Mar

9

My type of “spring cleaning” is a mess of sheephead on the fish-cleaning table.  The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock.  For many, their first excursion in 2013 is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

 sheephead

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2, and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating, or the spring break charter trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers like we do now.  Many fishermen believe they are too hard to clean because of their large rib cage. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all your sheephead, is very familiar with the mild flavor and white, flaky meat.

Many underwater hunters think of early spring as the tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season, spearfisherman need to inspect their rigging and practice loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is, spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  The only way to practice is to get out and dive…thus the big attraction of sheephead in March.  April usually hosts the first wave of migrating cobia.  As soon as the gulf waters reach the magic 68F, we start seeing cobia on the inshore sites.  Early spring divers are always scanning into the distance, hoping to see a curious cobia head your way.

 Cobia

The smaller size and liberal creel limits on sheephead make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the large fish isn’t an issue with the smaller fish.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Oct

8

The sport of spearfishing is governed by federal and state regulations, and we have the same size and creel limits as anglers.  Spearfishing has been found to be the most environmentally friendly form of fishing due to being highly selective, having no by-catch, causing no habitat damage, nor creating stress or harm to protected endangered species.

 These facts prove a spearfisherman can harvest their catch without doing any harm to the reef, but can he actually help the health of the reef? Absolutely!

 The newest target species for us gulf coast hunters is the invasive lionfish.  The last two years has seen an explosion in the local population of these beautiful, but extremely harmful fish.  A single female can produce 1 million eggs a year and a very high percentage of those will survive.  They have no local natural predator and eat the young of all our prized species.

 For these reasons a campaign has started with divers to put our spears to work to kill any lionfish we see.  Currently, it is the only way to attempt to check this growing problem.  They can’t be targeted with hook and line, nor can they be trawled because they only live in close proximity to wrecks and reefs.  No effective idea for developing a commercial fishery has been discovered.  So far, spearfishing is the only proven way to try and keep them in check.

 We are currently conducting additional dive training for biologist with Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources so they can observe the lionfish on the reefs and develop effective eradication techniques.  All in an attempt to eradicate them and protect the strong fishery we enjoy on the gulf coast.

Most anglers don’t understand the severity of the problem because they don’t see how the pyramids, tanks and natural bottom are choked with them.  Even though a mature lionfish won’t eat a large snapper, it will consume every juvenile, so very few young snapper will survive to adulthood.

 The Alabama Spearfishing Association is currently hosting the First Annual Flora-Bama Lion Fish Roundup.  This six-week tournament allows participants to win prizes by harvesting as many Lionfish as they can.  The hope is that we can harvest species and raise awareness by hosting this tournament.  Spearfishing is the only effective way to fight this battle.  All the lionfish harvested are donated to researchers that are desperate to find other means of halting the invasion.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about how you can participate in the fight to eradicate lionfish from our reefs.

Sep

26

Most of October we will see high tides during dark hours.  The best conditions for shore diving in our area are found at high tide.  Low to no current in the passes and the clearer gulf waters are pushed in close, improving visibility.  Add to this formula, a nighttime high tide and you have the perfect conditions for spearing flounder at night.

 Swimming in the gulf at night brings visions of monsters and sea serpents to the minds of the uninitiated. It reminds me of walking out of the woods after an afternoon hunt as a kid.  Every little twig snap had me gasping my last breath before a mountain lion ravaged me. After a few stressful hikes, common sense prevailed over imagination and I realized how loud a squirrel could be in the woods.   A new night diver wrestles with the same imaginings until they can relax, let there common sense kick in and start hunting for the faint outline of the fall flounder.

 Flounder are beginning their fall migration to deeper water this time of year.  It isn’t uncommon to hit the water at our preferred night dive sites and see flounder carpeting the bottom.  We have to move slowly and deliberately when they are this plentiful because every time you spear one, you will spook three.  If you see a flounder 6 feet way and swim quickly to him, it is likely that you’ve looked over the bigger one lying in wait directly under you.

Instead of wading in knee-deep water and squinting for the outline of these ambush predators, we drift along the bottom with powerful dive lights.  The southern flounder is a master of camouflage, but our bright LED dive lights will make their outline standout against the bottom.  We use a pole spear instead of a speargun.  It is similar to a gig pole, but relies on a rubber band for power instead of arm strength.

Many flounder hunters use only mask, snorkel, fins, light and pole spear to stack ‘em up.  Slipping along the beach in the surf zone, they can efficiently cover a lot a ground from the shallows down to about 5-6’ deep. This depth is out of the range of the waders.  Still others don full scuba gear and scour the deeper depths for these nocturnal predators.

