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Getting Hooked on Spearfishing

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

What's the most sustainable and eco-friendly way to eat fish? Spearfishing! And it's a fun workout, too!

As many of you know, my wonderful friends Josh & Jami Stoneman of Sail Adonai invited me to join them on a couple of sailing voyages aboard their magnificent 56' catamaran, the Adonai. We journeyed from Islamorada, Florida to Great Abaco in The Bahamas. Both Josh and Jami soon impressed me with their freediving skills, making 60+ foot deep dives look effortless as they faded into blue silhouettes down in the shady depths.

Freediving in the deep blue sea in Abaco, The Bahamas
Josh and Jami Stoneman inspiring me with their effortless freediving
Josh Stoneman spearfishing a triggerfish
Captain Josh provided plenty of fresh fish. Photo by Casey Price

Josh turned out to be a mighty hunter of the sea as well, quickly and easily bringing onboard fresh bounties of triggerfish, hogfish, and Yellowtail Jack! I grew up playing the spearfishing PC game called Bluewater Hunter by Body Glove and hoped that one day, when I grew up, I might be skilled and brave enough to successfully spearfish. (At the time I was a beginner swimmer.) Now here I was in warm, pristine waters with abundant sea life and an accomplished spearfisherman able to show me the ropes!

Austin diving to a maximum of about 15 feet before learning to equalize his ears properly
Me trying to equalize so my eardrums don't implode

The only problem? Try as I might, I just could not equalize my ears on my first voyage. I could only dive down to about 12 or 15 feet, and my ears would hurt. This is called a "squeeze" and comes with a danger of ruptured eardrum! This certainly limited my spearfishing abilities. In The Bahamas, one must only use a Hawaiian sling for any spearfishing, and ours had no line attached. If you hit a fish without instantly immobilizing it, you're liable to go chase the fish down to retrieve your spear and dinner, wherever it flees. Obviously I felt too hesitant to try, especially since a fish in distress draws sharks. Yikes.

At one point, we anchored in a boat graveyard. The water depth was 25-30', so I left the hunting to the skilled. Instead I snorkeled above the various wrecks with my GoPro, such as a sunken boat from Detroit named Second Look that had a toilet sitting upright on its deck. A couple of friends exploring with me began to coach me on how to equalize my ears properly in hopes that I might experience breakthrough. Life pro tip: equalize your ears early and often, and if you have trouble with one ear, tilt your head so it points upward. My major mistake had been waiting until my ears hurt to start equalizing, and by that time it was too late! Armed with this rapidly developing new skill, I accepted my friend's challenge to dive 25' down and sit on that briny, abandoned toilet! It took me 2 or 3 tries, but I accomplished my mission. Giving equalizing a "second look" really paid off.

Almost directly after that potty dive, another friend who had just begun spearfishing let me know his big catch of the day had just been cleaned, and the carcass now sat under Adonai, "chumming" the water. I opted to get out before a shark decided to investigate, but my friend encouraged me to grab a spear and nab my own fish. Seeing I still felt unsure, he generously offered to retrieve my spear should I be unable to myself. (Thanks again, Jon!) Now I had no excuse. It was go-time!

With spear in hand, I dove down to the aforementioned carcass, pulled back my spear archery-style, and launched that thing toward one of the Yellowtail Snappers which had been attracted to the meat. A near miss! At that moment I was hooked (in a good way). My spear sat on the ocean floor now, daring me to retrieve it myself. After another big breath at the surface and some (probably) awkward looking equalizing, I made it to the bottom and plucked that spear right up out of the sand. Victory!

I'd spotted a grouper near a rock off Adonai's bow during my initial exploring of the area, so my friend and I made our way up the current to go check if it might still be hanging out there. After another near-miss on the way, we found that our grouper indeed remained! I didn't want to get too close, so I took a bit of a long shot. POW! I hit him in the side! Unfortunately, due to user error, the spear did not have enough momentum to penetrate the grouper's tough skin. It rather casually wandered off to go hide beneath Second Look. That grouper eventually escaped for good, but my enthusiasm for the sport had been solidified.

Fast forward to my second voyage on Adonai with Josh and Jami this past spring (2022). One of my hopes for this trip was to finally spear my first fish, successfully. Soon after arriving in the Bahamas, we discovered an apparently uncharted shipwreck lying at a depth of maybe 60' near Bimini. While I did not reach the bottom, like the more experienced divers among us, I did manage to touch the roof of the wreck and set a new personal record for depth (approx. 35'). Josh encouraged me as a new free diver and taught me some valuable lessons in the sport.

The next day, we dropped anchor at Bimini Road, a famous underwater rock feature thought by some to be the remnants of the fabled sunken city of Atlantis. Immediately the spearfishermen (including me) dropped into the water also. I took shots on smaller fish, getting my practice in and eager just to snag a fish, any fish. BAM! Mission success: I speared a small Mangrove Snapper.

Spearfishing a palometa game fish
My first speared fish: snapper! Look how happy I am

Unfortunately as I retrieved attempted to swim it back to Adonai, it slipped off my spear and floated around freely in the water! Afraid I'd lose my first catch, I sped over to grab it. OUCH! The spines poked my hand! Determined to bring this fish in, I carefully tried to grab the fish again and successfully brought it back to the boat without attracting a shark or barracuda. Phew! I didn't get much meat off that fish, but there's something special about eating your first catch.

Later, after a number of misses, I speared another snapper (very comparable). It was official. I could spearfish!

My first palometa fish! Photo by Jami Stoneman

While exploring an uncharted wreck in the shallows of the Sea of Abaco, spears in hand, we spotted a large school of shiny, silvery fish parading around with ribbon-like fins. We'd just encountered the diminutive game fish called the Palometa (Trachinotus goodei). Quite beautiful to look at swimming around, like a cloud of wriggling platinum, the palometas certainly captured my attention. Despite their wariness of me and flighty nature, I pressed into the school and separated a few fish from the main group. This time-honored predation strategy observed in nature above water and below worked for me as well! I added this second species to my successful hunt list.

Cleaning a fish is probably my least favorite part of the fishing experience, but well worth it to me in this case especially. What's convenient about cleaning a fish on the back of a boat is that there's no shortage of water to clean up your mess. I'm by no means the most proficient at fileting fish, but (once again) thanks to Captain Josh I am better now than ever before!

Some of the awesome crew grilled it all for a fish fajita feast with our special guests from the boat named DiscipleShip, but that's a story for another time.

In conclusion, I highly recommend anyone thinking about spearfishing to give it a try. It's so much fun, productive exercise, and like I mentioned before, it is one of the most sustainable forms of fishing. Even if you've never dived down into the water, the skill can be developed. Just look at my case!

Please excuse the mess. Cleaning fish on a moving boat proved a unique challenge! Photo by Jami Stoneman


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