How to Spear Fish — Understanding the Equipment, Locations, and Safety

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Are you ready to learn how to spear fish?

If so, you’ve found the right place to wrap your head around the basics. This article will cover the high-level basics of spearfishing to get you started.

Each part of this article will be linked to more in-depth guides so you can go deeper on a specific topic.

How To Spear Fish (Lionfish)
Lionfish are an invasive species around the world. Spearos do a great service by killing them. Source: CameilaTWC

Basics of How to Spear Fish

  • Basic Spearfishing Equipment
  • Finding a Dive Buddy
  • How to Spearfish
  • Spearfishing for Beginners: Techniques and Best Practices
  • Beginner Spearfishing Locations
  • Beginner Spearfishing Fish Types
  • How to Relax and Hold Your Breathe

Don’t let this short list of topics overwhelm you. Nothing beats time in the water, but having a few tips and tricks in the back of your mind doesn’t hurt to make the learning process more enjoyable.

Before you jump straight in the water, let’s inventory your equipment needs so you can spearfish.

Basic Spearfishing Equipment

How To Spear Fish
It’s not about having top-notch equipment; it’s about getting good with what you have. Source: Rusty Ferguson

Spearfishing equipment can be as complicated as you make it. Some new spearos use used equipment until they feel comfortable in the water to buy new gear.

Some go to a freediving shop and purchase everything brand new before spearfishing themselves.

Either method is acceptable. It all comes down to personal preference. If you have the money, I recommend buying quality basics that you’ll use for a long time, such as spearfishing wetsuit, freediving mask and snorkel, speargun, and spearfishing fins.

Now there are more pieces of equipment to buy, but those can be used if you need to save money.

No matter what, if you want to spear fish, you will need a fishing spear and a device that thrusts the spear into the fish. Let’s take a look at some options.

Spearfishing skills Jon wants to improve in 2023
Jon’s spearfishing goals for 2023

Fishing Spear

When people first hear about spearfishing, they imagine a fishing spear that the fisherman holds in their hand and throws at the fish…

This could work if you’re standing on the edge of a lake or tide pool, but this isn’t the spearfishing we will cover.

Spearfishing, for this article, means getting in the water and using either a pole spear or speargun to thrust a fishing spear through the water and into the fish. After the fish has been hit, the spearo humanely kills it, puts it on his stringer or in the boat, and continues the hunt.

Let’s take a look at some primary considerations for pole spears.

Pole Spear Fishing

Gatku Tener Pole Spear
Gatku makes high-end carbon fiber pole spears. Check them out in our In-Depth Guide to Picking the Best Pole Spear.

Spearfishing with a pole spear is an ancient practice that has been used for thousands of years. The concept is straightforward, with the spearo using a long straight shaft with a pointed tip and an elastic band to throw the spear forward.

With a straight enough shot and enough force from the band, the spear should penetrate through the fish.

When the term pole spear is thrown around, the Hawaiian Sling typically pops up in a person’s mind. Let’s briefly look at what one of those is.

Hawaiian Sling Spear

The term Hawaiian Sling is a device that propels a spear forward using a band. Think of how a bow works to throw an arrow through the air and into a target.

Hawaiian Sling
Here’s a pistol-style Hawaiian Sling.

The same is done with a Hawaiian sling in the water. Usually, it’s made from a comfortable block that has a rubber band attached to it. The spearo pulls the spear through the block and adds tension to the rubber, just like a bow and arrow.

The spearo will then hold this position while hunting for the fish. If the spearo tires out, they can release the tension in the band until they see a fish.

If you want the feel of a bow and arrow underwater, you should check out these bow and arrow-inspired Sea Archer Hawaiian slings.

Sea Archer Hawaiian Sling
The Sea Archer gives you the same feel as a bow and arrow underwater.

The definition for a Hawaiian sling is broad enough to include your hand as the block, but most spearos call this all-in-one package a pole spear.

Hawaiian Sling Vs. Pole Spear

As mentioned above, for this article, we’ll call a Hawaiian sling device with a rubber band separate from the spear.

