new to the sport, it is a good idea to keep the belt weight a kilogram to two lighter until you are used to your equipment and have gained confidence in your ability to dive to the bottom and return to the surface.

Knife: Don’t ever go out without a knife. Not only will you need the knife to dispatch a fish quickly, but you will also need it as a piece of safety equipment. If you get tangled in weeds, rope, or fishing line, you must be able to release yourself.

Speargun: There are two main types of spearguns, pneumatic and band-powered. Within those types, there are variations in style. Band-powered spearguns are the most popular because they are silent when shot and easy to maintain. They also tend to be more accurate.

Float: Another essential piece of safety gear is a float. A float is a brightly colored, often inflatable, piece of equipment that comes with a flag. You can use a float with or without buoys. Attach the float to your speargun, and it serves a couple of purposes. The float will alert those on the surface of the water, especially boats, of your presence beneath the waves. If you spear a fish, you can surface for air without holding onto your speargun. You will then be able to fight with the fish from the surface of the water. If your speargun becomes tangled or stuck underwater, the float allows you to resurface without losing your speargun.

10. Be Small

Fish can usually spot your silhouette, and if that scares them, they will swim away from you quicker than you can get a shot off. So, try and make yourself (or your silhouette) as small as you can.

This, of course, takes practice, but let’s say, for example, the fish you are targeting is at the back of a rock. Don’t swim out into open water to get a good line of sight; approach the fish from the rear of the rock.

11. Don’t Aim for the Fish

This sounds counterintuitive, but aiming for the fish is not going to work. For every foot of depth between the fish and the surface of the water, you will want to aim 6 inches below the fish. This takes practice. Remember that objects bend rays of light underwater and that refraction must be taken into consideration. An example of refraction is how a drinking straw in a glass of water appears bent. The rule of thumb to use when spearfishing is to aim low. If you aim directly at the fish, you will miss every time.

Wrapping it up

Spearfishing is a time-honored and exciting sport. It truly pits your skill against your prey and is both fun and challenging at the same time.

As with any sport, whether you are new to it or not, make sure to follow the safety precautions so that you can continue to enjoy this centuries-old way of fishing.