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How To Spear Fish - Spear Fishing Techniques and Tips

Learning how to spear fish in the ocean will let you enjoy the best of two worlds, fishing and hunting all in one!  This spear fishing article covers how to spear fish from A to Z including spear fishing equipment, spearfishing tips and techniques, along with everything your need to get started in learning how to spear fish.  This spearfishing lesson is one of the most complete spear fishing articles available on line for those interested in learning how to spearfish from a fellow spearfisherman with over 40 years of experience.  Although this article is about spear fishing on the north coast of California, the spearfishing basics that you will learn here, including spear fishing safety, will be valuable no matter where you decide to try spear fishing.  Learn how to spearfish in this informative spearfishing article.

How to Spear Fish – Spear fishing for Bottom Fish and Rock Fish

spear fishing has to be one of the most exciting, fun, and under-enjoyed water sports out there.  Learning how to spearfish brings the best of two sporting worlds (hunting and fishing) together into one for the outdoorsman who enjoys both of these outdoor activities and this article will teach you more about this sport than any you will find currently on the internet.  And don't miss this other unique spear fishing article either when you finish this one. You will find that learning how to spearfish is not as difficult as you might think and learning to spear fish will be a sport you will enjoy your entire life!

Spear fishing is primarily a saltwater fishing sport and for the most part is illegal on inland waters, except for carp, which are mostly speared above water by archery.  What is important to note is that the majority of spear fishing is done without the use of scuba equipment by holding your breath and “free diving”.  This may sound difficult as though you must have extraordinary lung capacity, but this is not the case for most of California.  Even a novice that can dive to the bottom of a typical swimming pool can expect to have a killer spearfishing adventure.  In fact, the ocean in northern California rarely has visibility more than fifteen feet and many times you can’t see to the end of your spear gun.  Of course, in the latter case when the ocean is this murky, spear fishing is out, although many experienced divers will still get their limit of abalone in these sea conditions.  Even if you are not planning to dive for abalone, you should definitely read the article on Fishnfool.com on “how to abalone dive” as there are many essential diving tips covered there that are not found in this article.

In contrast, in Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, and other places where the ocean conditions are clear and calm, the visibility might be 100 feet or more.  Here, the fish can see you clearly and you have to hold your breath much longer to allow the fish to become accustomed to you being part of the landscape of the ocean bottom so they relax and swim within range.  In this case, scuba tanks come in real handy but the locals will classify you as a “sissy” if they see you, especially in the Hawaiian Islands.  By the way, the typical range of a spear gun is only the length of the gun plus the length of the cord that attaches the spear to the gun which is typically a total of about 10 feet.  However, the typical spear fishing shot is much shorter than that.  Most ling cod, Cabazon, China cod, halibut, and other bottom fish are caught when stationary lying on the bottom on the rocks, or in the sand in the case of halibut.  Here, you can literally swim up and poke many of these fish if you wanted to just scare them off.  Your biggest concern here as far as distance goes is to keep the tip of your spear far enough away from the fish so as to allow your gun to propel the spear far enough so that it gains enough velocity to pack that killing whallop to the fish.  Shooting from too close is tempting, especially when you are hovering over a record ling cod or any huge fish but it is a big mistake.  Relax and keep your spear tip at least 20 inches from your prey. I like to use a much shorter cord than what usually comes with the spear gun when you purchase it.  The spear gun has a catch near the trigger, as well as one up front that the cord is gathered and wrapped around while hunting to keep it from floating around freely and tangling up on you, kelp, your diving buddy and other things.  The rear catch is made so that when you squeeze the trigger, it releases the cord along with the spear.  I prefer to shorten the cord from the typical 8-10 or so feet to just 5 feet.  Given most of the fish I shoot are just a couple feet away, I don’t have to worry about wrapping the cord up after every shot and having it tangle on me or other snags while I am hunting fish.  The time it takes to re-load my gun is cut in more than half by eliminating this hassle.  Furthermore, the cord is a dynamic beast unto itself.  You can adjust it all you want to exactly fit the spear gun’s cord holders but that cord’s length changes when it is wet, older or stretched from shooting.  The worst part is that the cord’s length must be with in just a couple inches or it will not fit snug between the two catches on the speargun and will then become loose and float free anyway most of the time.  My shortened line is made to load the spear gun and let it float freely.  Unless you are hunting for fish like white bass, tuna, and other fish that many of the shots are longer for, you will find that this is the only way to go.

