Freediving for your food – Part 4 – Spearfishing

FACT – Spearfishing is the most sustainable and selective form of fishing available to us as individuals.

FACT – Spearfishing can help you develop as a freediver (through extending bottom times).

FACT – Spearfishing is not to be attempted by anyone without due caution.

FACT – Jumping in to the water with a speargun and thrashing around on the surface chasing fish makes you look like an idiot and you wont catch anything.


Learning to spearfish doesn’t have to be season upon season of undersized wrasse and Pollock. If you are measured in your approach, consider all the safety aspects as well as the hunting techniques, there is no reason why you cant bag a big Bass within your first season. If you are thinking about getting in the spearfishing, whether its for food, sport or something to do when there are no waves then there are somethings you need to go over first.

1: Formal Training

Nothing quite beats learning how to do a sport from a real person with real experience. You get one to one attention, analysis of your technique and no confusing diagrams to decipher. Here at Freedive UK we offer a one or two day spearfishing course, both giving you all you need to know to get started safely and effectively. Spearfishing is covered in more detail in my book, Underwater foraging -freediving for food

2: Equipment

What do you need to be a spearfisherman? Its definitely not just a case of buying a gun and jumping in the water.

  • A beginner length gun, without a reel. – 65-85cm.
  • A safety marker buoy or float (normally bright orange with either an alpha flag or diver down flag on top)
  • A Length of ‘float’ line to attach your gun to the float.
  • A stilletto type dive knife (for cleanly dispatching your catch)
  • A catch bag or a fish stringer.
  • Wetsuit (doesn’t have to be camo)
  • Weight belt and weights (enough to make you neutrally buoyant at the deepest part of your dive )
  • Freediving fins
  • Freediving mask and snorkel

This all will cost a fair few notes, but you dont have to go overboard. You really do need all of it though. Dont get in the water without a safety marker…. you will regret not having one when a speedboat takes your head off.

3: Understanding where and when to hunt

Find a place where fish may congregate. Use local ‘conventional’ fishing intel to narrow down some good spots. You need to find reef ideally, either man made (wrecks, walls, piers) or natural. Here in Cornwall we have lots of amazing spots, all of which are quite close to shore. These tend to be extensions of headlands and are quite obvious when you look for them (Google earth is a godsend).

The rising tide is your best time to get predatory fish like Bass, whilst low tides will give you easier access to ‘deeper’ reefs giving you the chance to hunt for BIG Pollock or even Cod.

Be careful of tides though.. you dont want to find yourself dragged out to sea!

4: Hunting technique, acceptable catches and dispatching your catch.

Lets take a look at two hunting styles and see if you can guess which will get you more fish.

  • Swimming on the surface looking for fish. Seeing fish and then quickly diving down and aiming to hit what you have seen from the surface.
  • Slowly swimming to an area or reef. Doing a long and relaxed breathe-up, then diving down in to a recess in the reef and waiting for the fish to come to you.

If you chose the first option then you will have a very fish free summer.

Spearfishing is all about ambush hunting and silent stalking.

There are lots of tips and tricks that you will learn over time, but the key really is to find a hidden spot in the reef and wait for the fish to come by. More is covered in my book.

When you are sizing up your prey, remember that everything looks 33% bigger underwater. Now when you apply that to fish, that can be the difference between an undersized and illegal fish and something worth catching. Remember, if you leave it… its only going to get bigger! Fish to avoid in the UK would be Wrasse, they are slow… often big,  and easy to catch, but they taste pretty bad and they are really bony. The big ones will also be very old, so its kinda sad to kill such a salty old sea dog dont you think?

Do not shoot crabs! I know this sounds stupid, but the other day when taking some students for a dive i saw just that. Two guys shooting juvenile female spider crabs… seriously pathetic! Firstly if you dont have the balls to pick up a crab then you dont have the right to eat one, secondly, female spider crabs are worthless for food and by killing them all that you will do is interrupt future breeding (can you tell i was fuming!?).

To kill your catch you will need to stab it in one of two places. Either between the eyes on the top of the head (in to the brain), or through the mouth and up in to the exposed spinal cord.

5: Safety and buddying

As a professional freediving instructor I really must insist that you spearfish with a buddy. You may catch more fish on your own as there will be less disturbance in  the water… but if something goes wrong, who will be there to save you? The fish certainly wont care, and flipper is in a  retirement home in Miami. As you will both have floats you will know roughly where your buddy is. If you are not close together, wait now and again on the surface until you both see one and other.

Keep a safe distance from one another, at least the range of your guns. Always point your gun away from each other… NEVER ever even as a joke point a gun at someone.  A speargun WILL kill you, and safety catches are not very reliable.

Always swim with the point facing forward and in the water.

When you are getting in to the water, make sure the gun isnt loaded and when you do load it do so whilst pointing the gun down to the seabed. Never load a speargun out of the water.

Dont push your limits! Waiting for that big fish to get within range may be the difference to getting to the surface and a shallow water black out. When you hit your contractions… plan your ascent.


Well I hope that all helps!

Ignore the safety and hunting methods mentioned here, and expect no fish and probably a spear through part of your body or even worse.. someone elses body……Give the sport the respect it deserves and you will be rewarded through lots of fish and lots of fun. 

If you this whetted your appetite and you want to try your hand at spearfishing, whilst under expert instruction, then come along on one of our spearfishing courses and or buy my book, Underwater foraging – Freediving for food.


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One Response

  1. I have recently bought a speargun and want to start using it but need to find a buddy to do it with I live in Torquay and would be grateful if you could please help me thank you

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