In Spearfishing Basics

I started spearfishing with a pole spear, a mask and a pair of snorkeling fins. These days, I have a lot more spearfishing equipment, but I also catch a lot more fish.

For a beginner, the amount of spearfishing gear you need to go spearing can seem overwhelming. Then there’s all the different brands, and everyone you seem to talk to has a different opinion on what’s best.

I get it.

Even online the amount of information can be overwhelming. Sorting through forums, blog posts, and a ton of different websites with their own ideas on what equipment is best for a spearo. Today, my only goal is to help arm you with the right information you need to start your own spearfishing adventures into the deep blue.

And there’s one big upside. Once you’ve got the basic spearfishing equipment covered, there are very few ongoing costs when it comes to spearfishing. (Until you upgrade to a boat of course, but that’s a whole other story).

The spearfishing equipment you need to go spearing:

Spearfishing mask

To have any hope of seeing anything underwater, you need a spearfishing mask. There’s only one important thing to look for. It needs to fit your face well. This way, it won’t leak as soon as you get in the water. A leaky mask is a nightmare when you’re spearfishing.

spearfishing equipment snorkelling mask

My advice, is to head to your local dive store and start trying different models. You want to forget brands at this point. The only thing you need to focus on is finding a good fit. Pressing a mask to your face, a slight inhale should pull it tight. You know it’s good if you can lean forward and the mask doesn’t drop. I’d also check the nose is comfortable to squeeze when you’re equalizing.

For a beginner that’s about all you need. I prefer a higher field of vision when I’m spearfishing in shallow water. And you’ don’t need to invest a huge amount of money into a fancy mask when you’re getting started. I used a cheap $20 mask and snorkel kit for years as a grommet, and it served me well in those early days.

If you’re a little more advanced, and want to be diving deep you’re going to need a low-volume mask. All this means is that the amount of air trapped within the mask is very little. The downside is these masks give you tunnel vision. But they’re great when you’re pushing your dives down past 15 to 20 meters.

My favorite low-volume spearfishing masks are:

But ordering a mask isn’t all you need to do. Once you get your hands on one you’ve got to clean the glass before it’s safe to use in the water. Otherwise the chemical residue in there is going to cause it to fog up like crazy. The easiest thing to do is get normal white toothpaste, and rub it all over both sides of the lenses of your fingers. Then rinse with water. Repeat this about 5 to 7 times, and your mask is now good to go.

Spearfishing snorkel

Now I always get told my favorite snorkel is too fancy for spearfishing. It’s got both a purge valve on the bottom and a splashguard on the top. All you need is a basic “J-shaped” snorkel. Most spearos will remove their snorkel completely from their mouth before they dive. Plus, the simpler your snorkel is, the less chance it’ll break.

I’m afraid I use a bad technique here, as I keep my snorkel in my mouth when I dive. It’s a throwback to my time spent using scuba. I’m much more comfortable underwater with the mouth-guard clenched between my teeth. I like my purge valve, as I can clear the tube with my remaining air when I surface, without needing to fumble around with my hands. And the splash guard stops most of the waves filling up my tube when I’m spearing on the surface in a tidal zone.

Spearfishing wetsuit

It’s no good going spearfishing for you to get cold 10 minutes into a dive. To be an effective hunter you need to be comfortable in the water. And the next most important factor is staying warm. Stay warm and you’ll be able to be in the water longer, spend more time on the bottom, and catch more fish.

A wetsuit is a key piece of spearfishing equipment. They work like this.

It’s a skin-tight suit you wear over your body, which only allows a tiny bit of water to enter. Your body heat warms this trapped water up, which keeps you warm. There’s a whole variety of different wetsuit thicknesses. From very thin 1mm wetsuits used in the tropics, to thick 7mm suits that you can dive in very cold water with.

Generally, if you’re in a temperate climate, you’ll get a 3mm or a 5mm wetsuit. But don’t be afraid to ask what’s best at your local dive shop. Too thick and you can overheat in the water, which also makes for an unpleasant dive.

Now wetsuits use neoprene rubber. It’s also very floaty. To compensate for this additional floatation, you’ll need a weight belt. We’ll cover this in a later section.