I want to mention here that there are typically three types of spear guns.  One, the Hawaiian sling, is not really a gun, but a long pole with a large rubber band (surgical rubber) attached at the opposite end of the spear head.  To shoot this spear, this rubber band is inserted in the vee between the thumb and index finger of the same hand that you hold the pole with.  You “cock” the spear pole by simply pulling it back to stretch the rubber band and then grasp the pole until you aim and release the grip to take your shot.  Many divers will wrap duct tape several times around the pole shaft where they hold the pole when it is cocked so that it makes a grip that is easier to hold than the bare spear pole, which tends to slip when you are on a long dive chasing a fish and your grip weakens.  I prefer to do so.  

The Hawaiian sling is a handy fishing tool and many times I prefer to use it as opposed to my spear gun.  It is great when you are in a big school of blue or black bass that tend to swim with many others in the area half way from the ocean bottom to the surface, which in this case is only six to twenty feet.  It allows you to shoot the bass, yank it off the barbs, throw it in your dive bag or dive tube and reload for another shot in a very short time before the school of fish disappear into the murky sea water.  This spear fishing device is the easiest to use and in many areas of the Mexican coast, Hawaii, and other island areas, it is the only type of spearing device used.  When I was in Maui, an avid diver working at the Marriot inn had me show him my spear gun as he had never seen one!  You can land even the biggest of fish with a Hawaiian sling, especially if you have the right spear tip on it, but when it comes to the big ling cod, I will only use my spear gun for several reasons.  

The spear gun comes in basically two models, a rubber band propelled model and a compressed air (pneumatic) model.  I much prefer the rubber band model.

The pneumatic spear gun propels its spear by the compressed air that is compressed into a chamber when you cock the spear into it.  This requires a tool that comes with the gun that fits over the tip and has a handle on each side to pull the spear back with.  Without this tool, cocking is pretty much impossible.  So, losing or forgetting this tool, which is usually hanging on a string tied to the gun, puts you out of business.  That is one reason I don’t like this gun.  Another that soured me on them is that when I went to get my pneumatic gun for a diving trip in the spring, the salt from the ocean had caused the gun to rust and it was ruined.  These are not cheap and I was truly disappointed and that was the end of my pneumatic spear gun ownership.  Also, I didn’t like the fact that you were cocking a spear that wasn’t going to lock back into a safe position until it was fully cocked, while at any point it had the power to penetrate your skull or your buddy’s guts!  Disarming it requires you shoot it.

So, I have to recommend the good ol’ trusty rubber band propelled spear gun.  Here, you just push the spear into the gun until it is locked and only when you pull the rubber band or bands back and hook the wire on the band into the notch in the spear is it armed and ready to go.  Disarming it for safety is as simple as pulling the rubber band back and unhooking it.  I do this a lot as when I am diving near other divers, I always only cock my gun when I am ready to shoot as I do not trust the safety mechanism of any spear gun as I have had many fail to work and the last thing I want is to have to find a way to get a huge spear tip out of my friend’s guts or head.

Most of these rubber band spear guns are stainless and all that goes bad is the rubber bands, especially if you don’t rinse them well after use in saltwater or if you leave them in the sun.  It is always a good idea to stretch the bands back like you are going to load the gun before you go out and check for cracks in the rubber, just like you should your fin and mask straps, so you know you won’t be having problems when you are out fishing.  Also, check the cord for rot or wear and that it is still tied on securely and try to unscrew the tip from the spear to make sure it is screwed on tight.  You should always use “Lock-tight” on your tip to make sure it stays on as banging against the rocks when you miss and hitting the hard heads of fish will loosen the tip for sure.  All these tips are replaceable and hence are threaded for removal.  

I like using a gun with two rubber bands for a couple of reasons.  One is that in case one breaks, you have a back-up.  Another is that I like having the extra power on larger fish to stun them good when I shoot them.  Especially ling cod as their mouths are nothing but teeth from their lips to their tonsils and they will bite!  The bands come in various thicknesses and lengths to fit different guns and each will be easier or more difficult to cock and have more or less power when the trigger is pulled.  I usually only use one band and I actually have two different thicknesses of bands so my desired power is even more flexible.  I use a small band when I’m shooting bottom fish on the rocks to keep from dulling my spear tip more than necessary.

Speaking of spear tips, those come in different types as well and I like different ones for different angling applications.  For the smaller fish I like the “gig” type head that basically looks like your fingers spread out on your hand with barbs on each finger, much like what you would use when you are gigging frogs.  Removing the fish is pretty much done by just grabbing the fish and ripping it off the barbs backwards.  Always do this when the fish is already in your dive tube or fish bag so you don’t lose them.  The tip I use for ling cod is one that has wings that are folded flat against the spear shaft when entering the fish and then open widely upon the spear moving backwards toward the entry hole.  This head will hold about any fish of any size but it takes substantially more time to remove from the fish.  To remove this tip from the fish, you must jam it through the fish until it protrudes out the other side.  Then, you fold the wings in against the shaft and slide the little retaining ring over the wing tips to secure them and then pull the spear back the way it came in.  This can be a little tricky with the bulky neoprene gloves of your wet suit on.  Again, make sure your fish is secured as when that spear comes out, that fish usually goes nuts!

