The ancient fishing method of spearfishing has been used by humans throughout the world for millennia. In paleolithic time, early civilizations jerry-rigged sharpened sticks, barbed poles, or harpoons to catch their next meal from rivers and streams. Once practiced for pure survival, spearfishing has since become a sought-after adventure sport by thrill-seekers and watersport enthusiasts. Today, it remains one of the most preferred, humane, and eco-friendly methods of acquiring the freshest, wild, and nutritious seafood.
And technological advancements aside, the art and act of spearfishing hasn’t actually changed much over the centuries. It is still no easy feat–especially if you’re just getting it. With three variants of spearfishing–shallow water, freedive, and scuba dive–first pin down which technique you want to become a G in, then focus your investments in the necessary gear accordingly. Scuba diving will obviously require more equipment, but in terms of this gear guide, let’s focus on the most recognized of the three. When people think of spearfishing, they likely imagine freediving, and with good reason. It’s by far the hardest–and according to many spearos–the truest way to spearfish is to become a fish yourself.
A bounty of hogfish, yellowtail tuna, and grouper await. So suit up, sharpen your knife–as well as your breathing skills–and stop by your local dive shop for a few basic tools and Aquaman essentials to enter the underworld hunt.
Mask + Snorkel
This is an obvious one. But also one of the most important in terms of having a successful and seamless swim. When choosing a good mask, fit and visibility are your main priorities. Try different masks to find one that sticks firmly to your face, while giving you good visibility at all angles. Some masks fit wide mugs better while others are recommended for a much narrower visage. Be sure to test them out without the strap and suck in some air through your nose to create an airtight seal. If the mask stays on your face, it’s a good fit. Go for a low profile mask which allows less air inside, as this will make it easier to deal with the pressure difference underwater. Something else to keep in mind is where you plan to descend undersea. Clear lenses are good for visibility in clear blue waters, while colored lenses can increase the contrast and shadows in murky waters. Mirrored lenses are great for hiding your eyes, and can potentially attract fish due to the reflection. As for the snorkel, there’s no need to get very fancy here. The simplest “J” shaped snorkel will do just fine; pick your favorite color. If anything, avoid any purge valves, or splash flaps–all they do is make heaps of bubbles and alert the fish of your presence.
Fins are a powerful tool to become more like the species you’re hunting. It also helps in moving more efficiently through the water as well as conserving more speed and energy during the time of your breath-hold. If you have the choice, splurge for the bigger/longer ones–your swollen feet will be most obliged and you’ll be stoked at how much more propulsion it adds to your swim. Old-school plastic fins, of quality, get the job done. However, newer fiberglass and carbon materials on the market require much less energy to operate and are more durable long-term. The downside is that they come with a steeper price. No matter which material you go for, you’ll also need a soft, comfortable barrier between the fin and your barefoot. Don’t forget to grab a pair of spearfishing booties, much like sock protectors from unwanted cold and friction.
This may be the most difficult to choose, but also the most fun. With such a wide variety of brands and styles of wetsuits out there, you can get easily lost in the colors or patterns, the fit, length, thickness, and various branding or tech features of each neoprene getup. That being said, the thickness of the wetsuit is by far the most precedent. Depending on the water temperature you’re spearfishing in, you’ll want to obtain a thicker or thinner suit. Generally, for warm, tropical waters and short dives, 0.5 – 1.5 mm should be golden, but when venturing in deep dives and colder temps, you’ll want to add a thicker layer of 2 or 3 mm rubbery blubber to your skin to keep you safely submerged longer. Whether you’re going for a full-body wetsuit, spring suit, or even just a rashguard, choose something that has a camouflage print or color to really assist in getting up close and personal to your prey. Avoid detection and blend into the natural surroundings. If they see a neon freak swimming towards them, you’re SOL. Lastly, but not the most crucial, if you want to take spearfishing more seriously, your wetsuit should really have chest padding—also known as a loading pad—to help ease pressure from constant speargun reloading.
Wetsuits are buoyant by nature, so you’ll need something to keep you submerged and not floating like an air balloon up to the surface. These highly durable waist belts are designed to hold lead weights, or fishing sinkers, together so you can wear just the right amount of weight for your body to achieve neutral buoyancy after exhaling above the water. There’s nothing too fancy about a weight belt, just make sure you have one. But in theory, if you did want to up the ante, a higher-quality belt can compress and expand along with your wetsuit so you won’t have to worry about adjusting it for the perfect fit during descent and ascent.
