Hawaii is without question one of the world’s best locations to spearfish. With 80+ ft visibility year-round, warm water, and a huge variety of delicious fish to go after, it’s a great place to hunt, so it’s no surprise that people have been diving on these islands for generations.
We understand that Hawaii is a popular destination for fishing, and we’ve made this step-by-step guide to be comprehensive.
Whether you’re a brand new spearo, just new to island hunting, or a veteran cruising for more tips, our desire is that this ultimate spearfishing Hawaii Guide will have something for you to improve your diving with.
Your first step to diving Hawaiian waters is to do your due diligence and put in some homework time. Nobody likes a kook in the water, and that goes doubly for Hawaiians used to tourists in their backyards.
You should have at least a passing understanding of local customs, rules, and regulations, your spot to dive, and target species. This will not only help you keep out of trouble with other divers but also make you a better hunter and safer in the water.
This step takes time, and the amount of time you spend educating yourself prior to getting in is directly related to how fruitful your time is when you do get in – regardless of spearfishing experience.
Find and research your spot
There’s no way for you to prepare for your foray into Hawaiian waters without knowing first and foremost where you’re going.
Finding a spot can be tricky if you’re brand new to your island – try checking out the Spearboard forums or the Hawaii Freediving and Spearfishing Facebook group for tips on where to go.
Your best bet, though, is to ask anyone local to the area. With a little bit of respect given and a willingness to listen and learn, most local divers will offer a decent beginner’s spot for anyone asking.
Once you find your spot, try to figure out what to expect in the water. The best practice is to head to your target spot with just snorkel gear to gauge depth, scout out some fish species, and take a mental note of notable structures like drop-offs, caves, coral structures, and more.
If you’re short on time or just want to get straight to it, you should at the very least figure out: your entry and exit point, the current/swell conditions, and the depth range you’re comfortable with (as that will help determine the fish you’ll see).
Get used to the idea of being just another predator in the ocean. You’ll likely run into sharks, moray eels, and other wildlife that may intimidate you.
Don’t get scared. Just get cautious. Understand that you’re entering an entirely different food chain than what you’re used to, and act accordingly.
A quick Google Maps satellite scan will also show you some basic layouts of the reef structure you might find, which may give you an idea of a route to take between entry and exit.
Note that each island is different from the others and that each island may have different topography and characteristics to expect. (For example, the Kona Coast of the Big Island is known for its quick drop-offs and young reef structure.
Know your rules and regulations (and local customs)
Unlike many other states, Hawaii does not require a fishing license from in-state residents or visitors.
However, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is the state’s fish and game warden and will ticket anybody in violation of a sanctuary boundary, bag limit, size limit, or species prohibition.
Speaking from experience, they will confiscate all of your gear if you’re in violation – and the only way to get it back is to show up in court and pay a hefty fine. Additionally, all islands require divers to be within 100 feet of dive flags.
Besides the DLNR, local communities may have different opinions on bag limits. Although this usually doesn’t apply to easy-to-access or beginner spots, it’s worth taking it into account and asking around for more remote areas that may have resident divers from local communities.
Examples of this may be community-imposed limits on certain species or non-official seasons of when to harvest.
Research your target fish
The best practice for landing fish is knowing what kind of fish you’re catching before you even get in your wetsuit, and spearfishing in Hawaii is no different.
Certain fish, such as omilu or awa are transient and go all along the reefs, but provided that you’ve done your due diligence on your spot, you’ll likely have a solid idea of what to be looking for.
Shore dives in Hawaii usually target the following reef fish: kole, manini, menpachi (and other redfish), uhu, papio/ulua (and associated species), mu, and all types of goatfish, among other species.
Pelagic divers off a boat go after mahi mahi, ahi (tuna), and associated species, marlin (including striped marlin), among other species that may aggregate around local FADs.
You should first focus on understanding bag and size limits for your chosen fish species to avoid any run-ins with DLNR. It’s also a good idea to watch some YouTube videos to see how specific species of fish behave, as this will give you some great insight into what to expect and how to act in the water.
One of our favorite YouTubers, Ryan Myers, lives on the Kona Coast of the Big Island and has a prolific channel with tons of reef and blue water content here.
This video by the Maniniz Dive Team is a great intro to target fish behavior with some pretty amazing written commentary playing alongside the footage.
For the vast majority of fish, the best practice is to stay as non-threatening as possible with a low profile. The aspetto, or ambush, style is the most successful form of spearfishing in Hawaii – spearos dive to the bottom and wait quietly on the bottom for fish to come to check them out.
Fish in Hawaii are intelligent (from having fishing pressure on them for as long as the islands have been inhabited), but that doesn’t stop them from being curious.
A couple of tips to take advantage of their curiosity:
- Avoid making direct eye contact with your prey.
- Be non-threatening with your body movement – you should be moving smoothly with minimal jerking motions, especially of the head.
- Hide your body as well as you can within the structure by hiding behind coral heads or sticking your body in a gully
- Don’t forget to keep track of your fin positioning; try to keep your fins low to the ocean floor.
- Tuck your gun to your side during your descent to minimize drag and lower your profile. Keep in mind that when you’re extending your gun, you look like a 9-foot-long predator with the length of your gun and fins taken into account.