During daylight hours, a flounder stays mostly buried in the sand.  But at night, they sit on top of the sand waiting for a shrimp or bull minnow to swim along, then attacking from underneath. Flounder hunting isn’t just limited to night, as the flounder move offshore to the deeper sites we scan the sand around the site for our limit of “flat boys”.

 With a minimal investment in a set of snorkeling gear, good underwater light and pole spear, you can be arriving late for work in the morning, telling stories of staying out until midnight chasing flounder in the surf zone, at night. Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.

Sep

18

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.  It is because of their strength they are called “Pez Fuerte” south of the border.  In English it means “strong fish”!

 Their size and strength contribute to the excitement as the ultimate target species in underwater hunting.  Amberjack are targeted only by experienced spearos that have developed their aim well enough to “stone ‘em”.  But it only takes missing the kill spot by 2 inches to be dealt an exciting fight.  Underwater video of good and bad shots is a great tool to use in training new hunters.

 A huge trend among spearfisherman this season has been shooting video.  Most of the hunters I dive with have added camera mounts to their guns to video the excitement of the stalk, hunt and fight.

 It is easy to get a good quality, high definition video camera and underwater housing in a very small package and for a reasonable price.  The logical next step was to mount it to your mask or your gun and capture the action. Non-diving friends and family are amazed at the action and scenes that we enjoy every time we venture under the gulf. A fisherman sitting in the boat 70 feet above the action, has no idea what goes on below. The freedom of being able to select your own fish and just seeing all the species that inhabit the sites that they fish.  Instead of guessing what the colored pixels on your bottom machine represent, why don’t you jump in and have a look?

 The Sealife and GoPro-style cameras can be mounted out of the way leaving the hunter free to press “record” then forget about the camera and get on with the hunt.

The added bonus is seeing all the fish species on the reef, not just the ones biting.  The video evidence from divers has been instrumental in educating the “powers that be” on the proliferation of the red snapper population in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of getting the season and creel limits relaxed.

Divers have provided the video evidence of the Lionfish invasion to our coastal reefs.  Because Lionfish don’t bite a hook, most fisherman only read articles about the invasion.  We’ve seen the Lionfish go from a rare sighting 2 years ago, to a common species.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training, spearfishing and underwater videography.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think. Then you can grab your Sealife camera and be uploading You Tube videos after your first trip.

Jun

13

Your kids get excited about Christmas morning or the last day of school, but my dive buddies and I start loosing sleep in anticipation of June 1st.  With this season promising higher fuel prices, stricter creel limits and an abundance of nice red snapper on every site, most won’t have to travel far from the dock to fill your two fish quota.  If you are like many gulf coast fisherman, who target the red delicacy, the sport of fishing isn’t really much sport anymore.  The only way to stretch your fishing day to lunchtime is to cull fish all morning.  These comments may surprise fisherman from other areas of the country that have heard we have a shortage of Red Snapper.  Well ask any Alabama fisherman and you will hear stories of limiting out in just two drops to the bottom.

Because of the restricted limits and high fuel prices, many anglers have turned to spearfishing to fill their fish boxes.  It is the ultimate in selective fishing, because you are eye to eye with the fish.  It is easier to target a particular fish and you don’t spend all day culling rat snapper.  Many fisherman complain of not getting their bait through the small snapper to reach the bottom for that big sow snapper, scamp or triggerfish.

Fuel prices are always a summer concern and with marine fuel at a premium price, running all over the gulf can be a costly technique.

I’ve been spearing on the Alabama gulf coast for over 20 years, and sat and watched many bottom rigs bounce just off the bottom with a hundred 5lb. snapper staring at it while the big un’s hang outside the commotion, exhibiting the wariness and caution that allowed them to get to 30 lbs.!

Spearfishing is also a much more comfortable way to spend the hottest months of the year on the coast.  I feel sorry for the guys I see tied to a rig, catching nothing, with sweat droplets dripping off their nose, as we hand nice fish over the gunwales to our dive buddies.

As spearfisherman, we almost always come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Our two red snapper are the first targets, and then we shift our attention to the plentiful triggerfish.  A good spearfisherman will always be glancing in the distance for a nice amberjack or curious cobia to swim along.  While cruising along the reef, wreck or rig, I am always scanning the sand for the faint outline of a flounder.  Most sites will only have 1 or 2 nice grouper eyeing the action, but mostly not participating.  The aggressive red snapper bully them away from the angler’s bait, but avoiding our spear tips isn’t as easy.

In order for anglers to target the variety of species that we fill our coolers with every weekend, they would have to take every piece of tackle in their garage.  With just one speargun I am ready to harvest whatever species is home when I visit the site.  Lockjaw because the tide isn’t right is never a problem, they may not be biting…but they are still home.

Call Gulf Coast Divers and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this Red Snapper season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or that custom rod with a new gold reel you’ve been thinking about.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try diving.”  Make that “One day” this year.

May

3

We have seen a huge increase in interest in spearfishing on the gulf coast this spring.  The warm winter and especially clear gulf waters are just the invitation many spearos need to get wet.  The main target species, red snapper are plentiful and the fish are getting bigger.  The other side of that coin is that the recreational quotas will fill faster with more large fish expected to be caught.

NOAA Fisheries Service is currently investigating a proposal that, if implemented, would increase the 2012 and 2013 quotas for commercial and recreational red snapper harvest. The quotas are expected to increase, because recent population assessments show that over-fishing has ended. The red snapper allowable catch would be increased from 7.185 million pounds whole weight in 2011 to 8.080 million pounds in 2012.  The recreational allocation will be 49% or 3.959 million pounds.

That sounds like a lot of fish, but with more anglers and spearos seeking to put filets on the grill, this quota will get filled quickly. The increased quota is a step in the right direction, but the reality…it is equal to the amount of snapper caught last year, since we exceeded the allowable limit by 730,000 pounds!  Sorry NOAA Fisheries.

In addition, if implemented, the rule would eliminate the fixed recreational red snapper closed season of October 1 – December 31. By eliminating the October 1 fishing season closure date, NOAA Fisheries Service would be able to re-open the recreational harvest for red snapper if any remaining quota is available.

 

The gulf will be a busy place on the traditional opening of red snapper season, June 1st.. The season will close 40 days later on July 10th.   And for those divers that have a competitive edge and enjoy the excitement of tournament fishing, June 1st will find them sighting down their spearguns at the wall of red snapper we have been drooling over all spring.

The Red Neck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament, held from May 18th – June 9th 2012, gives hunters 3 weeks to get underwater.  1st place Amberjack is the most sought after trophy with winning fish rarely under 80lbs. If you are primarily an “AJ” hunter, the Red Neck Riviera Tournament is your only shot at a trophy this year, since amberjack season will be closed during the Alabama Spearfishing Rodeo later this season.  The Red Snapper sizes are always impressive and promise to be even larger this year with such an abundance of fish.  A 30lb. Red Snapper may not even land a 3rd place prize in this competitive rodeo.  This is a fun tournament for all divers regardless of experience level.  Fish can be weighed 9am-6pm, mon.-sat. at Gulf Coast Divers in Mobile.

As spearfisherman, we usually come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Even if you don’t shoot a trophy fish, it still goes on the grill at home or donated for the awards ceremony fish fry.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about advanced training and spearfishing.  You can be geared up and ready for this tournament season.  We can have you ready for the novice category in just a few training sessions.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try spearfishing” Make that “One day” this year.

Mar

14

As divers we have a unique opportunity to monitor the health of our reefs and ecosystems by observing the reefs, in action.  Anglers have to make guesses on the life of a reef based on only species they catch.  The huge influx of Lionfish into the gulf of mexico has brought the threat of invasive species into everyday conversation.

RED LIONFISH Pterois volitans

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and were most likely introduced into U.S. waters during Hurricane Andrew when
an aquarium containing lionfish was destroyed. With no real predators these fish are highly destructive to the native reef
fish populations and have the potential to harm red snapper and grouper populations. Lionfish will rarely bite a baited
hook and are normally only landed through spearfishing. However, if you catch one be cautious because their spines can inject
venom. If you are injected with lionfish venom seek medical attention as soon as possible. Lionfish rodeos are growing in popularity to try to stop the invasion.

GIANT TIGER PRAWN Penaeus monodon
The giant tiger prawn is native to the Western Pacific and are easily distinguished from native Alabama shrimp. Tiger prawns can grow to extremely large sizes, have black and white banding down the body, and were first reported in Alabama waters in 1996. The introduction of this invasive species is believed to have occured first in the Bahamas when a hurricane damaged an aquaculture facility. Reports of tiger
prawns have come in from North Carolin, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The annual Redneck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament will have a lionfish category this year.  With a prize going to the hunter that kills the most lionfish during the month long rodeo.

Call the Alabama Marine Resources Division to report invasive species:
Dauphin Island (251) 861-2882 Gulf Shores (251) 968-7576

Feb

10

April is traditionally the month that cobia start migrating thru the gulf coast on their westward journey.  The time of year and the speed of the migration has everything to do with water temperature.  The magic temperature seems to be 68 degrees.  The first cobia to show will arrive almost simultaneously with the gulf temperature warming to 68 degrees.

Early season cobia hunters usually sight-fish for the distinctive brown shapes, while cruising within 1/2 mile of the beach.  Once spotted the boats move ahead of the pod and try to intercept the fish and cast lures, silver eels, and jigs.  The key to sighting the fish is to get as high above the water as possible to increase the downward line of sight.

