SPEARFISHING TIPS by B. Allen Patrick

Some species of prized and edible fish make themselves obvious to divers. In the Southern United States, hogfish and sheepshead are good examples. This does not necessarily mean that they are easily taken. They sometimes seem to sense danger and make imperceptible but effective moves to avoid being positioned in front of the speargun. Other fish, such as grouper and California’s calico bass, are more difficult to spot and bring within range. One key to successful spearfishing is to avoid appearing as a threat. Stalking technique for wary fish includes:

-Enter the water quietly. Avoid giant stride and back roll entries, especially in shallow water.

-Swim and move casually. Fish can out swim you and jerky motion frightens them.

-Hold your gun down, which you should do anyway for safety, until within range for a shot. Then calmly and smoothly bring the gun on target by extending the gun and sighting along the spearshaft before shooting. Again, avoid rapid and jerky motions, which will frighten the fish.

-Fish sometimes swim fairly close to you but avoid the speargun. Try stopping and resting the gun in a position so that the fish swim in front of it.

-Swim parallel to a wary fish’s path; avoid eye contact until within range; Then calmly turn, aim, and shoot.

-Use vegetation, rock outcrops, wreckage, or baitfish for cover.

-Look under ledges. Use a flashlight to peer into holes and crevices.

-Lay down a stringer of already taken fish, swim away for a few minutes and then come back to it. The stringer of fish sometimes draws other fish. {In South Florida and other places it may draw sharks as well. Use caution}
Even using the above techniques, taking your first fish may prove difficult. Maintain your patience. You will succeed. Avoid the temptation to shoot an undersized or illegal fish. This practice gives spearfishing a bad reputation. Which fish species you target for your first game depends upon the local offing. Pick one of the easier targets for your first few fish. A spearfishing specialty course will help in this selection. The course will also teach you about local species, laws, and the environment. Take post-class dive trips with the instructor or through the same dive center to gain experience.


Learn Kill Shots

What is the best way to land the fish you shoot? Shoot to “kill” or “stone” the fish you hunt. Shooting fish in a vital spot reduces fish loss and physical effort.

Want to stir up an interesting, if not heated discussion? Ask a group of spearfishermen to - describe THE kill shot location. Most agree that hitting the area just behind the eye will “stone” a fish and they agree that “windowing” (hitting the fish in the filet meat area) proves embarrassing.

For this reason head shots:
• From the side, just behind and level with the eye;
• From above, behind the eye;
• Straight down through the top of the head;
are typically the best kill shots on most fish. A head shot avoids damage to the meaty part of the fish. Even if not a “kill” shot, a spear through the bony, tough head of a fish provides a solid hold for the spearshaft.

Spearfishermen usually disagree when talking about other kill shots. They disagree because most other kill shots are not instant kill shots but rather disabling shots. Hitting a fish in or very near the backbone provides the next best kill shot target. The backbone begins from the fish’s head and generally lies along the fish’s lateral line to its tail. Even a shot that strikes a fish’s tail, if it severs the backbone forward of the caudal (tail) fin, can disable the fish sufficiently to weaken its swimming effort.

Though it generally lies along a fish’s lateral line, the location of the backbone varies with fish species. To learn were the backbone lies in the various species, observe its location when cleaning and filleting your fish.

The gill plate provides another effective target area. This bony area provides a good hold for the spearshaft. A shot in the gill plate usually causes profuse bleeding, which quickly weakens the fish. Keep in mind that profuse bleeding may attract predators.

Some fish prove more difficult to “stone” than others. East coast cobia is an example. The cobia’s very flat wide head makes a side kill shot almost impossible. A kill shot down through the top of the head often works but the cobia seldom presents itself in a position which allows a top down shot. To disable a cobia, the side shot requires hitting them behind the pectoral fin, high in the lateral line. This does not kill a cobia, but it usually renders its swimming effort ineffective.

Divers who shoot large fish sometimes use barb-less lineshafts. “Why would you want barb-less spearshaft? Won’t the fish get off?” Getting off is exactly what you want a lively large fish to do. A barb-less shaft allows a fish which is not stoned to pull free of the spearshaft easily. This increases safety to the diver by preventing his being dragged around by the fish. It also improves the chances of the fish’s survival by leaving a relatively small hole.
To configure a barb-less shaft screw a small spear point, which is slightly wider in diameter than the spearshaft, onto a lineshaft. The spear points used with interchangeable-point spear tips work well for this. This small “flared” point section provides just enough grip once in the fish to keep it from pulling out too easily.

Barb-less spearshafts make stringing and removing stoned fish from the spearshaft easier, also. Improved safety and reduced effort make barb-less spearshafis an attractive alternative for deep water and large fish.