Getting In: Starting Spearfishing on a College Student Budget

December 30, 2019

 

I got into spearfishing when I was looking for local fishing info to take my fiancé on a date. I was a senior in college, with plenty of debt and little to no income from my job at the campus cafe. After running around the internet I found that spearfishing was recreationally done from my local beaches, and after accidentally finding an old pole spear at a relatives house, I was determined to get in the water and do some hunting. A couple weeks later I was running down the beach with a bigger fish than any of the local fisherman had seen.

 

This is my hope for you, that starting out finances are not an obstacle to entering into one of the most unique and rewarding natural experiences on the plant: spearfishing. If you have plenty of cash to spend on new hobbies, go for it. But for the rest of us, check in here to find creative ways to begin exploring and hunting the sea.

 

When I started I already had that spear from a family member, but I needed a few more things to make the dream a reality. Years later, I began to acquire professional level gear and love it, but the time exploring and testing simple and inexpensive gear (and sometimes less than efficient) was invaluable to my experience as a spearo.

 

I have found that there are 7 critical pieces to spearfishing, and simple and inexpensive ways to get them. After looking at this list, I’d encourage you to connect with your local dive community and reach out to them, often they are more than willing to connect you with old gear to get you in the water and give advice on what might be necessary in your area, and some may be kind enough to take you in the water.

 

 

 

 

 

1. License

 

 

 

Some of you may not have this requirement, but many do. To me this is the big ticket item you can’t avoid, and this is one you just can’t thrift away if you live in California or another area with license requirements. In southern california the license and ocean enhancement tag sets you back around $55, and picking up a lobster or species specific report card will put you back another $7. You can do a one day pass for $15, but only getting one day is typically not worth the “savings” because you have to drop the $55 eventually.

 

If you don't get one of these, not only is it taboo with spearos, but the fine for fishing without one can be around $500 in California. I don't always love em, but the Department of Fish and Game officers are doing their job to keep the species we hunt sustainable, so do you part and get a license! 

 

 

 

2. Wetsuit

 

 

 

This can be one of the more challenging pieces of gear to acquire, simply because they are often so expensive and uniquely sized, but I’ve seen a handful of ways to pick them up for cheap. I didn’t pay for mine starting out because my room mate was a surfer and we are the same general size, so the easy option was for me to just borrow his! Other easy things to do are to visit garage sales, check the local craigslist of Facebook market place, ask friends who surf if you can borrow theirs, or even check local thrift stores. There’s one in Santa Barbara I often check in general, and typically there are a handful of really thick dive suits there! Surf suits in your area generally won’t be quite the thickness you’ll want long term, but should get you by long enough. For example, most surf suits in my area are 4/3 (4mm in the chest, and 3mm everywhere else). While the suit I use for diving is 5mm throughout. Later on you can invest in the camouflaged spears-friendly neoprene two piece suits, but for now, a surf suit will be more than adequate. Do avoid “holy” wetsuits unless you sew them up first. I once dove with a friend for 2 hours and he had so many holes in his suit that he came out of the water with a blue tint and shivering! If you can find a cheap one with holes, look up how to repair one first, because the repair supplies also cost money (usually not much though).

 

If you’re lucky, in the water you’ll be diving it’ll be warm enough that you won’t even need a wetsuit! I’ve even seen guys in my area go in trunks in 60 degree weather, while I’m wearing my 5mm! Not my jam, but if that’s you this is one less area on your list.

 

 

 

 

3. Mask (and maybe a snorkel)

 

 

New spearfishing masks are often upward of $60 Super easy to pick up if you’re anywhere near the ocean. I’ve found countless masks at the local thrift shop, or even brand new mask and snorkel sets for under $10 at department and tourist stores. Honestly to get into this you don’t need anything fancy, just something that seals, fits around your head, and lets you see underwater. Be gentle with the straps, because often the ones you pick up for cheap or used have poor straps that will break if you over tighten them just a bit. I included the type of mask with those straps in the image so you know what to watch out for.

 

Find a snorkel in much the same way. Oddly enough, for the first 6 months or so of my diving, I didn’t use a snorkel, which is actually the traditional method in a handful of Asian nations. It was inconvenient but I didn’t even know it. I highly recommend a snorkel so you can observe fish and reef from the surface, but if you can’t find one yet don’t let it keep you from getting in the water!