For spearfishing, the wetsuits I recommend are two-pieces. One piece covers your legs and chest like a tight-fitting pair of overalls. The other is a jacket that fits over your chest, and usually also comes with a hood.

The fit is what’s most important when selecting a wetsuit. It needs to be snug, yet easy to get in and out of. Too loose, and the water will not stay trapped inside and you’ll get cold. Have the staff in the store measure you to help you find the perfect fit. Sometimes, it may be necessary to have a custom wetsuit made.

When it comes to the actual neoprene, there’s two types

  • Closed cell wetsuits. These are cheap, and you’ve probably used one of these already if you’ve taken dive classes. They last forever, are thick and cumbersome, and they insulate you to a degree, but they’re not perfect.
  • Open cell wetsuits. These are much softer and flexible. To have any hope of actually fitting into one you’ll need to add soapy water so it slides on. Because they’re a much tighter fit they will insulate you better. Plus they’re much more comfortable to wear. But they’re also more expensive, and will wear out much quicker.

Personally, I’m a big fan of my Salvimar N.A.T. two-piece. It’s 5.5mm, and has a camouflage pattern to break up my outline when I’m spearfishing. It’s one of the best brands I’ve found to fit an athletic frame without having to get it custom made. It’s also great for where I dive in Australia. The water temperature during winter gets down under 70 degrees (21 celcius).

Spearfishing gloves

After the wetsuit comes your gloves. Spearfishing gloves are important for two reasons. They’ll keep your hands warm. But they’ll also add a hard layer of protection from any fish, jagged rocks, or crayfish you’re trying to grab. I started out with a pair of warm-water gloves from U.S. Divers, but they tore up rather fast. Especially on the fingertips. I usually finish most dives with a bit of crayfish hunting which doesn’t do my gloves any favors.

These days, I’m sporting a pair of Kevlar gloves from Ocean Hunter. They’re a much tighter fight, and have fully reinforced palms and fingertips. Perfect for hanging onto a rock or stuffing your fingers inside the gills of a fish without a thought. This pair have lasted two seasons already with very little wear. I’m suitably impressed, and I’ll keep you updated on just how long this pair lasts. So far they’ve been awesome.

Spearfishing fins (and socks)

For spearfishing the best fins to get are the longest ones you can find. Seriously. They may look intimidating because they’re massive. But once you’ve tried them in the water you’ll never look back.

Choose “soft” fins. If they’re hard they’ll be brutal on your ankles when you’re kicking around on the surface.

spearfishing equipment snorkelling flippers fins

Again, fit is the most important factor here. You want the boots to be an almost perfect fit (when you’re wearing a pair of neoprene socks of course). I’ve found my feet will swell a little in the water, so be sure there’s enough room. You should also buy a pair of socks when you’re at the store, and make the fins fit well when you’re wearing these.

Tight fins will cause the arch of your foot to cramp mid-dive. Loose fins will kick off, and rub blisters on your feet. So get down to your local dive store and try on as many pairs as you can. Just make sure you’re looking at closed-heel fins, as these will give you a bit more power in the water. Right now I’m loving my Motus Kama fins from SEAC. But I was a big Cressi fan too until I got these, and you won’t go wrong with a pair of their GARA fins either.

Weightbelts for spearfishing

We mentioned earlier about the buoyancy of wetsuits. It’s a big problem. Pushing yourself underwater yet your wetsuit is floating you to the surface.

That’s where a weight belt becomes an important piece of spearfishing equipment. It counter-acts how “floaty” you are when you’re wearing a wetsuit.

Of course, we’ve all got different body types and shapes, so the amount of weight you’ll need is going to vary. The thickness of your wetsuit is also going to have an impact.

Just be careful. Using too many weights is dangerous. If you sink like a stone and have to struggle to kick back to the surface, you’ve got it wrong. You should still float on the surface, even after you exhale. For me, at 84kg, I use 7kg of weights along with my 5.5mm wetsuit.

As a general rule, take the thickness of your wetsuit + 2 to calculate the weight you need.