A new trend the last few years is for spearfisherman to follow this same sight-hunting tactic, but with a twist.  We troll the beach looking for the pods, then when sighted, we run the boat ahead of the fish and put a couple free-divers in the water.  Armed with mask, snorkel, fins and speargun, we rely on the natural curiosity of ling to swim close enough to check us out.  It usually takes many drops before we luck into a curious fish.

Any spearo that has had the luck of spearing a cobia knows that they can be a handful.  Cobia are very strong fish that will sometimes lie motionless after being shot, fooling the diver into thinking they stoned it with a great shot.  But boy can they come back to life.  Any angler that has gaffed a “green” cobia can attest to their surprising strength.  I’ve heard stories of sprained arms and shoulders, broken gaffs and many, many lost fish.

Known locally as “ling” or “lemonfish”, cobia are the main focus of anglers and spearfisherman looking for an adventure in late March and April.  For information on spearfishing call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Dec

20

True to Atomic’s name, this mask is super-engineered and was all the talk at this year’s dive-industry trade show.

Atomic Aquatics is calling this mask the Venom, and it’s a blending of their SubFrame and Frameless masks. It has a reinforcing internal frame that’s molded directly beneath the surface of the silicone rubber skirt, like the Subframe, yet it offers the relatively low profile of the Frameless. Also, its faceplate is single window like the Frameless, but it has a high bridge and tear-drop shape similar to the SubFrame’s dual-window design.

The Venom comes across as a high-concept, stylish-looking piece of gear when it’s being held in your hand, and it’s really comfortable when mounted on your face. Its easy-to-use squeeze-to-adjust buckles are soft-mounted to the mask skirt, which allows a little bit of flexibility in strap positioning, plus they can be folded flat for packing.

Where the Venom differs from its SubFrame and Frameless cousins is in its faceplate construction. While the SubFrame and Frameless lenses use Ultraclear glass, which has quite a rep for optical quality in its own right,  the Venom mask uses an even higher-quality glass imported from Germany. Called Schott Superwite glass, it allows more light to penetrate than even Ultraclear glass.

In the water, we find a testament to a good mask is that you don’t notice it on your face. The Venom does a good job of getting there. Like its cousins, it offers a superior field of view, and the soft skirt and watertight seal combined to make the Venom feel like a part of our face. Looking at the sights through this bright distortion-free Superwite glass is like looking through no glass at all.

It’s called the Venom and the only antidote is salt water, and lots of it!  Come by Gulf Coast Divers and check it this awesome new mask, just in time for your Christmas stocking!

Sep

21

It is not an exaggeration to say that scuba lessons were the best gift I ever received.  My parents gave me scuba lessons for Christmas when I was fifteen years old.  I was that kid that never missed a Jacques Cousteau t.v. special and watched ‘”Flipper” after school and dreamed of being able to live a life on boats and underwater.

Before I even finished my lessons I was working at the shop after school.  Sweeping floors, hanging up dripping wetsuits and filling tanks doesn’t sound like fun to most, but I was having a blast,  just being around diving.  Fast forward 27 years and I am still working in a dive shop, enjoying my dream job.

Giving someone an “experience” for a wedding, birthday, anniversary or Christmas gift insures that your present won’t be tossed in a storage shed and forgotten.  It is a great way to nudge a friend into trying scuba to introduce them to a world that you have already discovered. The best way to get more opportunities to dive is to have lots of dive buddies.

The most common complaint we hear from divers is, “It is hard to find someone to go diving with”. The best way to meet other divers is to DIVE and hang out where divers go. We are always introducing people in the shop and the Gulf Coast Diving Society is a local dive club that meets regularly for just this purpose. The easiest way to have a dive buddy you know and trust, is to have a buddy you know and trust, learn to dive. The more divers you know, the more Friday afternoon invitations you get to go diving this weekend.

Talk about a memorable first-date. We have had many couples come to our $24 scuba experience session for a unique date. It is more exiting and memorable than the boring, “dinner and a movie”. All you need is bathing suit, towel and a sense of adventure, we handle the rest and since our 15′ deep in-store pool is heated, we dive comfortably year ’round.

Scuba diving is a great way to introduce your family to the wonders of the underwater world and from exploring your local dive sites grows an interest in international travel. For many, diving becomes a lifetime recreation where you can pursue interests in travel, photography, spearfishing, thrilling adventures, relaxation of floating…weightless or wherever your personal interests lead you. Water is a great equalizer and you can have many different sizes and strengths in family members and still be on equal “ground” underwater.

Whether it is a thrilling adventure or peaceful, relaxing escape, diving has something for everyone. Don’t keep saying, “One day” forever…make this the year that you decide to start living life and experience new things.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and get a gift certificate for a $24 Experience Scuba session and give it to the person in your life, who needs an escape.

Aug

20

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.

