What is Spearfishing?


Spearfishing can be done as a sport, for commerce and for subsistence. It can be an exciting way to interact with nature and explore the creatures that live in the ocean. Spearfishing requires skill, patience, stamina, and a love of the water.


The history of spearfishing dates back to ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt, as many early hunter-gatherers were located on a coast. During the Paleolithic era, 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago, spears were made of barbed poles called harpoons. Modern spearfishing began to evolve in the early 1900's when fishermen began to hunt below the water using goggles and their spear.

Freshwater and Saltwater

Spearfishing Freshwater and Saltwater

The majority of spearfishing takes place in saltwater. It is possible to spearfish in freshwater, but a majority of states do not permit spearfishing in freshwater. It is important to check with the local authorities before doing so.

Spearfishing Equipment

Spearfishing Equipment

The right spearfishing equipment ensures safety while underwater. The list below consists of essential gear for all spearfishers.

Here is the essential spearfishing equipment you should have:

  • Dive Flags: Displaying a flag signals boats to slow down and proceed with caution
  • Fins: Allows the body to swim and navigate the water more effectively
  • Float Lines: Allows the speargun to be dropped when dealing with a large fish or to easily swim up to catch a breath
  • Mask: Helps you see underwater
  • Reels: Gives the spearfisher the option to reel the fish in from the surface of the water or upon shooting the speargun
  • Snorkel : Allows the spearfisher to hover just below the surface to look for a target
  • Speargun/ Pole Spears: Ejects a tethered harpoon line at a targeted fish
  • Spearfish Knife: Provides the spearfisher the ability to cut the fish as well as any tangled lines
  • Weights: Assist the spearfisher to dive deeper into the water
  • Wetsuit : Protects the body and provides heat


The objectives of spearfishing depend on if you are doing it recreationally or for competition. For recreational spearfishing the objectives are to be safe and enjoy hunting. For competitive spearfishing, tournaments are arranged into events by gender. Points are awarded for the size and weight of the fish that is caught. Penalties are assessed to participants who catch fish that are below the minimum weight of 3 kilograms. The winner of the tournament is the one who has the most points. A percentage ranking is given to each contestant.

Rules and Regulations

spearfishing rules and regulations

The World Confederation of Underwater Activities (CMAS) publishes the International Spearfishing Regulations which are the basis for local and worldwide competitions. All spearfishing tournaments must submit their rules and regulations to the CMAS in advance of their event for approval. Regulations cover administrative issues, behavior of the athletes, what equipment can and cannot be used, how to judge catches, and how to mediate complaints.

Here are the most important Spearfishing rules you should know:

  • A valid spearfishing sport license is required to participate in the sport.
  • One point is awarded for each gram of weight
  • Athletes are not allowed to hunt for any eel species, common stingrays, octopus, grey triggerfish, and angler


For every spearfishing athlete you talk to, you are sure to get a different tip for successful catches. At the top of the list is safety and making sure you have the right equipment. How to wait and approach your prey is something else you will learn with practice. Even the killing of your catch is important for humane purposes.

Here are the most important spearfishing strategies you should know

  • Calculating your movements while stalking a fish is key. It will allow you to preserve more oxygen. Being subtle and stealthy are learned skills but will increase the amount of fish you catch.
  • Understand buoyancy. Your buoyancy varies depending on the type of water you are in. Attaching weights to your belt will allow you to dive deeper more easily.
  • Use a dive knife to kill your catch and to untangle yourself from nets or ropes that you may get caught in.


Spearfishing Lingo

Here is the common lingo and slang in Spearfishing:

  • Blow Bubbles/Get Wet: Let's go diving.
  • Spearo: an avid spear fisher.
  • Flopper: The metal piece near the tip of the spear that goes up after the fish is speared to prevent the fish from getting away.
  • Line Release: Often plastic but can also be metal, a line release allows the spear to be completely separate from the gun
  • Geeser Gas: Refers to Nitrox which is an oxygen enriched gas. Allows you to extend the amount of time spent underwater.

Spear Fishermen

Spear Fishermen

There are many famous athletes in the sport of spearfishing. Some, like Del Wren, overcame physical disabilities to become legends. Others, like Terry Maas, secured World Records that have stood the test of time. Maas caught a 398lbs / 180.5kg Pacific bluefin tuna in 1982 that was not beaten until 2006.

Here are some of the most famous spearfishing professionals you should know:

  • Pinder Brothers: Won 9 straight competitions. Were the first spearfishermen to be put on the cover of Sports Illustrated
  • Linda Gray: Won 5 national championships
  • Sheri Daye: Holds over 20 ISUA world spearfishing records
  • John Ernst: Won athlete of the year award in 1963 and 1996 and won 14 US national championships individuals
  • Anne Doherty: Became the first female to win athlete of the year in 2009

Events and Competitions

Here are the most notable tournaments in spearfishing:

Spearfishing World Tournament: Competitions take place all over the world including Portugal, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Italy, among others. Spain has hosted the most, at 6 championships. Croatia, French Polynesia, Greece, Venezuela, Turkey, Cuba, Yugoslavia, and Malta have also held world tournaments.