  • A 3mm wetsuit = 3 + 2 = 5kg of weight
  • A 5mm wetsuit = 5 + 2 = 7kg of weight

On your first dive, I’d recommend keeping your weights a kilogram or two lighter. Until you get used to your new spearfishing equipment. Once you’re confident, up it a little until you get your neutral buoyancy right.

What’s most important though is having a weight belt with a quick-release buckle. Riffe make a good one you can get here. In an emergency you want to remove your weight belt as quickly as possible. So you can get to the surface fast. Now you should never push yourself so hard on a dive that this is necessary, but it’s a good safety net to have, just in case.

Spearfishing knife

Having a blade handy as part of your spearfishing equipment is always a good idea. All you need is a small knife with a good point. Don’t get anything too bulky that may catch on the seaweed or in the kelp as you’re hunting. When I started, I picked up a cheap stainless steel dive knife with a sheath, and I think it set me back about $10.

I used it for everything from cutting old fishing line tangled in the reef to chumming up baitfish. And of course, to ensure every fish caught was dispatched quickly, safely and humanely.

If you take care of your knife it’ll last for years. My wife got me the Argonaut Titanium a couple of years back now and it’s held up perfectly to this day. It’s a much better knife that’s for sure, but ultimately, what you can afford is better than nothing. And you need a knife.

Spearfishing floatlines

Your float is a very important piece of spearfishing equipment. As it broadcasts to any boats in the area that there’s a diver below, so they know to take care if they’re passing by. It should be brightly colored (fluroescent orange is good), with a flag attached so it’s easily seen.

spearfishing equipment dive float

You always need to use your float.

The only time I don’t, is when I’m spearfishing in close to the rocks. In this instance I clip it to a rock out past the breakers so it doesn’t get tangled.

In all other cases the float is attached to my line, which attaches to my speargun. My line is roughly 35 meters long. More than long enough for most of the diving I do, I only swap this out for my 50 meter one when I’m going into deep blue water.

You can make your own float, but it’s just as easy to buy a float like this one from Rob Allen and attach a standard “diver below” flag to it.

Now there’s a reason to attach the float to your gun. Chasing little fish around the reef you’re going to easily bring them to the surface. Until one wedges themselves in a crevice. Or you shoot something a little larger, like a 140cm wahoo. In the tail. Who decides he’d rather swim away and pull you along with him.

I nearly lost my first speargun because of this. Don’t do this.

Tie your speargun to your flatline. So you can let go. You can rise to the surface for another breath. And go back down to untangle your line, or follow the float until the fish tires out. Or better still, get your boat and haul it up with both your feet on dry ground.

Finally, your floatline needs a stringer. That way anything you catch can be threaded onto the line underneath your float. It’s a convenient way to keep your fish together. But it also means your catch is hanging at least 30 meters from you while you’re spearfishing. Just in case. If another predator decides they want your fish, they’re going to go for your float and stringer, not you.

Speargun

Of course, the final thing you’ll need is a speargun. There are so many different types it’s not possible to cover everything in a single post. But here’s a rough overview.

  • The base of your speargun is a long straight barrel with a trigger handle
  • A metal spear (known as the shaft) clicks into the trigger mechanism
  • Rubber bands stretch back and connect to notches in the shaft
  • At the end of the shaft is the point, and a barb (known as the flopper)
  • The shaft attaches to the base of your speargun by a monofilament line

When the speargun is loaded and you pull the trigger, the tension from the bands shoots the shaft. The power of your speargun will depend on the tension in your bands, and the length of the barrel.

For cave spearfishing, you want a very short gun (65 to 70cm). Very little power will minimize ricochets and any damage your shaft gets on the rocks. For open water diving, you’re going to want a large gun (140cm +) with multiple rubbers. This will give you additional range and power. For general reef spearfishing, somewhere in the middle (100 to 120cm) is a safe bet.

And that’s it. All the spearfishing equipment you need to get out in the water, and start chasing fish. Just remember. Go slow to start with, and don’t push yourself too hard as you learn. With experience you’ll improve, and the first time you land a decent-sized fish, you’ll be as proud as punch.

Happy spearin’

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