When I am hunting for ling cod, which naturally causes you to hunt all other fish in the area as you inevitably will see some nice keepers, I have a method or two.  

I like to set a “chum route” I call it.  Remember, the water is murky and you must be able to see the bottom to hunt bottom fish.  It is not practical to dive down, while holding your breath, over and over and hope you see a fish when you get down there.  Even if you do, the fish is startled by you coming into view so close and will dart away.  So, I will find a rock ledge along the shore or an exposed rock formation out from it and swim along an area spreading chum every 30 or 40 yards for a couple hundred yards or less at a depth that I can see the bottom to find the fish and so I can navigate from chum pile to chum pile.  I will then swim back and forth slowly from one end to the other for my entire dive hunting not only the actual chummed area, but the entire area as the ling will slowly migrate towards the food.  Now the sea trout, also known as kelp greenling, will move in right away and they are excellent on the dinner table.  The Cabazon will move in as well but slower than the greenlings and the ling will be the last to the dinner table.  I think it is because they are further away and the scent takes longer to reach them and it takes longer for them to find the bait.  Matter of fact, sometimes I find going back the following day to where I chummed can be more productive for lings than that first day.  Many times, I will go to an area that is highly populated with novice abalone divers who take off ab that are undersized and they don’t replace them properly to the rocks and they become prey to the crab, star fish, seals, and the ling cod.  Abalone is the ling cod dinner of choice! And mine too, right behind frog legs and crawfish!  Anyway, I will visit that diving spot on a Sunday night or Monday morning after the novices have left and hunt the area hard for lings with great success.  I will chum with abalone guts that I glean from the fish cleaning area trash cans and if I have none of those, I will resort to frozen squid.  I also will use my abalone bar to break open sea urchins to spread their guts in the water.  The urchins are great for sea trout, black rock fish, china cod, rock crab, and blue rock fish but have only secondary value in hunting lings.  Lings like other fish for dinner a lot, as these other fish are pretty much the mainstay of their diet, so the activity of all these feeding fish can be a draw to the ling.  I once speared a 16 pound ling that had the head of a 3 pound Cabazon in its mouth.  It looked through the murky water like a fish with two heads until I swam closer.  I speared the ling in the head and landed them both!

When my friends and I spear fish from a boat, we will anchor on an exposed pinnacle out from the shore a ways.  These get little fishing pressure and supply structure for the fish to hang out on.  They are like fish magnates and the ling cod love them.  Here, it is a good idea to leave someone in the boat so if the current takes you all out, one person can pick you up.  At least leave a long rope dangling and floating a hundred feet or more out of the boat so you can use it as a safety line.  The ling here often are swimming actively around the structure as well as lying on the rocks.  Near shore, they are almost always stationery on the rocks when you shoot.  Still, they are not shy from you.  They will often swim right to you or let you dive to within range to them.  Here you might take a little longer shot.  Also, the ling will be there when you get there and no chumming or waiting is necessary but always can’t hurt.  Other types of fish are usually abundant as well here.  When pole fishing from a boat, I always look for a pinnacle.

When you shoot the ling, I like to hit them right behind the gills in the upper body and try to damage the spine.  I like to shoot and see them convulse while I am getting them in my bag.  Hitting them too far back in the body and you have a fight on your hands and one guy I met had an 18 pounder rip 27 stitches worth of gash in his cheek when he hit it too far back and it darted to the end of the rope and turned back at him.  He landed it!  (Not a sissy!)  Again, I like using two bands on them.  So far, my personal record ling cod is twenty nine pounds, but I am only 58 years old and before I am 90 or too old to dive, which ever comes later, I plan to break that record!  When I do, you will see the picture on my site, Fishnfools.com .  If you have any good diving tips, reports, pictures, or stories,  whether it is pole fishing, diving, your charter boat trip or any fishing trip, we invite you to join the largest and funnest fishing community on the internet that covers the entire western hemisphere.  It has some social networking features, a great phone friendly fishing forums section and a database of pictures and albums from the members that act as a real time fishing report for all areas, and it is all free.  Come take a look at Fishnfools.com and you will feel right at home and can find many other stories from our members, tell your story, and show of your fish.  Come on friend, come aboard!

Garry Cooper


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