A few months ago, I started spearfishing. My buddy Jesse got me into it. I was always intrigued by the idea, and heard even folks at work talking about it (ahem Graham-bo).
I have always been a water person. I love fishing, snorkeling, freediving, holding breath underwater, and scuba. In fact, my Uncle certified me in PADI Scuba in Australia when I was 14 or so. He is one of top certified PADI instructors (Divemaster level) in Australia with over 6,000 recorded dives.
So the idea of challenging myself, holding my breath to depths of 30 feet or more, hunting for fish in the crisp water of Northern California in nooks and crannies of the undersea-world, and enjoying our natural resources is very appealing. What set me over the edge was our Duggan Dude’s annual fishing trip this year was in British Colombia, where we fished for salmon and lingcod. Bringing up monster lings from 100 feet on fishing line was so fun, I thought it would be great to dive down and find them in their natural habitat with spearfishing.
Pictured above is the gear you need to go. Actually you kind of need a lot of equipment. Gun (Pathos Open Laser 75cm), special extra long freediving fins, mask and snorkel (spearos use a very small mask to limit the amount of pressure equalization required and also a very simple snorkel to avoid getting caught in the kelp), weight belt, 7mm wetsuit with hood/gloves/booties, float line, float (Banks board pictured above), freedive watch, flashlight, and other misc gear. You can see Jesse here about to hop in the water.
The process is pretty straightforward. Find a beach access point. We go in Carmel-by-the-sea where there are quite a few spots that are easy parking and immediate entry. Suit up, swim out to the kelp, tie up your float to the kelp, and start freediving. Keep the speargun always pointed down, you don’t want to shoot your buddy. If you get seasick, take a Bonine pill that morning. It is really amazing to look up from the bottom of the ocean, see 30 feet of water column above you, see the kelp forest unfold in front of you, and capture the light coming through the water and kelp.
We spend about three hours at a time in the water. I can usually achieve about 60 dives during that time. Dives for me last about 30-35 seconds. There is a process of preparing to dive, called “breathe up”. Then you duck dive, head down, and try to conserve your energy as you look under ledges and rock faces to find fish. The fish we hunt are lingcods, cabezon, and rock fish. They are great eating. For lingcods, legal size is 22″, cabs are 15″.
I always dive with a buddy, and have met some amazing people on Spearboard.com and Norcalunderwaterhunters.com. People in the community are super helpful and go out of their way to teach noobs. Thanks to Finn, Sage, Ulises, Robert, Steve, and of course Jesse.
My personal bests right now are 31 feet and 36 seconds. I am trying to break 40 seconds soon. My goal right now is to shoot a 30″ lingcod, that would be a beast. My next goal after that is a Vermillion rock fish, they are quite hard to find and you have to go deeper.
There was a recent shark attack at Pebble Beach. It occurred actually 5 days after I had dived in the same spot. Because of that, I have a few safety rules that I follow. Place the fish on top of the float, not in the water and definitely not on your waist. The smell attracts them. Avoid making lots of splashes at the surface, that can appear like a wounded animal and they sense the vibration. I also now have started wearing a SharkShield, which emits an electrical signal around the diver and distorts their electrical sensors. It is said that it won’t protect you from a shark that is actively hunting you (since they attack at 25 mph from the bottom usually), but it will protect you from a curiosity bite if they are just cruising by. Additionally, because I am on blood thinners for an unrelated health issue, I carry a tourniquet on my float just in case. I have also been thinking about adding a camouflage paint pattern to my wet suit, to avoid looking exactly like a delicious seal. Also, speaking of avoidance, avoid areas that have lots of seals.
Here’s an example of a rock fish coming out to inspect me, right before I shoot it. Sometimes they hide in cracks and crevices, and other times they will stare you down. The key is not to make sudden movements that scare them away. Knocking metal parts together underwater also can draw them out. The other pic above is a large seal that came out of nowhere at quite a fast clip and scared me!
My buddy Finn above with a nice cabezon. And on the right, a typical haul from the ocean after a half day’s work. 4-5 fish can be filleted nicely and will feed a family of 4-5 with endless fish tacos.
Here’s my buddy Steve shooting a lingcod. Note the teeth. This is a pretty good size one, mid 20 inches. One thing I learned recently is to look for schools of blue rock fish, as you will typically find lingcods hunting them around the area.
Next up for me in the hobby is getting a Level 1 Freediving certification. I’ll be doing that in San Diego in January, to learn better practices around breathe up and deeper freediving. Looking forward to it! See you in the water!