New underwater hunters look at this fish as a goal to work towards with good reason.  Most spearfisherman that have an “uh oh” story, usually has a big amberjack as the main character.  It usually involves a bad shot or bad decision by the hunter, but no matter the reason, the situation still has the spearo attached to hard fighting fish.

Fisherman can relate stories of sore backs and rods pinned to the gunwales by big amberjack.  These are the same “donkeys” that we target, but unlike anglers that have the stability of a boat deck to fight from, we don’t have a foundation to fight from.  A poorly shot “AJ” will easily drag a diver around.

It doesn’t take a large AJ to put up a healthy fight, though.  My largest fish taken by speargun was in the 90lb. range, but the fish that beat me up the most was a 30lb. adolescent fish.  I took a long, poor shot in the fishes tail and the fight was on.  He came back around and head butted me in the chest, took my breath away, knocked my regulator out and flooded my mask.  After putting all my gear back in place and subduing the fish.  I laughed at what a hand-full this little guy was, all because I didn’t get a good shot and just attached myself to him.  I usually experience much less fight with bigger fish because with a bigger, stronger fish I take more time, resulting in a better shot.  I always breath a sigh of relief when I “stone” a big ‘un.

Amberjack are so named because of the distinctive amber color and bar that runs through their eye.  The spanish name Pez Fuerte, is a much better description meaning “strong fish”.  They are very common in our area of the gulf and considered the ultimate target in spearfishing.  Even though red snapper is the “star of the show”, it takes little skill to shoot a snapper point blank.  Amberjack, locally called AJ’s or Donkeys, require true shooting skill and very good diving skills.  Most new underwater hunters develop their hunting skill on smaller species like scamp, snapper, gag, flounder and sheephead.  Once you have learned your gear and found your aim, you can start on smallish amberjack and slowly increase your target size.

Most stories involving lost and broken spearguns involve a large amberjack and a novice spearfisherman.  Safety is the key with any adventurous sport and even more so when you are underwater!  It is much better to let that big fish keep swimming, than to come by the dive shop, singing the blues about a broken gun or having a fish get you in a close-call situation.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think.

Aug

13

This is just a reminder that all the Alabama fishing and spearfishing licenses will expire on August 31st. This day usually sneaks up on us every year, and has us scrambling to renew licenses online the night before a dive trip.

You must have a saltwater fishing license AND a spearfishing license to shoot fish. The size and creel limits are the same as fisherman. Please be aware of the closed seasons and size limits on all targeted fish species. Remember there is no such thing as catch and release in spearfishing.

A NOAA Southeast Fishery Bulletin came out Thursday announcing the agency has the authority to re-open the recreational red snapper season later this year, if deemed appropriate.  The red snapper quota was increased by 345,000 pounds for 2011.  This is  a good sign for a fall snapper season.  If the feds open red snapper, I promise not to go and shoot a 345,000 lb. red snapper and force a quick closure!

Below is a link to renew your licenses. It is a good idea to print several copies so you can keep one in your wallet, gear bag and on the boat. If you have any questions on open seasons call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Renew Your License – Get Your License

Jul

19

We have seen a huge increase in interest in diving among fisherman.  Some inquiries are from anglers searching for alternative fishing methods and many have been from sportsman wanting to see what they are fishing on.

Our spearfishing sites are the same reefs, wrecks and rigs that you are probably fishing right now.  Some adventurers begin diving and put away the rod-n-reel in favor of a speargun, but most still pursue both recreations.  Seeing the site and the way the fish stack-up on the site will make you a much smarter angler.  Being able to visualize the way fish hold on different sites gives the angler another tool to target a specific species.

Diving one of the many army tanks, sunk as artificial reefs, is always a memorable experience the first time.  We get the same comment from most divers upon surfacing; “I can’t believe it was a real army tank!”  Even though they knew it was a tank, their mind didn’t process an “ARMY TANK” sitting on the bottom.

One of our boat captains, Todd McGill, said that the desire to dive down and actually see the “Edwards” wreck is what drove him to learn to dive.  “I’ve fished that wreck for years and I had a deep desire to see the actual wreck, not just colored pixels on my bottom machine”.

How many “private” sites have fisherman given you that were “red hot” but you had no idea what it was.  These sites have lots of rumors surrounding them…chicken coup, tires, concrete culverts, pile of shopping carts or a concrete pyramid.  The reality is most look very similar on your bottom finder.  I dove a “private” site years ago that a fishing buddy said his dad put down as a reef.  He paid a reef builder to put this school bus out for them and he wanted me to go down and take pictures. “It has been a really hot site and we want to get an idea of it’s condition” he said.  I dove it and returned with his roll of film to develop…yep it was awhile ago.  I handed him his film and began describing the condition of the railroad boxcar.  “No man, this is a school bus” he exclaimed.  Even though I had just seen it, and yes it was loaded with fish, he didn’t believe me until he developed the film.  He had fished what he thought was a school bus for years.  Chances are the reef builder did put his school bus out, and he or his dad got their Loran numbers (told you it was awhile ago) mixed up in his notebook.  His disappointment had to do with the nostalgia of his dad’s site, not it’s productivity.

