by David Miner
Before you can hit the water and start shooting fish, you have to know where to find them and learn their habitats and hideouts. You also need to be aware of the local regulations and laws concerning where and when you can spearfish. Every area and state has different regulations, and it is your job to know what they are. Marine officers don’t except ignorance as an excuse for breaking the local spearfishing laws.
Knowing where fish hangout and when they are in particular areas is a must if you want to be an effective hunter. Fish generally hang out in areas that offer some type of protection, such as reefs, ledges, wrecks and oilrigs, rocks, kelp, or basically any underwater structure. These types of habitats provide fish places to hide, spawn, and hunt for other fish for food. Knowing where underwater structures are, what types of fish frequent the area, and the laws governing the area when combined can provide you the information necessary to successfully hunt fish. Pelagic fish, fish that swim in open water, can also be found swimming over structures but generally don’t take refuge inside of reefs or wrecks. Blue water hunters are typically hunting for fish like tuna, amberjack, and wahoo.
Reefs and ledges (coral and rocks)
Coral reefs and rocky bottom offer some of the best structure for fish to thrive. Reefs and rocky bottom offer safety and food for many types of fish. Reefs and rocky structures have holes, caves, tunnels, and crevices where fish of all sizes live. These are the best areas to search when hunting for fish. Larger fish are often found in the deeper sections of reefs and on the fringes of a reef or rocky structure. Reefs are popular hunting areas, meaning they get a lot of traffic. Sometimes this means that fish can be limited and sizes can be small. Hunting on reefs can severely impact and damage the coral if you’re not careful when you’re shooting, kicking, and swimming around. Protect the reef at all times and only shoot fish that you plan on eating and that fall within the regulations.
Ledges offer excellent overhangs and cutouts, as well as taller structure that provide fish excellent hangouts. Larger fish are generally found around the deeper sections of ledges and sometimes pelagics swim by looking for a meal. You’ll often find fish in the crevices and holes found on ledges. Hunting on ledges is often productive for both bottom fish and pelagics.
Wrecks offer excellent habitat for fish. Fish of all sizes use the wrecks structure for protection as well as for feeding. Wrecks that are intact offer a lot of holes, crevices, and overhangs for fish to reside. The more intact the wreck, the more areas there are for fish to live, but even wrecks that have collapsed and fallen apart have great places for fish. You can find snapper, grouper, and other types of bottom fish as well as amberjack, barracuda, and cobia. Large pelagics also can swim by looking for smaller fish to eat.
Some of the larger wrecks can be penetrated, but typically, fish do not hang out deep inside wrecks. Fish are mostly on the outside of wrecks or just inside openings. Penetrating into a wreck requires special training and can be dangerous, so avoid swimming into a wreck unless you’re properly trained.
Wrecks also typically have large amounts of fishing line draped over their structure, which means entanglement hazards. Make sure you watch where you’re swimming and chasing fish and always carry a knife with a line cutter in case you get entangled.
The big oilrigs offshore also offer excellent structure for fish. Large, steel legs and reinforcing cross members go all the way to the bottom supporting the oil platform above the water. This steel superstructure provides a great habitat for many kinds of fish. Large pelagics can often be found looking for food and grouper and snapper can be found feeding on smaller species that live around the rig. Spearfishing on oilrigs is very popular in the Gulf of Mexico off of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida.
Oilrigs are also very popular for fisherman. Boat traffic can be heavy and fishing line can be found rapped around the rigs support structure. Just like diving on wrecks, make sure you always carry a knife in case you get entangled in fishing line.
There are also other hazards of diving on oilrigs. Most companies require you to get permission before diving on a rig because of liability concerns. You should always consult local diving charters or instructors for information about the rigs in the area before diving them. Many times it’s a good idea to go with a charter before taking your own boat. Knowing how the locals do it can be priceless information. In addition to the boat traffic and line entanglement concerns, oilrigs can also be dangerous do to suction pipes pumping water up to the platform for cooling or desalinization and electric shock from electrical current being used to keep the steel from corroding in saltwater. Always be aware of the hazards and your surroundings while diving on an oilrig.
Diving the kelp forests in the Pacific off the west coast of the U.S. offer excellent protection and food habitats for many types of species. Hunting in these waters can be productive when hunting species like rockfish, calico bass, and white seabass. Swimming through thick kelp forests can be challenging, so take your time so that you don’t get caught-up in the stalks.
To be a successful and productive spearfisherman, you need to know the area you’re hunting. Get to know the layout of the reef or ledge or wreck, know where the fish hang out and what type of fish are there, and know the rules and laws governing spearfishing in your area. Also, be a conscientious and ethical hunter. Don’t shoot a fish unless you plan on eating it. Follow the bag limit laws, and think conservatively so that there will be fish in your area in the future.