My wife Katie and I, along with our young daughter, Hoku, have spent the past six winters cruising in the Bahamas aboard our catamaran Makana. While Bahamian waters have a world-class reputation for sport fishing and we’ve had success with our fishing lines, most of the fish I catch are by using a spear. With a little knowledge and the right equipment you too can enjoy freshly caught fish and lobster. The four essential pieces of equipment needed for spearfishing are a snorkel, mask, fins and spear. Where you plan on spearfishing will dictate the type of equipment that is allowed. In the Bahamas only Bahamians may use scuba equipment for spearfishing and spear guns are not allowed.
There are several varieties of spears available. They vary in length from three to eight feet with surgical or rubber tubing used to propel the spear. There are two types of sling spears, the Hawaiian sling and the pole spear. The Hawaiian sling works similar to the way a slingshot works. In place of a slingshot’s Y shaped stick the Hawaiian sling has a two inch diameter by ten to 12 inch long solid tube with a small lengthwise hole through which the spear is inserted. A loop of surgical tubing is attached to one end of the handle and is pulled back along with the spear when firing. The solid metal spear is completely released from the handle exactly the way a rock is shot from a slingshot. A pole spear is a pole with a loop of surgical tubing attached to one end and a tip on the other. When using a pole spear the user never completely releases the spear when firing. To load the spear one hand grabs the spear near the tip while the other hand places the tubing loop between their thumb and pointer finger while sliding the hand down the spear. To fire, the grip is loosened with the spear sliding thru the user’s hand while guiding the direction of the shot.
Prior to heading out, it’s a good idea to be familiar with which fish to spear as well as the regulations for the area you plan on fishing. I like having a knife, not so much to defend against sharks, but to use if I happen to get tangled in discarded fishing line. I also use gloves, which make holding on to rocks, fish and lobsters less painful. And, I always bring a five gallon bucket in which to store the catch.
With your equipment prepared you’re ready to search for dinner. I’m always keen to go spearfishing any time of the day, however, I’ve found the best times are around sunrise and sunset and I always go with a partner. Reefs with lots of cracks, ledges, and coral heads are typically good spots to fish. I usually set the dinghy’s anchor so I have to swim into the wind or current to reach the reef making it easier to swim back with my catch.
The first 30 to 45 seconds you’re in the water may set the tone for your success. Larger fish will typically give you one look and make a bee-line to their hiding hole. So you either have to react fast and spear them before they hide or follow them to their hole. Make your first shot your best as word will quickly spread among the reef that trouble is in the neighborhood. If you miss out on the fish then search the reef for lobster. They prefer to remain in their holes during daylight hours. Look under ledges, between cracks and in holes for the lobster’s long tentacles sticking out. Once I spot a pair of tentacles I usually dive down to assess the shot and determine the best angle. After returning to the surface and calmly loading the spear and taking several breaths, I dive back down to take the shot. If you are fortunate to spear a fish or lobster it’s a good idea to keep your catch out of the water as you swim back to the dinghy. With a little practice and the right location you’ll soon be dining on fish and lobster.
Editor’s note: For more information, visit: http://www.bahamas.co.uk/things-to-do/bahamas-fishing/fishing-regulations
Rick Caroselli’s work has appeared in numerous publications including Cruising World, Seafaring, Latitudes ‘n’ Attitudes, Multihulls, All At Sea, and Sail magazine. He is the Bahamas editor for the Dozier Waterway Guide.