A pole spear, in this case, will be a wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or metal shaft with a sharp tip and a rubber band attached to the base of the spear. The spearo will load the band by placing them around it, resting their four fingers on one side and their thumb on the other, and pulling the band up as close to the tip as possible.

The main difference between a Hawaiian sling and a pole spear is how many hands it takes to operate the release of the spear.

A Hawaiian sling is similar to a bow and arrow, so you’ll need two hands to the fire. A pole spear only needs two hands to load and one hand to fire.

This all comes down to personal preference and practice for being deadly with either device. Both are equally effective in the water for spearing fish. The real question is, do you have the right tip to keep the fish from escaping?

Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Pole Spear Tips

Three prong tips

The essential pole spear tips commonly used are three-prong tips. They are either straight or barbed spikes that angle outward from the spear shaft. When this pierces the fish, the angler pushes the flesh outwards, keeping the fish from getting away.

Single and Double Flopper Tips

This is another common variation of tips that keep fish from getting away. After the tip goes through the fish, the metal flopper opens up once the fish tries to swim away and prevents the spear from exiting the location it entered.

Slip Tips

Slip tips are used when you’re going after big fish. You can take large fish with a sling or pole spear when you attach a slip tip to the end to give more play and not let the fish break away after being hit. Just make sure you have a float line attached to the end of your pole spear so you don’t lose it!

Note that all of these spear tips are available for spearguns as well.

Speargun Fishing

After covering the Hawaiian sling and pole spear above, let’s dive into spearguns. Spearguns are the hunting tool for most spearos since they allow for a powerful and accurate shot.

We could cover many aspects of the speargun, but that’s already covered in our in-depth speargun guide.

Instead, let’s cover what you should look for in picking the best speargun to get started in the sport.

Best Speargun for Beginners

Having talked to many spearos, the consensus for a spearo’s first gun is short enough to move around quickly in the water, easy to load, easy to reload, and cheap enough not to empty your wallet since it probably needs to be replaced for a better gun once you’re good.

Freedive Spearfishing

This is the most common method of spearfishing. Fish are sensitive to their surroundings so it’s essential to be a silent hunter and the only way to do this is to hold your breath and dive into the depths.

Many beginner spearos get frustrated by their lack of downtime underwater. Large fish have been taken in shallow waters and the surface or mid-water level.

It takes practice.

That’s why it’s always recommended that you have as much time in the water as possible. You’ll find that the reason you can’t stay down is not that you can’t hold your breath for long enough, but because you’re not relaxed given the situation of being in the middle of the ocean hunting.

If you’re new to spearfishing, it’s always recommended that you find ways to get comfortable. This means using a dive buddy or taking a freediving course if you have the ability. If you can mentally handle the stress of diving deep with an instructor who shows your proper technique, then you’ll be better at shooting fish.

Scuba Spearfishing

There are a lot of spearos who discourage you from spearfishing with scuba gear. They feel like it’s not the pure method and doesn’t add enough challenge due to not having to hold your breath.

However, I know a spearo who brings his gun whenever he dives just in case he needs to protect himself from sharks or sees a good fish worth taking during the dive. He enjoys it, so good for him.

The biggest issue I see with scuba spearfishing is the amount of fish you scare away due to the bubbles your produce from breathing in and out. If you’re fishing in a place that’s loaded with fish then this might not be a big deal and by all means, take the fish any way you’d like.

As always, be careful of those around you while spearfishing without scuba gear.

Dive Buddy

Once you have purchased your spear gun or pole spear, it’s strongly advised to find someone who can teach you how to spear fish or go out with friends who are more advanced than you.

You should always dive with a buddy for safety.

Here’s the proper dive buddy protocol:

  • The other should stay on the surface as one person is diving down.
  • Each partner can take turns doing this.

Sometimes it can be hard to find dive buddies if you’re getting into this sport. Even if you find a friend, they might be at the same level as you, which doesn’t give you a seasoned individual to help keep you safe or fix flaws in your technique.