A fisherman’s GPS has generic site descriptions like wreck, good beeliners, hot trigger spot. A diver’s GPS has actual descriptions like shrimp boat, ½ barge, Bridge rubble, boxcar, etc.

To get a first hand look at you fishing spots, call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think.  Don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

May

14

Shooting Line:

Shooting line is the line that attaches your spear shaft to your gun, float line or reel (depending on your setup). The ideal shooting line is very light (to reduce the drag on the spear while it is in-flight) and fairly stiff (to avoid tangles and knotting). There are two popular choices for shooting line: big-game monofilament fishing line and 49 strand stainless steel cable. The cable may be coated with a thin layer of vinyl to make it easier to handle. Uncoated cable has a little less drag than coated cable but the plastic coating tends to protect the strands from breaking for longer.

The stainless cable is the strongest system for attachment, but has it’s own list of drawbacks. Because the cable is heavier it has increased drag on the shaft which can limit the flight of the shaft on long shots. Also, when the cable strands start breaking they make it impossible to slide the cable through your hand without tearing gloves and skin. Another important consideration with cable is a weaklink or clip in-line, to allow the hunter to release a poorly shot, large fish without losing the entire gun. I won’t rig any diver’s gun with stainless cable without putting a small brass clip at the muzzle attachment point. I may never be able to figure out how my wife’s mind works, but I do understand how a spearo thinks…he may hold on to that gun a little too long, and risk getting hurt, with a $600 speargun on the line. But be more likely to release that monster fish sooner, if only losing a shaft and tip.

I rigged all my guns with stainless cable for 15 years, until I discovered 450lb. monofilament. I prefer the lightness of mono, plus it is very resistant to tangles. Heavy monofilament wants to be straight, so springs off the guns line drop quickly and doesn’t kink as deeply as cable. The added bonus is I don’t have to rig a clip in-line because I can cut the shaft free at any point in the shooting line. Mono isn’t as durable as cable so it needs to be inspected often for nicks. I keep several measured and pre-crimped lines in my save-a-dive kit to quickly change out a frayed line.

Mono is durable and will last for many spearfishing trips, even shooting around barnacle encrusted oil/ gas rigs on the gulf coast. I feel my guns shoot more accurately with the lighter mono and there is no question it is safer than cable.

Another economical option is a pre-rigged shooting line with built in shock cord. There are many good options available from nylon, tuna cord, kevlar or spectra. I carry a pre-rigged spectra shooting line for a quick fix on the boat. They are economical and are cut to length to fit any gun. While this all sounds great, the major drawback to them for permanent rigging is that they tangle bad. You don’t want to be staring at a 30lb. red snapper at 5′ away while sorting through a hopelessly tangled rig. 

Shock Cord:

Shock absorbers are usually located on the muzzle end of the shooting line when attached to the gun. This piece of thick rubber absorbs the energy from the shaft when it reaches the full extent of it’s length. This keeps the shaft from jerking violently on the muzzle when you miss a fish. When properly rigged, the stretch of the shock cord will also, keep the shooting line snugged on the gun’s line drop.  Only invest in a top quality shock cord with line running thru the rubber absorber.  The “el cheapo” shock cords are just tubing with a loop of string in each end that just ties on.  As soon as the rubber dry rots or breaks you say goodbye to shooting line, shaft and tip.  How bad would it feel to think your $8.00 savings just cost you $90.00!

I use a heavy duty shock cord with stainless snap swivel that allows me to release and reattach the shooting line with a quick snap.  This is a much quicker way to get the fish off the shaft than closing the tip barbs and pulling it back thru the fish. The swivel on the shock cord will keep your shooting line from getting twisted when that amberjack starts his powerful, twisting fight.

For more information on spearfishing call Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970 and make sure and read our monthly spearfishing articles in mobile’s Coastal Angler magazine.

Apr

25

Mid-Handle vs. Rear Handle

The handle on a speargun can be placed towards the middle of the gun or towards the rear. Mid-handle guns allow for more balance and maneuverability when tracking game. The mid-handle gives the diver a gun support furthur forward on the gun stock to support the weight of the gun. A mid-handle requires an extra trigger release and pushrod to activate the true trigger mechanism at the rear of the gun. Most spearos prefer a rear handle gun which has fewer moving parts than a mid-handle. The rear handle allows the diver to extend the speartip closer to the target and use their other hand on the gun butt for support and aim.

