When You’re the Fish Out of Water
There’s a lot more motivation for catching fish when fish can catch you. I’m talking about fishing with a Hawaiian Sling. You’re free-diving down underwater as a stranger, where the fish lives. You have very limited air (what’s in your lungs) and the fish has all the time in the world. You’re the “fish out of water.” And there’s competition, such as sharks and barracuda. It’s an amazing sport, great for exercise, and it makes that fish really taste good. Here are some pointers.
The water must be clear enough to see the fish. Usually this means Caribbean waters, the Bahamas, and the Florida Keys, although some New England and many Pacific areas are clear enough, especially in the cooler seasons.
Be sure the law allows it where you are, and know the size and take limits. A few radicals feel that this sort of spear fishing is not a good thing to do environmentally, but if you’re going to fish or eat fish, it’s really quite kind to the fish and the environment if you follow the rules.
You can buy a Hawaiian sling in many dive shops in areas where this type of fishing is allowed and practical. It’s a rounded block (wood or plastic) with a hole in the middle. A length of surgical tubing is fastened to each side, with a hollowed receptacle for the butt of the spear. You hold the block in one hand, slip the spear through it and insert the butt end into the receptacle. You pull back on the butt end and receptacle, aim, and let go.
We prefer a spear made of stainless spring steel.
Some prefer spears with the tubing attached to the spear. These are limited as to distance they’ll travel, but you’re less likely to loose the spear because you keep hold of the tubing.
Wear a wet suit with long sleeves, and a glove on your left hand (if right handed, or vice versa). Some fish and lobsters have sharp spines that will cut you or puncture you.
Practice before fishing. Practice on mounds of sand on the beach and then under water. You don’t want to spear reef or rock or even touch coral reef. Both can dull your spear, and reef is living creature that we must protect.
Any spear is dangerous. Be careful of diving partners and others. Don’t do it around swimmers or anyone else who might get in the way. Carry and store the spear carefully. It should always have a tip cover when not in use.
We dive from our 12 foot aluminum dinghy. You need a boat that won’t tip too much if two people try to climb in one side at the same time (as when brother shark comes along) and that’s easy to get up into quickly. If you use an inflatable, you must take special care that the fish or lobster, when jumping around, doesn’t put holes in it with fins or spines.
It’s best to have someone stay in the boat and keep up with the diver(s). If you anchor your boat and dive in leaving it unattended, current can take you away, or you may be too far away when you shoot that fish. Be very very careful of the outboard’s propeller.
If a shark or barracuda comes, drop the fish and spear and get out quickly. Always keep a sharp lookout for them. Don’t dive or fish when they’re around. When I ascend I turn 360 degrees as I do so, peering out at the underwater horizon. If you shoot a fish move on to another spot that doesn’t have traces of blood in the water. Many people will tell you that neither will bother you. Don’t trust that. Remember, you’re exciting fish (their food) and if you spear one you’re adding blood to the water. Aim at the fish’s head. A clean kill means the fish will make less vibration and noise in the water and thus be less likely to attract bad guys.
Get the speared fish into the boat as quickly as possible. DO NOT tow it around with you in a catch bag.
Everything looks about 1/3 bigger underwater. Learn to judge the size of fish accordingly.
Don’t think about it unless you’re in good shape, swim well, and dive and snorkel well.
Don’t try to go too deep. We usually find fish in 10 feet of water or less in rocky areas.
Beware of junk on the bottom or natural protrusions that could entangle you. Stay away from these.
Never stick your hand or head into a cave or hole looking for fish or retrieving them. Moray eel live there and they can clamp down on an arm, not letting go for a while.
Carry a dive knife.
Learn which fish are good to eat and which are not. Various fishing books have pictures. Some fish can make you ill. Learn about Ciguatera poisoning. Some species of reef fish, especially the larger ones, are more likely to have it than others.
Don’t get overtired or physically stress yourself doing this. Don’t forget in the heat of the hunt that you’ve got to come back up before you can breathe again. You’re a fish out of water. BE SAFE.
If you’re not in to spearing fish, go snorkeling. It’s one of the nicest things you can do while cruising, on any boat large or small. All you need is a good mask, snorkel and flippers. A wetsuit adds a good measure of safety (it gives floatation), it keeps you from getting chilled, and it helps protect you from the sun. They come in various weights to suit you and your climate. As with spear fishing, you need to observe all the safety precautions and be in good shape, be a good swimmer, and learn how to use a snorkel. To become comfortable with a snorkel, sit on a beach in water up to your chest, lean over with your mask and snorkel on, and put your face in the water. You need clear water to be able to enjoy the sights. Go find some if you don’t have any at home.
Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale