The Dummies Guide to Spearfishing

Spearfishing
Spearfishing

To a newbie diver starting out, one is often face with a bewildering amount of equipment, different makes, different types, with each successful diver swearing by their own brands, whilst other just as successful divers swearing AT that same brand! It becomes quite daunting for a novice to sift through all this information and try and make a choice. So what I’m trying to do with this thread is to simplify matters, giving the new spearo a good foundation, making sure that he buys the correct equipment first time so as not to waste money and also to enhance his spearfishing career.

Let the fun begin!!

Mask

This is one of the most important items for ANYONE that enters the aquatic realm. Having an ill-fitting mask or one that fogs up continuously can not only be very frustrating but dangerous as well. The ability to SEE under water is what it’s all about.

There are many makes and models in the market. Forget about brand names and get the one that FITS YOUR face the best. Since everyone has different facial features, the only way to select a mask is to visit your local dive store and try on as many as you can. The easiest way to test a mask is to put it on your face, ensuring it fits snuggly and then gently inhaling through your nose. This should suck the mask to your face. Tilt your head forward, looking towards the ground. The mask should still be stuck to your face. Should the seal not be good, it will fall off your face. (NOTE: you do this WITH-OUT the mask strapped to your head!!) Make sure that the nose piece of the mask is comfortable enough for you to hold, as when you descend, you’ll need to equalize by pinching your nose. Try it with gloves!! Stay clear of masks with purge valves on. They DO work, but have a rather short life span. They also tend to have smaller space for your fingers for equalizing!!

For spearing you have two extremes: your shallower dives and your very deep dives. For deeper dives, you’re looking for a low volume mask, which allows for easier mask equalization. The downside with low-volume masks is that they offer limited vision. The term tunnel vision is often used. Popular SPEARING low volume masks are the venerable Cressi Super Ochio and Omer Alien.

For shallower diving, 0-20m (0-60′), I prefer a larger volume mask, which gives you a greater field of vision. Very helpful for spotting fish just on the edge of you vision!! The newer frameless mask designs work very well for many spearo’s. Well worth looking at!!

Once you’ve acquired your mask, you need to clean INSIDE of the lens, so as to prevent fogging up. Some toothpaste smeared on the inside and rubbed around works great!! Repeat it a couple of times and your mask should not fog up anymore!!

masks

Snorkel

All you need is a simple J shaped snorkel. Once again, stay clear of snorkels with purge valves and anti-splash contraptions. They also work, but add additional drag and the purge valves always BREAK when you least expect it!!

For the average spearo, a medium bore snorkel with a comfortable mouthpiece is all that’s needed. Having a mouth piece that’s uncomfortable or too hard, will cause your gums to pain or even start to bleed and possibly also irritate your tongue causing swelling. Many spearo’s are particularly partial to the Omer Zoom range of snorkels.

Wetsuits

Another very important piece of kit. Your whole diving experience will be largely governed by how comfortable you are in the water. Being warm is the greatest priority. A warm diver will have a more enjoyable dive, have longer bottom times and generally have a much longer dive.

Wetsuits for spearfishing work on a simple concept. It allows a very small amount of water into your suit, allowing your body to heat up that small amount of water. Body heat is therefore retained, allowing the diver to stay in the water for much longer.

Wetsuits are made of neoprene, which is very buoyant. To compensate for the buoyancy, a weight belt is needed. More about weight belts later.

Wetsuits come in various types of materials and thicknesses. The normal range starts from 1-1.5mm wetsuits, which are suitable for warm tropical waters. Many spearo’s also use lycra suits in these warm waters. They offer protection from the sun, save your back and neck from getting sun burnt, as you tend to spend quite a bit of time on the surface, as well as protects you from various stinging sea animals, like blue-bottles, Portuguese-men-o-war, fire-corals, etc.

The next thickness is 3mm and 5mm suits. For very cold water, you would use up to a 7mm suit. Needless to say, the thicker the wetsuit, the heavier your weight belt will be.

wetties

The standard spearfishing wetsuit is normally a two piece: full farmer john/brown (that’s basically a wetsuit covering your legs, waist and chest going over your shoulders) and a jacket with a hoodie incorporated. Since most of your body heat is loss through your head, it’s imperative to have a hoodie on your wetsuit. In warmer waters, where the wetsuit is used more for protection that insulation, the hoodie is NOT incorporated into the wetsuit. It’s very easy for your body to overheat in warm waters, making diving very unpleasant and dangerous.

