Spearfishing Florida Waters

By: Terry Tomalin

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Some people think spearfishing is like "shooting fish in a barrel." They should try chasing a grouper in a stiff current along a rock ledge in 80 feet of water. Fish can hear and see you coming. All it takes is the "click" of the metal shaft cocking into the trigger mechanism to send them running for cover. Florida’s blue-water hunters need to be in top shape physically and mentally if they want to bring home trophy fish.

Recent technological advances (i.e., dive computers and mixed gas) have made spearfishing more accessible to the average diver. Today's spearfishermen owe a lot to their forefathers who opened the door to the deep blue.

While humans hunted fish with spears before recorded history, the first sport divers didn't begin venturing beneath the waves until the 1930s. Armed with pole spears and homemade copper goggles, these early spearfishermen of Florida stalked their prey without the benefit of scuba tanks.

These "free divers" would tackle shark, tuna, even sailfish, while holding their breath for more than a minute at a time. The sport gained prominence after World War II as manufactured spear guns became available on the market. Free diving probably reached its peak in 1955, when Miami residents Fred and Art Pinder, two legendary spearfishermen, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Today, most divers forsake free diving for the comfort of scuba. The old-timers still think tanks take much of the sport out of the hunt. But compressed air does extend your range and time underwater.

Spear guns come in two varieties, free shaft and line shaft. The free shaft, or spear, travels farther and faster when it is not attached to a line. It is most commonly used for bottom-dwelling fish such as grouper.

The idea is to shoot the fish from above and pin it to the bottom. Line guns, where the spear is attached to the gun by a line, are better suited for pelagics, such as amberjack.

If the spear doesn't hit the fish in the head and kill it instantly, a spearfishermen cane be taken for a ride.

Traditional methods still popular among spearfishermen include the Hawaiian sling, a spear shot out of the slingshot type apparatus, and the pole spear, suited for small fish in close range.

Every fish has its own flight distance. How close you get depends on the species and how often it gets shot at. For example, a grouper inhabiting an inshore artificial reef will be more wary of divers than a fish living 100 miles offshore.

Historically, spearfishermen and anglers have been at odds. Hook-and-liners blame divers for scaring away the fish and taking more than they need or possibly could use. A few bad apples have given all spearfishermen a bad name. Spearfishermen have an advantage over their hook-and-line counterparts because they can pick and choose what they kill. Remember, think conservation before you take aim.

Florida law prohibits spearfishing within100 yards of all public bathing beaches, commercial or public fishing piers and that portion of any bridge where public fishing is permitted or in the waters of any state park. It is also illegal spearfish for snook.

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