I’ve found spearo dive buddies on forums such as:

Another place to find dive buddies is at local spearfishing organizations in your city. If you live in Southern California, you can attend a meeting for the LA Fathomiers, Long Beach Neptunes, or San Diego Freedivers Club.

How to Spear Fish

Now that you are ready with your gear and dive buddy, it’s time to spear some fish.

Let’s dive into how to spear fish easily.

Spearfishing Basics

You should try and stay in less than 30 feet of water at the start.

This will alleviate the temptation to go deeper. You want to practice your breath-holds in shallow water until you feel comfortable. Slowly work on going deeper, each time only graduating when you are comfortable at each level.

It also wouldn’t hurt to practice breath-holding in a pool, but make sure you have proper supervision in case you blackout.

One of the critical things is to remain relaxed and calm.

There are a few reasons for this.

  • One reason is that if you are not relaxed, it will affect your breath-holding ability.
  • Your dive won’t be as pleasurable if you are nervous.
  • The fish can pick up on your heartbeat…so STAY CALM!

Spearfish Fish

When you arrive at the beach or a rocky shore, you first want to look at the surf and see how the visibility looks from the dive site. I would NOT recommend going out if the surf is more than three feet for a beginner. If you go out, go out with somebody with more experience than you. They can explain how to go through the surf during the small sets.

If you are a beginner and are diving by yourself, you should wait until the surf is under two feet. Even though it is sometimes hard to find a dive buddy, it should be stated that

If you’re a beginner, don’t go out by yourself.

Once you are at the beach, if the conditions are good, and you are diving with someone with more experience than you…you are ready to get in the water.

For beginners, diving around thick kelp beds is not advised because it can be intimidating. It is easy to get wrapped around the kelp bed inadvertently. Also, most beginners don’t have the skills to get themselves untangled (which is why you should always carry a knife).

As a side note, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Malibu, California, are two excellent places to hunt for beginners. If you can get on a boat, the Long Beach break wall and the Seal Beach break wall are very “fishy” areas and are great places for beginners to sharpen their skills.

Types of Fish to Shoot

When you are in the water with your dive buddy, here are a few fish that I advise targeting for your first few dives:

  1. Rubberlip Perch
  2. Pile Perch
  3. Sargo
  4. Sheepshead
  5. Halibut
  6. Kelp Bass
  7. Mahi mahi fish (if you hop on a buddy’s boat and find patties)

The surf Perch family, as well as the Sargo, are good targets to start hunting. They are not very “spooky” fish. As a general rule, try to target fish over twelve inches. You will get an excellent filet to take home and eat.

The Sheephead must be at least twelve inches. They are the next logical group of fish to target because they are easier to target for the same reason as the Perch and Sargo. Sometimes, you find the Sheephead on the bottom, eating urchins. When they are busy eating, they are an easy target.

The Halibut can be very easy to spear once you learn how to spot them in the sand. But spotting them in the sand can be tricky because they like to bury themselves in the sand, and sometimes you can’t see them.

When you learn how to see the outline of the Halibut or their jawbone, then once you spot them, they become an easy target. You can find them in sand patches around the reefs, lying in the sand next to the reef, or covered by eelgrass.

The Kelp Bass (Calico) is one of the more difficult fish to hunt. One reason is that spearfishermen are always targeting them and are gun-shy. They always seem to see you before you move your spear toward them.

One of the best ways to hunt Kelp Bass is sitting on the surface of the kelp and waiting for them to swim by. Another way is to lay on the bottom (5 feet to 20 feet for a beginner) and wait for them to come by.

Shooting Fish With a Gun

It’s one thing to get close to a fish without spooking them. It’s another to be able to aim, pull the trigger, and hit them.

Practice, practice, practice.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pool in your backyard, set up some targets and practice hitting them from various distances. The more shots you take, the easier it’ll be to hit the fish when the moment counts.

Some spearos want to practice on live fish, but it’s unadvisable since you’re damaging the local ecosystem if you shoot and leave the fish there. It’s better only to shoot fish you intend to bring home and eat.

