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.



Ok, I admit it…I’ve been lost underwater before and it wasn’t fun.  I remember an especially stressful dive with 3 others, following me (the divemaster) and I had no clue where the mooring line was.  It was a fairly shallow dive (40fsw)  in Puerto Rico on Enrique Reef and I was lost.  I had dove this reef several times, but didn’t have a real good idea of it’s geography.   I had a compass but hadn’t referenced it before beginning the dive so I knew which direction I was headed, but didn’t know what  heading was home.  Because of the shallow depth, it was an especially long dive, so we covered alot of ground.  About 45 minutes into the dive I started wandering back in the direction I thought was close.  I thought I recognized several coral heads and large sponges, but wasn’t sure.  Several times I attempted to ascend and look for the boat, but the other divers were stuck to me like glue.  When I began to ascend so did they.  I didn’t want them to know I was lost, so I slipped back to the reef and keep swimming.  We finally made our ascent after 80 min. and we were about 50′ from the boat.  I was astounded and a little proud.  As I ran the boat back to the dock, the pride dissolved when I admitted it wasn’t navigation skill, but dumb luck that got us back without a marathon surface swim.

That dive was 15 years ago and I still remember the stress of not knowing were I was underwater.  I now make navigation a priority on all of my dives and stress it to my students.  Whether you are using natural navigation by remembering distinctive landmarks or using a compass, it is important to insure you return to your predetermined exit point.  Most divers aren’t comfortable with their compass, so tend to hang out close to the anchorline.  This is fine, and preferable to getting lost.  But, if you can confidently swim furthur away from the crowd, you will see more life, have better visibility and usually encounter  less stressed reef inhabitants.

My boat dive briefing stresses that you not venture any furthur away from the ascent line than you can confidently return with YOUR navigation skills, not your buddies skills.  What if you get seperated during the dive and you were just following them?  EVERY diver should take a navigation specialty course to learn to effectively use their compass, then practice your skills on every dive.  The more you dive the same sites, the more confidently you can swim around it recognizing natural landmarks.  For new divers and new sites, I suggest venturing out then come back and find the ascent line.  Then swim in another direction, exploring and return to the line.  By returning to the anchor line several times during a dive, you become very familiar with the immediate area and don’t swim as far away, minimizing your return distance.   Over-confidence in your ability to return may tempt you to swim farther than you should.  Be realistic about your navigation skills.

Some divers use a reel or finger spool to venture away from the ascent line, while heplful in many instances, they can be awkward and create entanglement hazards if not careful.  A line can be helpful in very low visibility, when you can be only feet from the line and not see it,  it is not an alternative to good navigation skills. 

The development of your navigation skills is a must in advancing your diving comfort.  The “take away” from this article is simply, “Get a compass and learn to use it, every dive!”  Call (251) 342-2970 and inquire about our next navigation specialty course.



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.