The most important part of a wetsuit is the fit. If you have an odd body shape, then a custom made wetsuit is the best option. Especially women spearo’s would benefit greatly from a custom fitted wetsuit.

Open cell wetsuits. What makes them special? Most divers have used a normal closed cell wetsuit. These are hard, tough rubbery like wetsuits. They are generally cheap and will last for a very long time. Their downsides: they don’t insulate the diver very well, they’re cumbersome to put on and take off, they restrict mobility and they often cause bleeding by rubbing the skin off the back of your knees (especially after a long dive session). Open cell suits are much softer and much more flexible. They need soapy water for you to put them on, which makes them VERY easy to get into and out of. There softness and flexibility allows the wetsuit to keep you warmer, for longer periods of time and keeps abrasion against the skin down to a minimum.

Their downsides are: they’re pricey and have a short lifespan. Which-ever wetsuit you decide to purchase, ensure that the knees, elbows and butt section have additional padding as these are the area’s that take the most abuse. Furthermore, a loading pad on the chest, which basically is a piece of padded neoprene stuck onto the chest part, is essential. Will alleviate the bruising of your chest from loading your gun.

Fins

There are quite a few long bladed fins on the market. Almost all of them will work well for spearfishing. If you’re hunting in less than 20m (60′), a “soft” fin is what you need. The most important factor is FIT!! Your fins MUST fit your feet PERFECTLY. Too tight, and your feet will cramp up, conversely, too loose and you’ll get blisters and probably lose your fins. So simply visit a dive shop and fit on as many types of fins as you can. Since almost all spearing fins are closed heel fins, so you’ll have to wear neoprene to socks. Fit the fins on WITH your neoprene socks on. There are very few open heeled long bladed fins on the market. These tend to lack the power of their closed heel counterparts.

Some of the most popular brands are:

  • Picasso black teams – great for guys with BROAD feet (like me!!)
  • Omer Millenniums
  • Cressi Gara 3000’s as well as their 2000’s

There are a multitude of other great fins in the market, so do a bit of research on www.deeperblue.com or forums.deeperblue.com for a more in-depth review of fins.

Weight Belt

A weight belt is needed to counter-act the buoyancy of your wetsuit. Since everyone has a different body shape each ones weighting will be different. Depending on the depth of water that you’re diving in, a spearo should always try to be positively buoyant until -6m. This is to ensure that he will float up to the surface should he suffer from shallow water black-out. Care should be taken NOT TO OVERWEIGHT yourself, as this might make you go down quicker, the extra time gained on the bottom is offset against the additional time it takes to swim back up as well as the additional time it’ll take to recover. It’s much easier to swim down against the buoyancy of your wetsuit, than to swim up, against gravity. Much safer as well. Remember, when you’re laying on the surface, when you EXHALE, you must still be positively buoyant.

Most spearo’s use the Marseilles rubber weight belt with a quick release buckle. This stretches and doesn’t turn whilst you’re diving, unlike the normal webbing belts. This accounts for the compressing of your wetsuit as you go deeper. This way, your quick release buckle will always be in the same position. When surfacing from a deep dive and you’re feeling out of breath, it is advisable to open your buckle whilst ascending. Should you black out, the belt will slip from your hand and the weight belt will fall off, allowing your wetsuits buoyancy to take you to the surface.

Another handy hint is to buy TWO complete weight belts. This way, you’d be more inclined to dump your weight belt should the need arise.

Knives

Contrary to the diving movies, your knife isn’t going to be used to fend off aggressive sharks!! A spearo’s knife serves two basic functions, namely, to dispatch his catch as quickly, safely and humanely as possible and to cut himself free from any line or rope he might get entangled in. A smallish knife with a strong sharp point is what is required. Bulky knives are heavy and cumbersome and tend to hook onto kelp and your floatline and offers more water resistance. Many spearo’s tend to favor the flat knives with a pancake type sheath, which is very streamlined. Popular brands are Omer Flat Hunt and Picasso Tigre.

knives

Gloves and Socks

Gloves are used to protect the hands from not only the cold, but from fish spines, corals and reefs. Most gloves are 3mm thick, which provides ample warmth. How-ever, most spearo’s prefer leather palmed gloves. These gloves are much thinner on the inside of your hand, allowing your hand to be more sensitive. Very nice on spearguns with sensitive triggers. For the spearo operating in warm tropical waters, normal cotton garden gloves work great.

