So you have been ogling those amazing videos and pictures on social media and have decided to get into spearfishing this summer. After all, what's not to like about spending time exploring the ocean with the added bonus of sustainably sourcing your own fish?
If you are completely new to the pursuit - then all the equipment choice may seem confusing. Here is a helpful equipment essentials guide to shore diving(rock hopping) in the Sydney summer.
The primary target species for this setup being yellowtail kingfish.
The guide is broken down into 4 parts
These are the very essentials that you need to able to spend time with your face underwater and diving under the surface on a breath of air.
Regardless what anyone tells you, the best mask is a well fitting one that doesn’t leak water. Beyond that, it should ideally have low volume and opaque skirts (sides). The low volume means less air inside of it to pressurise when you dive - with the general added bonus of greater vision due to the lenses being closer to your eyes. Vision is also the reason for the opaque skirts, as it prevents light entering the side of the mask and blinding you. Think of it like having a set of blinkers that allow you to focus forward without disruption.
Forget the flex corner versions or those with the purge valves or ping pongs in them. Get a simple non flex, J shaped snorkel – the easier it clears the sooner you can breathe through it post dive.
The propulsion that will get you travelling underwater. Its pretty hard work without them. For spearfishing you are going to want a set of closed heel, long bladed fins. Fin blades come in a number of materials from the cheaper plastics all the way to carbon. At the start you don’t need to go for the expensive option but I would recommend you get a pair of fins where you can remove the blades from the foot pockets (Picasso, Omer etc). This will save you some coin when you want to upgrade the blades later on and allow you to keep your comfy foot pockets the whole way through.
The key to maintaining optimal buoyancy. Too much weight and you hit the bottom like a stone, too little and you will constantly bob to the surface like a cork. Research and test the amount of lead you need for the conditions and depth you are diving in. In terms of the actual belt, the webbing ones are ok but can move around a bit or feel to constrictive. For that reason, I would always get a rubber belt as they sit better and are less restrictive to your breath holding.
A larger calf knife for euthanising and cleaning fish. Also handy in emergencies if you need to cut through fishing line or the shooting line of a spear wedged in the rocks. Just make sure it is sharp, has a thickish blade (more on this later) and a good securing mechanism so you don't lose it.
Its pretty simple. The ocean temperature in Sydney summer varies from 21C-25C and your body temp is 37C. You are not going to warm the ocean to your temp - so the longer in water, the cooler you will become till its unbearable. To extend your time in the water in the longest way possible you will need insulation.
Spearfishing wetsuit – why a spear suit? There are myriad of reasons but it boils down to being specifically designed for free diving and being unrestrictive, warm and durable. Which for Sydney summer roughly equates to a hooded 3mm 2 piece wet suit. A hood is a must because you lose the most heat through your head and you will get more mileage out of a suit with a hood than without it. Likewise, the versatility of the 2 piece means you can discard the pants if it gets too warm or replace the 3mm jacket in the winter months with a 5mm. The difference between this and a surf wetsuit for diving is a no contest. For more details on characteristics of a spear suit - read this
Gloves – unless you plan on not touching anything – rocks, reef, the sea urchins that miraculously appear when you put your hand down, fish, lobsters etc then you will need a pair of gloves. These can range from your stock gardening gloves in summer to Kevlar coated neoprene gloves. I get cold in my hands so like the neoprene sets but some guys wear the dyneema gloves all through the year.
Booties – A bit of extra warmth and to reduce the chafe from using your fins for 4 hours. To save the soles, only put them on just before you jump into the water otherwise the barnacles and rocks will eat through them quickly.
The length and type of gun is open to a lot of conjecture. You can pretty much shoot anything with anything, as long as you hit it in the right spot but to give yourself the best chance, it helps to be more specific and for hunting big kingfish it's good to have some range and power. For this sort of spearfishing 1100-1200 also feels about the right balance of punch and maneuverability. I really like my 1200 Rob Allen rail gun as it’s the Kalashnikov of spearguns, tough, simple and packs a wallop.
Single or double band? 2 smaller doubles will allow for easier loading and the ability to also de-power the gun when you are close in on the reef. A single means you only have to load once. Of course you could go shorter with a single band roller gun but that’s a topic for another day.
There are several reasons to use a float line and float in Sydney. In order of importance, signalling to other divers and boats where you are, stringing your catch away from yourself and giving you some play when a large kingfish pulls the gun out of your hands. In Sydney, avid and blind boatmen will be your biggest worry so a float, preferably with flag is crucial. It also makes it easier for you and your buddy to keep an eye on each other while diving by tracing the float line. For the actual float line you can use rope but the better option is a PVC float line - it sits ontop of the water better, doesn't tangle as easy and is less prone to snagging on reef/rocks. If you are rock hopping/shore diving then a solid or heavy duty rigid float is the way to go as an inflatable one will eventually get punctured by reef/barnacles/oysters.
I carry two knives. One heavy duty on my calf for bigger fish and utility jobs and this one on the arm. This knife has a short sharp blade and is within easy, quick reach to dispatch smaller or softer fish. For bigger or thicker skulled fish use the calf knife to avoid snapping this one.
Somewhere to put those lobsters! Get one with an easy closing mechanism or the buggers will climb out when you are not looking!
If there is anything that’s a game changer when it comes to hunting lobsters, then it’s the humble torch. It will allow you to shine into deeper cracks and cover a large amount of ground without waiting for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Plus, no one wants to stick their head into a crack only to see a wobbegong looking back!
Pelagic fish species such as kingfish are hungry and curious. A flasher helps pique their interest and get them within your vision and ultimately range. For me this is an essential item.
Preparation for what is an exceedingly low risk event in Sydney. It does however offer peace of mind and the occasional sharp shock to keep you on your toes.
Really to only know Surface Time so that you pace your dives, recover adequately and avoid complications like shallow water blackouts
Learn to be a better diver - there are great apnea courses out there to get solid foundations in place
Familiarise yourself with local regulations on no take species, bag limits and legal length.
Get a fishing license - https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/apply-recreational-fishing-licence
Most important of all… and you cant buy this – get a dive buddy for safety and to enjoy the experience with.
My equipment in the picture (top to bottom and left to right)
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.