Recoil, Ballasting and Balance

As you increase the mass of the shaft and the power via the bands, you increase the momentum coming out of the muzzle. This forward momentum causes an equal force backwards towards the diver. This recoil can be minimized by decreasing the power in the bands or increasing the mass of the speargun. This is usually done by increasing the size, weight and/or density of the gun stock. Some bluewater models add ballast and lead to increase the guns mass to resist this recoil. When adding ballast wings and lead, one must consider the guns balance. A heavy speargun is hard to swim and aim. They are especially hard to hold level when gun and arms are fully extended in front of the diver.

Experienced divers can hold the recoil of a bigger gun with their bodies by always bracing the gun firmly with both hands extended forward and elbows locked. The photo above shows the most common technique for aiming and bracing a rear handle gun. There are many stories of divers with busted lips or cracked masks because they didn’t properly brace a powerful speargun. Some divers will brace the gun butt against their chest to absorb recoil (as shown below). This style is effective but is very hard to aim accurately.

An over-powered or under-ballasted gun will tend to shoot low because the front of the gun kicks upward, which in turn forces the rear of the shaft upward, tipping the speartip downward. This causes the shaft to fly low and can result in poor shots and missed fish. It is never appropriate to shoot an unbraced speargun.  The diver below is demonstrating an improper one-handed, bent-arm technique.  Poor techniques will certainly result in missed fish and possible injury to the diver.

The best underwater hunters use good techniques every dive, every shot, every time.  This will result in better shot placement and fewer lost fish…which translates into more fish in the box.  Call Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970 and speak to a spearfishing professional to learn how to bring home more fish, SAFELY.  Happy Hunting.

 

Mar

29

Spear Tips

There are two types of shafts in common use today.  The first is a “flopper” shaft.  These shafts are a shaft- tip combo with a rock-point end and floppers, or wings riveted on the shaft.  These flopper shafts come in two styles, Hawaiian or Tahitian.  If the wing lays down on top of the shaft when it is loaded in the gun it is a tahitian.  This style is considered the most streamlined, but if the wing gets bent or stuck, it can obstruct the hunter’s view.  If the wing hangs down when loaded in the gun, it is called a ‘Hawaiian flopper”.  The flopper is pushed up against the shaft with the forward motion thru the water.  The simplicity of this system makes it popular with some hunters, especially free shafters and is more economical up front.  However a bent shaft or tip requires replacment of the entire shaft.  Also, the tear-out rate is higher with some big fish because you are relying on one wing to hold the fish.  Shot placement is more critical with this type system.

Threaded shafts are far more common on the gulf coast, because they allow the hunter to choose the appropriate shaft size and tip for the targeted species.  It is easier to change tips as they get dulled or change the style for the targeted species.  The 3 common tips are fixed, break-away and slip-tips.  Fixed tips can be solid or spinners.  The solid spearpoints are more economical but can be spun off by a fighting fish.  The rotating design allows for 360 degree spin, providing greater holding power and minimizing the chance of your tip unthreading from the shaft as a result of a fish “rolling” in battle.  The 3 common type of fixed tips are rock point, arrowhead and tri-cut.  Rock points are designed to perform even after impact on rocks and reefs and are the most common tip for free-shafters.  They are more foregiving after rock impacts but don’t penetrate as well as the sharpened points, having to “punch” their way into the flesh.  The arrowhead has a broadhead design expanding the cutting surface and actually cutting it’s way into the flesh resulting in better penetration than rock points.  The  rotating tri-cut boasts 3 cutting edges combined with a precision point. 

All three styles (rock, arrowhead and tri-cut) are also, available in breakaway styles.  The breakaway design allows the tip to release from the shaft but stay connected with a multi-braid stainless cable.  These tips hang on no matter how hard the fight while minimizing damage to your spearshaft.  The connecting cable will allow you to grab the shaft but the fish can still twist and turn without having a firm purchase to pull against.  The result is fewer tear-outs and bent shafts. 

The slip tip is the ultimate in breakaway designs. Also called a tournament tip,  this design penetrates the fish and  turns sideways for maximum holding power.  Although the best in holding power, the drawback to a slip tip, is it can be difficult to remove the fish while underwater.  If the tip penetrates fully, you can feed it back through the wound channel.  If the tip turns inside the fish, however, it requires alot of cutting to reseat and push through or remove.  The slip tip isn’t the best choice for shooting multiple fish on a dive.

For advice on tip selection bring your speargun by the store and talk to Lawren or Todd about your target species and diving style.  Happy Hunting.

Feb

27

GUN SHAFT

Gun length is one of the most important considerations in choosing a speargun.  When we get into discussions about gun length, we are really discussing shaft length.  In general, longer shafts will increase your shooting range.  But, too much gun can be a mistake for many hunting applications.  A larger gun has more mass to swing through the water making it tougher to track swimming fish.  You also, don’t want to be blasting through your fish and hitting the reef, wreck or rig behind the fish.  This practice is dangerous and will have you replacing tips and shafts often.

