Spear fishing is an ancient craft that traditionally took place above the water surface from a boat or from a riverbank. The invention of goggles simply allows us to get a little closer.
Spear fishing is surely one of the most satisfying methods of catching food for the pot – especially so with visibility reaching 10m on the calmest of days in the surprisingly clear Hebridean waters. Unlike parts of the North Sea, which often have muddy a sea bed, the Hebridean coast is rocky and sandy resulting in pristine clear water coloured turquoise over areas of white sand.
The only kit that’s required is a mask, snorkel, fins and a spear gun. Other items are useful – a wetsuit, dive weights, net bag, dive knife, dive-buoy and a dive torch. A wetsuit is pretty much a diving requirement in the UK because, as well as keeping the body warm, it helps relax the diver in the cold water so breath holds are efficient.
It’s considered bad form to use scuba breathing gear to spear fish, as this would be a turkey shoot, so all that’s required is a little skill and a lot more practice. However, there are compromises to make – a more powerful speargun is more difficult and tiring to reload on the surface.
Perhaps the biggest compromise to make in choice of wetsuit. Humans are nearly neutrally buoyant making it easy for us to descend in water however the thicker a wet suit the more buoyant a diver becomes. The diver wearing a 5mm winter wetsuit with booties, hood and gloves, whilst likely feeling balmy, is as buoyant as a marsh mallow and equally as agile.
Such increased buoyancy can be countered with dive weights but care should be taken not to use weight excessively – although the descent will be easier, the ascent will also be more difficult. Dive weights should only be used to achieve neutral buoyancy so that positive buoyancy is achieved with a lung full of air and negative buoyancy through exhalation.
A stringer allows spearos to keep their hands free by attaching catch to their waist and a net bag is a useful addition for holding scallop, mussels and seaweed. In warmer waters spearos tend to remove their catch from the water as blood can attract unwanted sharks to the area. here in the Hebrides such a risk is minimal.
Although this risk is greatly reduced in British waters spearo Tim Cresswell, in his book The Three Hungry Boys, describes a six foot tope shark taking a mackerel from him whilst spearfishing off Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. As well as tope there are occasional sightings of porbeagle sharks so one can never be complacent.
Not quite so dramatic but far more real is the danger of boats to divers and it is always sensible to dive with a surface marker buoy which announces a diver’s underwater location to power boats.
Watch this space for the next catch.