Anglers Turn to Spearfishing to Catch that Elusive Fish
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Most people prefer to wait for a fish to find their bait on a line dangling from a boat, pier or shoreline. But an intrepid few choose to dive down on a tank of air or even freedive and spear a fish in its underwater lair.
For both, it’s the thrill of the chase and a fresh meal. For spearfishermen, it’s the culmination of many adrenaline activities rolled into one
“It’s boating, fishing, hunting and diving all at the same time,” said Bob Provost, owner of Discovery Dive World in Valparaiso. “It never gets old. You never know what you’re going to see every time you go underwater.”
Provost has been diving since 1984 and says he can’t get enough of the adventure every spearfishing dive brings. As a former Air Force pilot who was stationed all over the world, he’s had the opportunity to dive in many unique places. When he came to the Emerald Coast and decided to buy a dive shop in 2007, he was filling a void by supporting divers and spearfishing enthusiasts with an extensive selection of gear, proper training, travel and competition. Ever since, he’s seen the sport of spearfishing grow in the area significantly.
A.J. Hally pauses to snap proof of his free diving prowess with a beautiful mahi mahi, also known as a dolphin fish.
Provost’s shop offers eight different scuba diving classes, including the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Underwater Hunter certification taught by diving veteran Bryan Kennington. Kennington instructs divers on fishing regulations, fish identification, how to safely spear fish, mastering the kill shot and how to safely get it to the boat. Provost recommends that anyone interested in spearfishing first get a few dives under his or her belt.
“When a diver is completely relaxed while diving, then they are ready to spearfish,” he said.
Spearfishing is distracting and requires the ability to multitask underwater. For example, a spearfisherman might be wrestling a fish but must also keep checking his or her air supply and bottom time.
“No fish is worth no air,” Provost said.
Aside from the inherent risk of scuba diving, Provost says the risk is low when it comes to sharks, and he’s never heard of a spearfisherman being bit by a shark.
“You are not in their food chain,” he said. “They are curious and only want the fish that’s on you.”
According to Provost, the five most common fish for local spearfishermen are snapper, grouper, cobia, amberjack and flounder. Some fish are off limits to spearfishing, such as pompano and red drum. His personal favorites are cobia and gray triggerfish, because they taste similar to halibut.
Kennington said he believes spearfishing is much more ethical and conservative than line fishing because divers are selective and leave no line behind. He personally enjoys the challenge of spearfishing amberjack, which he calls the “donkey of the sea,” because it puts up a tough fight if you don’t get a kill shot.
Kennington, who is also a dive equipment technician, said he’s noticed a more diverse group of people diving because of underwater scooters, which propel divers to explore with less effort and half the air, and digital photography attracting people to the sport.
But one factor working against the sport is the closure of fisheries, short fishing seasons and limits for some fish such as snapper that discourage divers from going out because the cost to fill up a boat to catch only one fish doesn’t seem worth the gas money.