Spearfishing for Beginners: A Few Quality Locations

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have great spearfishing locations. However, if you live in California, Hawaii, or Florida, you have some of the best spots in the United States to hunt.

If you’re not in any of these locations, maybe it’s time to take a trip and give it a shot.

Spearfishing Southern California

Southern California has a great variety of fish to hunt. Check out our spearfishing Southern California fish guide if you haven’t already done so.

Spearfishing Los Angeles

Los Angeles has excellent spots from Malibu down to Long Beach. It’s home to one of the oldest spearfishing clubs, the Fathomiers.

If you’re looking for white sea bass or yellowtail, check out the kelp forests near Palos Verdes. There are many Marine Protected Areas, so always check the updated maps to ensure you’re not taking fish in the wrong location.

Spearfishing San Diego

San Diego has beautiful beaches and kelp forests to check out.

There are also many boat charters out of Mission Bay if you want to pay to get away from the shore and into the deeper water.

Spearfishing Catalina

There are lots of spots, and most of them hold fish since Catalina is an island with less fishing traffic than along the coast of Los Angeles or San Diego.

It’s great to rent a tandem kayak at Descanso Beach and paddle up the coast. There are long sandy beaches that hold halibut and leopard sharks, depending on the time of year. However, I’d refrain from shooting the leopards.

Be careful not to carry your speargun in public if you’re in Avalon. There have been issues with other spearos in the past where they were hassled about it. Keep yourself happy and keep it concealed in a large bag.

Spearfishing Hawaii

YouTube video

Spearfishing in Hawaii is fantastic with the blue waters and the vibrant fish that hang around the various islands.

However, there is also an invasive species problem, so if you’re a beginner and need the practice, it could be good to head over and shoot them all.

Hawaii Invasive Fish Species

  • These were brought in from French Polynesia back in the 1950s with the hope of being a good food source for the island.
  • Unfortunately, like so many well-intentioned actions, it was more harmful than good.
  • No bag limit.
  • Less harmful than the Roi, but it still damages the reef. They are great for eating fish, so don’t feel bad taking as many as you want. They can be difficult to hit, so make sure you are silent and still so you can get close enough to hit them.
  • Another delicious fish to take home and cook.
  • They can be drawn in with chum or squid, so bring some in your pocket and let them come to you.
  • This is also known as the Unicorn Fish.
  • They make excellent sashimi so put them over your favorite fish after you take them home.
  • They have sharp orange spikes on their tails so be careful.
  • You can get them closer to you by scratching the green-lobe coral while on the bottom.
  • These fish tend to run on the smaller end, so they could be hard to bag legal.
  • They feed on tiny shrimp and other small creatures.
  • Use flashy objects to get them curious about you before shooting.

Spearfishing Oahu

Going for Tako (octopus) is a fun way to spearfish in Oahu. The key is to get them out of the hole alive without shooting by toying with or tickling them.

There is a lot of water around the island, so check where they allow you to go out and fish. If you can get on a boat, you’ll increase your chances of finding better fishing grounds. Most of the time, you’ll have to dive down quite deep, so it could be a challenge for beginners.

If you explore at night, you can also find some lobsters and good size parrotfish. Spearos rave about uku, so try and get one while you’re out there.

Some spots worth checking out are Kaneohe and Ka’a’awa.

Spearfishing Florida

YouTube video

Spearfishing in Florida is plentiful, but their rules are different than California or Hawaii, so check with the local regulations before going out.

Fish you should NOT target spearfishing:

Here’s the list from the Florida Fish and Wildlife site (check it to make sure you’re up-to-date):

Note that you are not allowed to spearfish for freshwater species or in freshwater, but that’s pretty standard in most areas of the country.

The water is warm near Florida, and many great boat charters will take you to the Keys. There are always people posting about Hogfish down there. Pole spears are quite popular down there as well. Florida is known to be difficult to spearfish from shore, as Florida Wildlife will fine you if you get caught.

Play it safe and get on a boat and then go spearfishing.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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