Having a pair of sturdy, flexible gloves is a good idea to have to give you a good grip on your equipment. Gloves are also extremely helpful for providing extra warmth and protection for your hands without hindering you from reloading your speargun. Even thin gardening gloves or thicker ones you wear for surfing or motorcycling might work. But if you’re already dumping into the investment and wanting to make this a consistent hobby, you may want to go for purpose-built spearfishing gloves—such as those made of Kevlar—to make sure they’re lightweight, comfortable, water durable, yet sturdy enough for the sport.
There will be times when you don’t kill the fish on your first shot of impact. To dispatch the fish quickly and spare it from suffering, you’ll need a good, water-resistant knife. The knife can also be a lifesaver in situations where you may find your feet entangled in seaweeds, ropes, or fishing lines. It’s definitely better to go quality over quantity on this one. You don’t actually need a big knife, as they tend to get caught on things like kelp. Just make sure it’s durable, functional, always sharp, and resistant to rusting. Look for a small and versatile one that has a blade with both a line cutting edge and a serrated edge—preferably from a well-known brand.
Dive Computer/ Watch
Another accessory that you may want to invest in is a freediving watch. The dive-specific watches encompass mini-computers that will help you keep track of your depth and dive times, as well as your training and improvement. An important factor to consider is its readability and illumination, as you wouldn’t want to waste any precious time trying to get a clearer view of the case display throughout your dives. Some dive watches even feature a heart rate monitor and an export option so you can download your personal dive data. Make sure it has battery life that can last for days and doesn’t have too many distracting functions that can be overwhelming or confusing. Simple, straightforward is better. Check out the Suunto D5, our personal choice.
Weapon of Choice
Your weaponry of choice is probably the most crucial part of attaining your spearfishing arsenal. Depending on the type of fish you’re after, the waters you’re in, the type of spearfishing technique you’re after, and your budget, you’ll have three different options to choose from—Hawaiian sling, pole spear, and speargun. Hawaiian slings and pronged pole spears both require you to be very close to the fish. The difference between these two is that the sling’s band typically remains in your hand, while the pole spear leaves your hand completely once you aim and shoot. As for spearguns, they vary depending on the construction—some are manually launched using a band or sling, while more modern ones are air or gas-powered (pneumatic). If you decide to go for a speargun, do yourself a favor and consider the visibility of the water, as well as the size of the fish you will be hunting, before deciding on what to purchase. Low-visibility areas would require you to move in closer, which makes shorter spearguns more ideal. And unless you’re hunting for a big game, you won’t necessarily need thick shafts or an air-powered speargun. In most cases, a mid-size, multiple band speargun with extra reach does the trick. An additional option to ask about are roller guns, which achieve greater power with a significantly smaller barrel. Roller spearguns are likely more accurate and have less recoil than conventional ones.
While no one wants to talk about it or bring it up, spearfishing remains a pretty dangerous sport. You open yourself up to possible drownings, shark attacks, and freak accidents when entering the beguiling world below. Not taking away from the fun or thrill of spearfishing–just prepare for worst-case scenarios by being ready for anything that could turn your trip awry out at sea. And always bring a buddy. It is always advisable to dive in pairs or even as a trio to avoid any dodgy risks. Aside from being able to share and verify your catch, you can watch each other’s backs and rely on one another in case you need help cutting a spear line or catching bigger fish.
The “diver down” flag–also called a “dive flag”–is a safety flag used on the water to indicate to other boats that there is, in fact, a diver, down below. When in use, it signals to other boating vessels to keep clear of that general area, watch out for divers in the water, and operate at a slow speed when passing.
There are many water-related first aid kits out there on the market these days to keep on the boat in case of a gnarly encounter with marine life or other oceanic elements. Consider investing in a sharkbite first aid kit, or general marine first aid supplies. In the unlikely, but possible chance, you lure in the taxman and he takes a nibble of you instead of the school of fish, your buddies will be able to patch you up and play nurse on your wounds right away.
While technically not part of your fishing gear, you may also need to acquire a valid sportfishing license before you hit the water with your fancy new hunting equipment. In most states, you can get fined for fishing without a license, and you can get in even more trouble for hunting (and killing) protected species. As a general rule of thumb, check with your local agencies, lifeguards, fishermen supply/dive shops, or experienced spearos in the area for information before diving right in.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here’s our GEAR recs in all departments: