Published on January 3rd, 2016 | by adventuremag0
The Hunter within us.
By Neil Bennett
Spearfishing is the sport of underwater hunting that became popular in the early 1930s, and the weaponry has seen a vast array of developments since. Whilst many use the sport to provide food for the table, sad as it maybe, there is an element that still trophy hunt; this alone will continue to raise heated debates. One thing there is no question about, spearfishing is the only true method of sustainable fishing, one on one with your prey and in an environment where you are at a disadvantage. Here the spearo is selective when it comes to the fish he takes. This ability to size up the fish before it is shot is why spearfishing has no by-catch. By-catch is the non-targeted fish that are caught as a result of other fishing method. An example of by-catch is when fishing with a rod and reel and catching a fish that is too small. These fish can be injured enough to die shortly after they are released. The spearo only takes what will be consumed.
It’ safe to say if you want to go spearfishing then you will certainly benefit by learning how to use Freediving techniques, especially breath-holding to increases your confidence for depths and duration. In addition, this will increase the opportunity to access species or specimens that would otherwise be out of reach. Just duck diving in the water and chasing anything you happen to see won’t get you to the top of the predator list! You need to understand your prey, where it is likely to be, at what depth and how to stalk it. You will need a variety of hunting techniques in your armoury too. One method won’t suit every kind of fish.
Building in the Freediving techniques will increase your bottom time and reduce the feeling of “discomfort” during your dives that signals when you should swim for the surface. It will certainly increase the opportunity for you to find and select the prey you want rather than an opportunistic approach of shooting whatever happens to present itself.
There is no doubt it can be an alternative experience to scuba diving. I can recommend it there is no better way of exorcising the stresses of the day and relaxing the mind and body.
Whilst there is a cross-over between Freediving and Spearfishing equipment, there are some fundamental differences. Understanding the equipment that is needed is essential if you want any chance of successfully catching something, otherwise you will be just wasting time and energy, endlessly chasing the one that got away.
New Zealand’s spearfishing conditions are unique in every aspect from water quality through to fish species. We need to be vigilant when selecting the most appropriate equipment to maximise our potential catch. This can change between any given environment, the conditions we are hunting, and the species we are targeting. With exception of the islands in our extremities, New Zealand waters are usually relatively cool, and of low or medium visibility. These conditions, for example, lend themselves to shorter European style spearguns for an everyday all-rounder.
Spearguns. Length is often mistaken to be directly proportionate to power. While the two are related, it is ultimately the length and weight of the power bands that effect shaft speed. If the barrel and mechanism are sturdy and of a good quality, the rubber or number of rubbers can always be modified for more power. A good rule of thumb is a shorter gun in lower visibility for faster tracking and manoeuvrability, and longer for more range of distance in clearer water.
Buoys. A high-visibility buoy is an essential accessory to any gun in any situation. A float line is attached to the butt of the gun and runs around 15-30 metres to the buoy on the surface. For safety’s sake the fluorescent orange colour and a “Diver Under” flag serve as a marker for vessels to keep clear when you are surfacing. It also acts as a fish-stringer on which to store your catch. This eliminates the need to transport it to and from the shore or the boat. Consequently, it keeps the dead fish a fair distance away, should a larger more toothy fish become interested in it.
Wetsuits. Let’s face it, New Zealand doesn’t have the most tepid waters in the world, and Spearos are especially susceptible to this. Deep, easy breaths slow your heart rate and ultimately lower your core body temperature. Lack of vigorous movement and long periods spent in the sea mean that old, poor fitting suit won’t keep you warm enough. Two-piece, open cell wetsuits have the best seal system. Open cell neoprene maintains direct contact with your skin, without a layer of water between the two as in a traditional system. An attached hood and no zips allow fewer entry points for water to find its way into your cosy cocoon.
Fit is key, so the tailoring and number of panels are the first things you should be looking for in a good suit. Making sure that there are no seams running through the backs of the knees for example will lessen the likelihood of rash. Pre-formed tailoring though the arms, legs and chin will mould anatomically. Better fit results in ease of movement and ultimately preservation of oxygen.
Wearing a neoprene sock makes for a more comfortable fin fit, and also gives a more fluid movement between your foot and the rubber pocket. An open cell sock completes the total body seal with your suit for those epic August sessions! A synthetic leather glove is adequate for a good grip on your catch before it is liked, but a good 4mm neoprene glove can prove warmer. Once again Supratex is a very hard wearing and flexible material for both the bottom of socks and the palms of gloves.
Fins-Freediving blades are up to twice the length of a standard fin’s, increasing the “working area”. The blade works on reactive thrust, a flicking movement at the tip, as opposed to the active thrust of a short blade. Using a long, slow kicking style from the top of the thigh maximises power transfer and again minimizes consumption of oxygen. Any Freediver will vouch for the importance of a good fin to increase bottom time and to get you back to the surface in a hurry.
A closed foot pocket is not only the most comfortable option, but is the most effective system of power transfer. A soft upper and stiff sole, (combined with a good amount of width for the ‘kiwi foot’) are points to consider.
A blade should be nice and light and the foot pockets have the option to remove the blade for replacement or upgrade. Material such as fibre glass or carbon fibre is once again extremely strong and light, increasing the whipping effect and the resultant speed.
Masks. When selecting a mask comfort and fit is again paramount. A good fit makes for a good seal which in turn eliminates any leaking. A high quality silicone skirting with a double edge will mould to the anatomy of your face over time and add to the comfort factor. Good silicone also reduces any sensitivity or allergies for your skin. Black silicone is sought after to reduce light intrusion and concentrate focus towards the task on hand. A low internal volume always makes equalising easier, and concurrently better peripheral vision as the frame is closer to your eyes.
Snorkel. A snorkel shouldn’t have a purge valve. As a scuba diver would know, bubbles make noise, and noise does not attract most fish. The colour, as with other equipment, should be subtle, in black or a camouflage shade. Remember to remove your snorkel from your mouth when diving so as to flood it immediately, and clear all bubbles, and lift your head right above the surface of the water when clearing it after a dive.
Adopting the skills of Freediving makes perfect sense in improving your ability in this vastly popular sport. The addition of which will increase your success rate and safety.
Everyone has their personalised tricks to best achieving their longest breath hold or bringing in their biggest fish, it is applying the fundamentals of Freediving techniques and adapting your equipment to best suit the territory and sea conditions that will eventually work for you.
Come and see us on our Open Day Sunday 20th December Matheson Bay near Warkworth and try out the latest gear.