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Spearfishing is one of the oldest forms of fishing, dating back to more than 16,000 years ago. Early spear fishers used harpoons or barbed poles to catch their prey, and this method is still used today. In 1947, Gerges Beuchat of France invented the first elastic band-propelled speargun, revolutionizing the sport. Later, new types were invented, including ones that used compressed air, carbon dioxide, and even gunpowder for spear propulsion.
Today, there are two types of spearguns that are widely used: pneumatic (which means driven by compressed air) and band-powered. Elastic band, or rail powered, guns are the most popular choice for many divers.
What Is a Speargun?
A speargun can be generally defined as an underwater fishing device used to launch a barbed spear with the power of compressed air or elastic bands. Spearguns have evolved over the years, and two main types have emerged as the leaders in the marketplace. Below we will further explore and explain these two popular types of spearguns.
Components of a Speargun
To better understand the different spearguns and what would work best for your situation, you should first know the basic components that make up a speargun. These include the:
- Shaft, or spear
- Stock, or barrel
- Handle, usually pistol-shaped
- Trigger mechanism
These components are all critical to speargun function. Manufacturers structure and modify these components in different ways specific to hunting various species of fish that are popularly hunted. From shortening the barrel to altering the thickness of the spear, all manufacturers’ designs will vary. We hope this article will help you decide which gun is best for you and your situation.
Pneumatic, or Air-Powered Spearguns
Pneumatic guns combine a sealed barrel, thick spear, trigger mechanism, and a handle. The sealed barrel is compressed when loading the spear by hand to create the pressure that will eventually be released, shooting the thick spear through the water. Pneumatic spearguns can often be tough to load, and some require frequent maintenance to prevent the compressed air from leaking out of the sealed barrel. That said, these guns offer some great features such as longer, accurate shooting with no recoil.
“I love moving in extra dimensions. Not just backwards and forwards, but up and down and around.” ― Kirsten Hubbard,Wanderlove
Pneumatic guns range in sizes from 55cm to 135cm, and the right choice depends on the environment and species you are targeting. The species you are hunting and the location will help determine what size speargun you will need. The larger the gun, the more powerful it will be, allowing you to land a bigger fish. Pneumatic guns are superb for low-visibility/high-current situations due to their pure power at close range.
Elastic, or Rail-Powered Guns
Elastic rail powered spearguns are by far the most popular type used in the water today. Easy loading, low maintenance requirements, and accurate aim have enabled this type of gun to dominate the market. Spear fishers can control the power of the punch of the spear by loading different numbers of bands. The great thing about elastic bands is you can load them one at a time, and the process does not require great strength.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him participate in synchronized diving.” ― Cuthbert Soup, Another Whole Nother Story
Elastic-band spearguns range in size from 50cm up to 130cm, and they are made of various materials including wood, aluminum, and carbon-fiber. Hardwood elastic spearguns are a great choice for hunting bigger game fish due to their density and ability to absorb the shock without bending, which will throw off your shot.
The diver loads her or his elastic gun by placing the butt end against the chest and pulling the bands back until they reaching slits in the back of the shaft. Good gear to wear while using this type of gun includes chest pads and protective gloves.
Who Needs a Speargun?
Let’s face it, fish don’t always bite when we use a hook and line. Diving and exploring is a blast. With spearfishing, it won’t matter if the fish has just eaten a school of sardines, you can still catch him. Spearfishing is not always possible, with low visibility conditions being the main barrier to fishing a body of water, If mixed with stiff currents, diving and spearfishing can be extremely dangerous. Proper safety measures should always be taken, and a dive buddy is essential for safety
Buying the Right Gun
Let’s explore three speargun categories you will encounter as your shop by calling out their main features and possible downsides.
- Used for small fish
- Thin shafts
- Easily damaged if used on large fish
- Thin barrels
- Similar to Euro gun for larger fish
- Thick shafts
- Thick barrels
- Guided rail shafts for accuracy
- Powerful for large species
- Thick shafts
- Hold multiple bands
- Lack maneuverability
Common Speargun Setups
The line rig is the most popular setup. The gun is attached to the shaft via a line that can be made of different types of materials, including monofilament, braided, or steel line. The line attaches to the shaft with a sliding ring or a hole drilled through that shaft.
For larger fish, a speed rig is often used. The line is attached to the gun and a float at the surface. After the fish has been shot, the diver can let go of the gun and let the float weigh down and tire the fish. It’s a good idea to have a float made of foam and not blown up with air so water pressure doesn’t crush the float if the fish pulls it under water.
This rig is very similar to the speed rig except that it releases the line entirely from the gun. This lessens the risk of losing your gun if the line breaks, and it could provide extra protection just in case some curious sharks come to check you out.
Reel on Gun
With this setup, a reel similar to a fishing reel is attached to the gun. Once the fish is shot, the reel unwinds and the diver can tire the fish by reeling it in and letting it out alternately.
Essential Gear for Spearfishing
Having all the proper gear before going diving is essential for a pleasant, safe and bountiful spearing trip. When the proper gear is used, you increase your chances of a successful trip. Here is a short list of gear vital to have on your next spearfishing adventure:
- Your choice of one or more spearguns!
- Weight belt
- Fish stringer
- Snorkel and dive mask
- Diver-down flag
Always Check Regulations
Always be sure to check your local regulations before spearfishing. Many jurisdictions require a license and some areas outright ban the sport. In the U.S., the most common restriction is on in-shore spearfishing. In almost all fishing areas, there is a bag limit on the daily amount of fish you can take. This may also include size limits which will require you to assess the fish before pulling the trigger. These regulations help ensure a lasting sport for us all, so it is critical to observe them and spearfish safely.
Try Before You Buy
Many dive shops double as rental shops. Call around to your local shops and see if they will rent spear guns, or if they know of any local fishermen that would be willing to rent one out. By getting a handle on what the fishermen in your area are using, you can decide what size gun will best suit you. This also allows you to realize the limitations you may have with the sport. Often divers immediately want to catch the biggest fish ever, so they go out and buy the biggest speargun money can buy… only to get home and realize they’re not quite strong enough to even load that gun.A good way to get your feet wet is to purchase a Hawaiian sling spear or a pole spear. They are inexpensive, sometimes costing only $20, and will help you get a grasp of the sport before you drop that $400 gun to the murky depths. The pole spear can be a great way to learn safety and give you the chance to find some great fishing spots.When going on your first trip, remember to be patient and try to relax. A rapid heart rate will make you unable to hold your breath for an extended period of time, and speed is not the ticket in this sport. You can’t become a successful spearfisher by trying to chase down fish. This is an ambush sport, and it requires you to blend in with your environment and let the fish come to you.
The speargun market is flooded with a sea of manufacturers and brands. Your choice of the right gun will depend on the region you live in and the species you will be pursuing. If you are diving around reefs, a 130cm gun is probably unnecessary. On the other hand, a 50cm gun in open blue water, pursuing pelagic species such as tuna, will not do the job. Big fish require big guns and multiple bands. The best way to decide on the right gun is to spend some money on fish charters and learn from people that have been spearfishing for some time. They will have great advice for you.