What is Spearfishing?
Spearfishing dates back throughout the millennia and is becoming a favorite pastime of many today. From the earliest records of sharpened sticks to today’s superior reforms; people have been spearing fish in rivers, lakes and the ocean for sustenance and for sport.
Some still use very ancient and traditional style spears however modern spearfishing utilizes slings, rubber or elastic bands and even pneumatic (gas) powered spearguns to hunt their quarry. Each of these has adaptations to the waters and conditions they will be used in. Spearfishing in Key West 2018, for example, can range from hunting the beautiful coral reefs to chasing the pelagic fish of the deep blue water. One can choose to free dive, scuba or even snuba these days.
Key West, is part of the Florida Keys archipelago. It’s also the Untied State’s and Florida’s southernmost point, sitting roughly 85 miles from Cuba. Famed for its pastel-hued, conch-style houses Key West is better known for its array of restaurants, and nightlife than for its beaches. The rich coral reefs make this one of the world’s greatest destinations for diving and snorkeling. The atmosphere seems always to be celebrating and why not when the weather is near perfect year-round.
No matter whether you pick Key West or another destination, make sure you are up on the regulations for those waters as they vary greatly from gear to tactics you can and cannot use; what fish are legal and which are protected and what the size and bag limits are for that area and what season. It is always a good idea to have a local expert with you at least when you first come to an area you are unfamiliar with. He/she can help you identify fish and size as well as impart the knowledge of what is legal and what is not.
Interestingly enough, spearfishing as barbaric as it sounds gets much less negative publicity than traditional fishing or commercial fishing. Part of the reason is of course that it pales in popularity to the tens of millions who choose to fish with rod and reel but there are other reasons as well. Spearfishing is highly selective, uses no bait and has no by-catch. By being in and among the targeted fish, the spearfisherman rarely takes prey he doesn’t want thus leading to less disruption of a given species. Catch and release while a good practice; still get’s the ire of many anti-fishermen. Spearfishing is also less destructive to the environment than other forms of fishing such as nets dragging the ocean floor or heavy pots crushing structure and plants. Spearfishermen are taught to leave almost no footprint whatsoever.
Speaking of footprints, here is an interesting fun fact; We can date spearfishing with harpoons all the way back to paleolithic times. Found in caves such as Cosquer Cave in Southern France is cave art dating over 16,000 years old. It even shows the use of harpoons to harvest seals.
Other records such as greek author Oppian who describes fishing using spears and tridents; Polybius describes hunting swordfish with a baited harpoon, and even the Bible makes some mention of “filling his skin with barbed irons.” It seems spearfishing is as natural to man as long as man has been around.
Traditional spearfishing was restricted to shallow waters for centuries to all but a few who could dive unimaginable depths while holding their breath. Modern developments in swimming and diving gear and super powered spearguns allow for deeper, longer dives and less competition for the fisherman. Instructors now can prepare divers to hold their breath for many minutes, and the use of scuba equipment can prolong the deep dives.
Modern spearfishing started gaining in popularity in the early 1900’s, and the use of swim goggles became popular in France and Italy. Much of what was practiced there in the Mediterranean led to what we see today in dive gear. As a side bar; this all gained the attention of the Navy’s of various countries and had a wide impact on World War II and has been an intricate part of every military force since.
By the 1940’s spearfishing had caught hold to some in California who started innovating equipment and the growth of this sport has been steady since. Now if you have clear water and fish, you likely have spearfishermen.
Conservation wasn’t always at the top of the list for spearfishermen. The thought that the ocean was an endless place of bounty led to the killing and selling of the highly sought after “speared” catch of the day and some point to this as the decline of some species. Still today in restaurants in Key West, you can find spear caught fish advertised on the menu. However, the spearfishing world is one of the most conscious communities regarding the resource and while it is now a heavily regulated sport and commercial fishery, those that partake in this ancient and somewhat sacred way of life, tend to practice in harmony with the ecosystem without any urging.
The common theme is that they only take what they need and police the waters and beaches with pride. Not even allowing a flipper to touch coral; spearfishing has been found to be the most environmentally friendly form of fishing due to being highly selective, having no by-catch, causing no habitat damage, nor creating pollution or harm to protected endangered species.
A person doesn’t absolutely need a boat to spearfish. Some areas provide opportunities for the adventuresome individual with a bit of imagination. Shore fishing is popular and accessible to everyone and perhaps the most common form of spearfishing. All one needs is a safe access and exit point from a beach that is in close proximity to some kind of structure in the ocean or lake; such as a reef, a wreck or a rock structure where fish feel safe and congregate to hide, eat and live. As in all water activities, you must know the dangers of the event you are entering. Waves, boaters, currents, etc. all need to be considered. Sharks and other predators have to be factored in, and you need to understand the behaviors, so you can act accordingly. Shore dives, by nature of the shallow water, will generally produce reef fish however pelagic fish are also found cruising these waters looking for their next meal allowing you to make them your next meal.
A common tool in shore diving is a Hawaiian Sling or a pole spear which is a bit more primitive than many of the modern spearguns but still highly effective and the choice of many seasoned veterans. This, however, is not a good choice for blue water fishing where a reel is needed for the bigger faster fish who will race away and give you the fight of the day.
If you have access to a boat or virtually any floating device such as a kayak or paddle board you can get to structures that shore fishermen cannot. All the same gear as shore diving is used when on a boat, but you have more flexibility with storage so you can prepare for different circumstances and different types of dives. A cave dive or wreck dive, for example, may require a shorter lighter gun for shorter shots and the need to maneuver in tight spaces whereas an open water dive you will need a gun that is longer and shoots further and maneuverability isn’t an issue. Just remember that what you shoot, you have to be able to hold onto so before you let loose that spear on that sailfish, make sure you know what your limits are.
An advanced type of spearfishing is Blue Water Hunting which involves diving in deeper, open water for pelagic fish. The use of chumming for Trevally, Tuna, Wahoo and even Bill Fish is commonly practiced to get these fish in a shootable range of the diver. Seeing less prey than reef fishing the drifts can be long and without action but when it does come it comes in the form of the fastest strongest swimmers in the ocean. Carefully selected guns and reels are used for this specialized style for obvious reasons.
One such piece of specialized gear is a large multi-band wooden gun, and they make use of breakaway rigs to catch and subdue their prey. Sometimes a second gun is necessary to subdue larger fish.
Blue water fishing is practiced in many places across the globe with opportunities abundant.
There are some freshwater opportunities as well, but most of the states in the US regulate that only nongame fish can be taken with a spear such as a carp or a sucker. Bow fishing allows for a bit less regulation, and many game fish can be sought with the use of bow, arrow and line, just make sure you know the laws of the land you are in.
Without a doubt, you can know that if you like fishing; If you like eating fish; If you like warm clear blue waters; If you like the sun; you will love spearfishing in Key West.