Spearfishing: The Ultimate Guide

Spearfishing guide image

In this in-depth guide we’ll cover everything you’d ever want or need to know about spearfishing, including its history, how to do it, necessary equipment, and its legality in various locations. By the end, you’ll pretty much be a pro spear-fisherman.

Let’s get started!

What is Spearfishing?

Spearfishing is a way of fishing in which you catch fish by “spearing” them with a sharp tool. Historically these “sharp tools” were spears, or barbed poles, which is what most people imagine when they think about spearfishing. In modern times, however, people often use spearguns or slings, which we’ll go into more depth about later.

People can spearfish while swimming, or freediving, snorkeling, scuba diving, off boats, or while standing on shore.

If you’ve never seen spearfishing done, check out this brief video of spearfishing in the Bahamas. In the video, you’ll see the spearfishermen donning snorkel masks and fins while mostly using spearguns.

Warning: We don’t think this is a problem, considering you’re reading this article, but the video does depict fish getting speared.

These guys clearly have some experience, and this should give you the general idea of how spearfishing is done.

History of Spearfishing

Spearfishing is almost as old as humans themselves. In the beginning, fishermen used harpoons, or barbed poles, to spear the fish. Past indicators of spearfishing can be found in ancient cave drawings and documented in historic texts such as the Bible.

vintage photo of man spearfishing in Hawaii

As a method of fishing, spear fishing has been used through the ages by many different cultures. There have been attempts to add spearfishing to the Olympic games, though so far these attempts have failed.

The history of this fishing method is extensive, going back well into ancient times, and to this day many cultures still make use of spearfishing techniques.

How to Spearfish

There are many different methods of spearfishing. Here are a few of the most common ways to spearfish:

Shore Spearfishing

Shore spearfishing is when the fisherman dives from the shore, via a beach or other water entry area. This likely is the most heavily used methods. Shore divers often will use a dive mask, snorkel, fins, and usually a speargun (though barbed poles or slings can be used). Because of the inherent dangers of entering and exiting the water (through the large waves crashing against large rocks), this type of spearfishing takes practice and caution.

Boat Spearfishing

Spearfishing from a boat is also common around the world. It’s particularly useful for getting to areas that are difficult or impossible to reach when entering from the shore. Many sorts of watercraft can be used for boat spearfishing: boats, kayaks, canoes, jet-skis, etc. This method is very similar to spearfishing from shore, and frequently involves the use of snorkeling equipment with a speargun. Using a boat makes it much easier to use scuba gear as well.

Traditional Non-diving Spearfishing

A traditional way to spearfish was using a normal spear while not diving. In this spearfishing method, the fisherman holds the spear in hand while standing on land, on a boat, or in shallow water. This method — without diving — has extra difficulty because of water refraction, which creates a need to aim the spear lower than the fish actually appears. It takes practice, of course, but non-diving spearfishing can be quite effective.

Needed Equipment for Spearfishing

While it is possible to use only one piece of equipment to spearfish (i.e. the spear), more equipment is often used to make the process easier, more comfortable, and frankly, more fun. nowadays most people use various types of spearguns and diving equipment.

Thus, spearfishing equipment can include any of the following:

There are many other pieces of equipment that can be used for spearfishing, but this list should give you an idea. However, we’ll talk about the spear instruments in more detail, to give a better idea of their differences.

Pole Spear

The pole spear, or harpoon, is the standard piece of equipment, both historically and in modern times, though today launching a spear-like projectile is more widely used.

Speargun

A speargun shoots a spear at the target, and is the preferred instrument today. There are two main types, one of which is powered by some sort of rubber while the other is air powered. Both are effective tools, but the rubber powered tend to be the most popular.

Sling

The sling, often referred to as the Hawaiian sling, is very similar to rubber powered spearguns in that its power is generated from rubber tubing, which then launches the spear shaft at the target. Slings are seen as more difficult to use than other instruments, so those interested in a challenge prefer them.

Legality of Spearfishing

Spearfishing laws vary widely by country. It is illegal in many locations, while in other places it is only legal during particular times of year. Still in other places it is legal, but not while using a tank. The variations of law seem to be endless.

Spearfishing in the United States

The legality of spearfishing in the United States varies by state and can vary further by local municipality, depending on sport spearfishing regulations and conservation efforts. For example, in Florida, the activity is restricted on a fish species basis, and they do not include the non-diving method in their definition of spearfishing.

Spearfishing in the U.K.

In the U.K. it is illegal to spearfish in “non tidal reaches of Britain’s rivers” but is unregulated in the sea.

For specific regulations in your area, or wherever you plan on going to spearfish, check the local guides for their laws and regulations.

Final Thoughts

Spearfishing, the act of skewering a fish with some type of spear, is one of the oldest methods of catching fish. It is practiced worldwide commercially as well as recreationally. There are several different methods, including from shore, boat, and non-diving. While all you really need to spearfish is a basic pole spear, people often use additional gear. Its legality is different depending on where you are, and it can be restricted by fish species and/or the type of gear you can use.

Spearfishing can be an effective (and for some, fun) way to catch fish. Hopefully this guide has given you some important background information, helpful advice, and good ideas that you can take with you to the open water.