If you’re spearing with a closed heel long bladed fin, you’ll need a pair of neoprene socks. They’re available in 2mm and 3mm thickness. Make sure that you fit your socks on when fitting your fins in the dive shop. Socks have a very short lifespan. Replacing them one a year is normal, obviously depending on how often you dive.

That basically sorts your diving kit out. Now all you need is a big bag in which to put all your gear in. Most companies offer large bags that have a mesh covering, that’ll hold your whole dive kit, including your long bladed fins. It’s a great way to keep all your kit together and also very convenient, as it doesn’t take up to much space.

Speareguns

Probably the most debated item amongst spearo’s is the guns that they use. Many divers will swear by one brand whilst other will swear AT that same brand!! What must be remembered though is that ultimately it’s not the gun, but the skill of the diver that makes him successful. So let us enter the minefield of spearguns!!

Spearguns can be classified into two distinct types, namely Pneumatic (air) guns and band guns. Each type has its own advantages and dis-advantages.

Starting off with Pneumatic (Air) guns. They’re unfortunately perceived by most spearo’s as not being a good weapon. The most often touted theories are that they are high maintenance and lose power the deeper you go. The advantage of a pneumatic gun is that it has immense power for its size. Since the Mamba kit came onto the market, it has revolutionized the pneumatic speargun market. This kit basically seals off the barrel, stopping water from entering the barrel. The piston therefore pushes out ONLY the spear and not spear and water as before. This makes the gun very powerful. Quite a few divers are now starting to use pneumatic guns and it seems like their popularity will increase.

Band guns can be further sub-divided into a myriad of categories. Let’s start off with the categories of euro guns, multiple band wooden guns and hybrids.

Euro guns were designed for the euro spearo’s who mostly hunted smaller fish. They needed a gun that is fast and very accurate. Most euro guns are fitted with a 6-6.5mm spear and a single 16mm, 18mm or 20mm band. Popular brands are Omer, Picasso, Cressi, etc A mutation of the euro guns is the South African railgun. South African divers needed a gun with more power and thicker spears for the larger fish they hunted. So 7-8mm spears were used and 2x16mm bands were used to propel the spear. To counter-act spear whip and spear wobble, a rail was added to the gun. This not only strengthens the barrel, but also makes the gun very accurate. Popular brands are Rabitech and Rob Allen spearguns.

Most euro/South African railguns are measured by barrel length and not the total length of the gun and is expressed in centimeters.

The most popular set-ups are:

  • 16mm band with a 6.3-6.6mm spear for fish under 7 kg’s (15lb’s)
  • 20mm band with 7mm spear for all-round use
  • Twin 16mm bands with 7-8mm spear for large fish

The advantage 16mm bands have over the 20mm is that it’s simply easier to load. That’s why many spearo’s use 2x16mm bands on their longer guns, as not only does it facilitate easy loading, but also give a little bit more power than a single 20mm band. That said, a single 16mm will generally be more accurate than twin 16mm bands, albeit less powerful.

What many spearo’s tend to overlook is that the effective range of a euro type speargun is roughly three times the spear length from the tip of the gun. Since you should be able to penetrate most fish at that range with a single 20mm on a euro gun, more powerful bands won’t give you additional range, but will only increase the speed of the spear, but more likely also cause spear whip or spear wobble or barrel flexing, thereby making the gun in-accurate. Consider 2x16mm bands to be the most powerful bands a euro or SA railgun type gun can handle.

Wishbones. What are they?? Well, the wishbone is what connects your spearguns bands to the spear. You get two basic types, articulated and dyneema wishbones.

Articulated wishbones are metal wishbones. They are used on the majority of euro guns. Their advantages are that they have a long life span and rarely give trouble. However, they are dangerous to your hands should they slip out of the spear notch, usually because the diver loads his gun in a hurry or incorrect loading technique. Dyneema wishbones are a soft rope type wishbone. The majority of SA Railguns are fitted with these. Very safe on the hands. The only precaution you have to take is to ensure that you use dyneema wishbone friendly spears. Should you modify your normal euro gun and fit a dyneema wishbone, you will HAVE to smooth the spear notches or else it will cut the dyneema wishbone.

Euro Guns

Multiple band wooden guns are used when hunting larger quarry. Many divers who hunt fish is very clean waters need the additional range that a multiple band wooden gun gives them. Wood is used, as it is extremely difficult to flex the barrel. This allows the spearo to use anything from 3-8 bands (even more if needed!!), with-out the fear of barrel flex causing problems, as opposed to the maximum loading capabilities of 2x16mm bands on a railgun. Using multiple bands also allows the diver to use a thicker spear. The heavier spear has more penetrating power over a lighter spear. Because of the amount of power used, wooden guns mechanisms tend to be very much stronger than your euro gun type mechanisms. Since multiple bands are used, recoil becomes an issue. To reduce recoil, gun manufacturers make their guns heavier. How-ever, the heavy guns now start to sink due to their weight and to combat this, side stocks are fitted. Many popular gun’s also have front stocks on, which assist in keeping the muzzle flip down, as well as moving the bands so that they are more in line with the spear. Some guns, such as Daryl Wongs Blue Water guns uses an internal weight system frees the gun of these bulky side stocks. Popular wooden gun manufacturers are Riffe, Wong, Kitto and Alexander guns.

These wooden guns generally come in two configurations, rear handle and mid-handle design. The mid-handle design allows for easy tracking, whilst the rear handle guns are easier to aim with.

Most wooden guns are measured by TOTAL length of the gun and are expressed in inches.

Wooden Guns

Hybrid guns marry the best of both worlds by combining a short euro type barrel to a wooden stock. Wong Hybrid guns are regarded as one of the BEST on the market. With barrels made from titanium or carbon fiber, they offer the strength of a wooden gun trigger mechanism, coupled with the maneuverability of a euro type gun.

Hybrid Guns

That just about covers the general range of guns. Now for a couple of odd-ball entrants!!

C4 Monoscocca is a full carbon fiber gun built in Italy. This gun is touted by many as the very BEST euro type gun on the market.

C4 Gun

Totemsub is another Italian gun manufacturer, who builds wooden euro type guns. Very well built and extremely accurate guns. Another popular brand is Abellansub.

Omer has also released two guns that sport wooden barrels married to a euro type grip. Specifically the Omer Master America and the Omer Cobra.

Similarly, Picasso has also launched their version of the Picasso Pacific in a wooden barrel.

What size gun should I get?

Gun size is dependant primarily on the visibility in your area. Generally, the cleaner the water, the longer the gun. Then there are also guns that are used for very specific purposes, such as a 75cm gun that is used for hunting in caves, cracks or crevices. Here, smaller guns maneuverability gives it a great advantage over a longer gun, even though the water might be very clean. The following is just a general idea on what gun sizes you should look at. The easiest way to find the ideal gun size is to simply speak to the succesfull spearo’s in your area.

Typical scenarios for euro or SA Railguns are:

  VizBlue Water Diving Reef DivingKelp DivingCave/Hole Diving
15m+50ft+130 cm120 – 130cm60–90cm60 – 70cm
10-15m30–50ft120–130cm120–130cm60– 90cm60 – 70cm
5-10m15–30ft110–130cm110–130cm60– 90cm60 – 70cm
0-5m0-15ft110cm90–110cm60–90cm60 – 70cm

Typical scenarios for wooden guns are:

  VizBlue Water Diving Reef DivingKelp DivingCave/Hole Diving
15m+50ft+63 in60-63 in55-60 in44-50 in
10-15m30–50ft60-63 in60-63 in55-60 in44-50 in
5-10m15–30ft55-60 in55-60 in55-60 in44-50 in
0-5m0-15ft55 in55 in55 in44-50 in

Typical scenarios for hybrid guns are:

  VizBlue Water Diving Reef DivingKelp DivingCave/Hole Diving
15m+50ft+63 in60-63 in55-60 in44-50 in
10-15m30–50ft60-63 in60-63 in55-60 in44-50 in
5-10m15–30ft55-60 in55-60 in55-60 in44-50 in
0-5m0-15ft55 in55 in55 in44-50 in

Hopefully you have now successfully navigated the minefield of spearguns and should be able to make a good decision on what type of gun and what length would be suitable for YOUR application.

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