- Different fish respond to different stimuli:
- Crustacean eaters/coral munchers like uhu, goatfish, and mu respond well to light scratching on the reefs.
- Semi-pelagic and predatory fish like uku and omilu/papio respond well to grunting. Goatfish are also great to grunt at.
- Dusting (grabbing some sand at the bottom and putting it above and in front of you) is great to attract the attention of all marine life.
- Many fish are also attracted to flashing sunlight in the water – reflective surfaces like a spinning spoon or a PVC pipe with reflective tape can be great at attracting fish.
So you’ve got your spot, and you know what you’re hunting – do you have the spearfishing gear? Thankfully, with warm water and great visibility, you won’t need much.
Here’s an ideal checklist:
- Wetsuit (3mm max – anything thicker and you’ll be unbearably warm)
- Weight belt
- Mask and Snorkel
- Float with a dive flag and float line (required by law in the state of Hawaii)
- Fish-killing device (either a pole spear or a speargun)
Note that if you’re getting brand-new equipment, it may take some time for everything to “click” and get all your gear dialed. That’s normal and part of the process, so don’t get discouraged!
Should I use a pole spear or a speargun (or both)?
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I highly recommend that beginners to spearfishing and newcomers to the islands start on pole spear only before graduating to a speargun.
With so much hunting pressure from generations of divers and crystal clear visibility to reveal your position, there’s something to be said about going about things the hard way in order for a greater payoff later.
Sticking to a pole spear teaches spearos body control, buoyancy control, stalking skills, and more.
Spearos that start and stick with a pole spear tend to develop their spearfishing techniques quickly as they are forced to in order to get into range, vs. those that jump straight to a speargun and use the extra range as a crutch for worse technique.
If you’re an experienced spearo but new to the islands, a pole spear still might be a good option over a speargun as you’ll quickly learn different fish behaviors from having to get closer for a kill.
That being said, you’ll always be able to land something to eat whether you bring a pole spear or a speargun.
Spearguns will give you the extra range you may need to land certain fish like omilu, uhu, and certain goatfish (all of which you can still land on a pole spear), but are more complicated and take longer to reload between shots.
Pole spears are unlikely to give you any gear trouble and can be ready for a second shot as fast as you can get your arms in front of you.
If you go for a pole spear, we recommend a 6’-8’ pole spear with a paralyzer tip (a three-prong). Pick something light and easy to maneuver, as fish can spot you and turn quickly compared to murkier environments.
If someone’s new to Hawaiian waters or spearfishing in general, my favorite thing to do is get them a three-prong and put them on some kole. Other easily accessible fish with a three-prong are manini, kala, menpachi (and all other redfish).
Kole and menpachi are some of my favorite eating fish, so I almost always get in with a three-prong alongside my gun.
If you opt to bring a speargun, we recommend a 90-120cm gun, as that will give you the best amount of power-to-maneuverability ratio. Pneumatic guns are rarely used in Hawaii in favor of standard banded or roller banded guns.
Pick something that can track targets well in the water, but ultimately as long as it has a decent range and you’re comfortable with it, any gun brand will suffice. Some great targets for a speargun are uhu, mu, papio/omilu, awa – pretty much anything over 12 inches in size is suitable for a speargun shot.
Freediving and spearfishing is an inherently dangerous activity and should never be done alone, particularly if you are going into depth.
Having a buddy to watch your back is not only imperative for safety reasons, but it’s also just plain fun to have someone to share your experiences with.
If you think that your potential buddy might not be able to rescue you at depth, keep in mind that most shallow water blackout scenarios happen in the top five feet of water – not in deep water.
If you’re on a trip to the islands, bring along your travel buddy, or check out the aforementioned Facebook group to see if anyone would be willing to take you out.
Having someone local to the area also comes with the benefits of experience on your side in terms of spots to dive and tips for specific Hawaiian fish.
If you live here or are planning on staying a while, invest your time in building your dive buddy network. With good behavior and cautious diving, you’ll find that over time, you’ll be introduced to more and more zones to dive or even boat access.
Having experienced dive partners is also one of the few ways you can become a better diver, as you’ll feel more and more comfortable pushing your limits and improving your dive technique.
Learn to cook (or have a plan for your fish)
Like anywhere else in the world, the primary goal of spearfishing is to put your catch on the table. Shooting anything without knowing for sure that you’re going to consume it is considered extremely disrespectful (outside of cases such as invasive species that are known for ciguatera).
Kole, redfish, mu, uhu, papio, etc., all have incredibly delicious recipes all over the internet for you to mimic with your own catch. Just using the term “catch and cook Hawaii” with an added species name will get you on the right path.
Keep in mind that spearfishing is not a simple sport in Hawaii – for many, it is a supplementary or even primary way to put food on the table for the family. If you do fish here, do so respectfully, with aloha towards the local community as well as aloha towards the fishery.
Hunting in a new environment can be daunting, regardless of skill level. Our aim with this guide is to give most people a place to start in preparing to dive into island water. Check out our Cast and Spear links throughout the guide for some more in-depth tips and advice – good luck, and stay safe!