Too small a gun will contribute to very frustrating dives, as a fish tears off and swims away because you didn’t get good penetration or the shooting line will stop the shaft just short of that perfect shot.

Shaft diameter will affect accuracy and penetrating power.  A smaller mass shaft (9/32”) is lighter and tends to be more accurate than a larger shaft, but is more susceptible to getting bent during a tussle with a larger fish.  Lighter shafts have less momentum when hitting a hard surface (reefs, wrecks, or rigs), so less tip damage is done when shooting through smaller fish.  A heavier shaft will retain more punch power for better penetration and is less likely to get bent, but  the increase in mass results in a drop in trajectory.  A common compromise is a 5/16” shaft size.  It is heavier than a 9/32” and lighter than an 3/8” shaft.  It is the most common shaft diameter for spearos on the gulf coast.

GUN BANDS

Speargun bands play an important role in the power and accuracy of any gun.  A speargun is really a system of components that must be matched to maximize the performance of that gun.  We commonly get new divers in the shop that want to increase the power of their speargun with larger and shorter bands.  This is possible to a small degree, but over-powering a gun can make it more difficult to load and will greatly effect it’s accuracy.  A shaft that is over-powered will “whip” when it is released from the trigger and will fly in an unpredictable pattern.  It  also, creates more recoil in the gun which will cause a shaft to fly low.  This is because the recoil causes the front of the gun to jump up as the shaft is leaving the muzzle.  This upward motion of the gun carries the rear of the shaft up as it leaves, causing the front of the shaft to drop, resulting in a low shot.  

Each powerband adds a fixed amount of power to the shaft which is a function of diameter and tightness.  A typical high-quality 9/16” powerband will add about 80 lbs. of force and 5/8” band will add 100 lbs.  The power is linearly additive, so three 9/16” bands will have approx. 240 pounds of force.  The bands lose power with age and lose power with duration of stretch.  Some high-tech spearos will have 3 bands on their gun and only load two.  If they swim for awhile without shooting, they will unload a stressed band and reload a fresh one.  Rotating bands between shots is time consuming and less stealthy so it isn’t a common practice, but to each his own.

The points above are just a few of the topics discussed in our spearfishing class.  I will continue these  posts with general information for spearfishing on the gulf coast and equipment specifics relating to guns and local species in this series.  I will try to post a new article every week discussing different spearfishing topics.  Watch this blog for new articles and call me at (251) 342-2970 to ask questions on these or any other  topics.

Feb

17

Spearfishing can be an exhilarating way to put seafood on your family table.  It is, without question, the most selective way to harvest fish with very few lost fish and zero bycatch.  We spearos have a responsibility to land most of the fish we shoot, which means minimizing lost fish due to “tear-out”.  If a strong fish is shot in the belly or if the spear didn’t penetrate far enough through the fish, that fish may tear off, swim away and die.  A powerful, accurate speargun can help reduce this type of loss.

The most common reason for lost fish is a poor shot.  Choosing the right speargun for your hunting style and locale will maximize your results and increase your enjoyment.  Using the proper tip, such as breakaway and slip-tips, also helps reduce lost fish.  Ideally, you may want a variety of different guns to suit the various types of hunting conditions you will encounter.  Some of the things you should take into consideration are water clarity, game size, proximity to fish and gun rigging.  I use a pole spear for flounder and shore access dives because it is easier to handle around jetties, fish species are smaller and visibility can be limited.  You never want a gun that will shoot outside of visible range.  I recommend a 36” to 42” gun for smaller game fish such as triggerfish, scamp, black snapper and sheephead.  These species usually allow for closer approach which reduces the range the gun has to propel the shaft.   If your target species are amberjack, cobia and red snapper you will want more range and power and a 48” to 52” gun may be more appropriate.

The best way to become a good “spearo” is to dive with spearfisherman and watch how they approach, shoot and string fish, then dive alot and practice those skills.  Before you can become a good hunter, you must be a great diver.  New divers ask me often to recommend a number of logged dives as a goal before picking up a gun.  My answer is, there is no magic number.  A more accurate determination is skill level.  When you shoot your first fish, your attention will automatically zoom in on that fish and the fight.  But, you can’t forget about air consumption, depth, time, navigation, proximity to buddy and ascent rate, to name a few.  My recommendation is don’t start diving with distractions (spearguns, cameras, scooters) until your fundamental dive skills are automatic.

The points above are just a few of the topics discussed in our spearfishing class.  I will discuss general information for spearfishing on the gulf coast and equipment specifics relating to guns and local species in this series.  I will try to post a new article every week discussing different spearfishing topics.  Watch this blog for new articles and call me at (251) 342-2970 to ask questions on these or any other discussion topics.