 

Another note about the masks, my early diving was plagued by foggy masks. A few minutes before you dive, spit ferociously into your mask and rub it gently across every part of the inside lens. Then rinse it when you start getting in the water. This would have saved me and my noob friends months of grief and unpleasant dives on clear beautiful days.

 

 

 

3. Dive Knife

 

I didn’t start out with a knife, but now I think of it as a safety necessity. Not for sharks, but for getting caught on line or seaweed or something in general, which is the higher risk where I dive. You might be able to find something cheap online for around $10. Just make sure it’s something with a quick release, easily accessible and generally won’t rust fast on you. But even a slightly rusty knife is better than nothing. Yes you can get in without it, but at this point I wouldn’t risk it and I try to carry a spare for people I take with me. Safety is one of the few things that cannot be rushed while diving and taking precautions now will set you up better for the future. Double check that it comes with straps, some of the ones I found only came with the sheath.

 

 

4. Snorkel Fins

I found my fins for around $3. They were simply snorkel fins at the local thrift store (you might be thinking it’s my secret for most things at this point…). We also have a “Play It Again Sports” in town where i’ve bought everything from spearguns to dive weights. If you don’t find snorkeling fins there, try looking around on online marketplaces like craigslist, and negotiating people down. i would recommend snorkeling fins over scuba diving fins because of the general posture they’re made to accommodate movement for (laying down vs semi upright). Do yourself and your partners a favor by no getting any fins with a “tightening” clasp on the back (left image), I’ve seen many newbie dive days ruined when their fin straps break and they’re left with have propulsion (aka one fin). The U.S. Divers fins (above) are the ones I started with, and have the recommended full foot pocket. They were 2 sizes too big, are now falling apart at the blade after many years, but helped me catch many early fish! You'll find simple snorkel fins are far superior to bare feet, even though they're not long blade fins yet.

 

 

 

 

5. Spear

 

When we started, my friend and I actually went to a home improvement store and bought 6” dowels and some pink workout rubber and the biggest nails we could find and built our own! They didn’t work too well though because we had nothing to keep the fish on the nail once we shot it. Now you can buy something for a little more than we spent on those parts. The pic on the right was a more successful attempt using an old spear shaft and a scrap of teak, but as a rule of thumb I find that it takes me two attempts to improvise something I could buy, which occasionally is worth it.

 

To be honest I was lucky on this one because of my family connection. But my friend wasn’t, which is why we built them together. I have found spears and spearguns at the local thrift shop for as little as $3! But if that isn’t you, borrowing will be your next best best. If you don’t have friends you can borrow that from, then you can actually buy a polespear off Amazon or your local dive shop for as little as $20! This should get you in the swing of things quickly enough, and after a bit of research on your local target species you should be able to discern whether to get a paralyzer tip or a single flopper/barb tip version. 

 

If you can connect to your local dive scene, many experienced divers have old polestars and lying around that they’re down to let you use, and some dive clubs have specific “lender gear”  you can request! Just buy a new band for it ($5-$10) as the ones on them have usually deteriorated, and it’s a great way to thank the lender!

 

Once you have a spear, I would highly recommend putting some markings on it that would be relevant to local species size limits. Sometimes in the water it’ll be hard to gauge size so having a reference with you is extremely helpful. I had so many early dives when I thought I shot Moby Dick only to find out it was under 12”. The numbers I keep on my equipment are 12” for general reference, 14” for Calico Bass, 22” for Halibut and Lingcod, and 28” for White Sea Bass. Later on you won’t need them as much because you’ll get the sense of how big a fish is.

 

No spear? Don’t let that stop you! My favorite dinner meals are hand-take only! Octopus, crab, lobster, scallops, and even some fish you can get with just your hands and a knife. If you look up "Halibut Hammer" on youtube, you’ll find a method of hunting that started with spearos using screwdrivers to catch flatfish! So if nothing else, grab a screwdriver and get hunting for some legendary catches or just see what you can grab! (the screwdriver method also gets you a ton of street cred). Speaking of grabbing...

 

 

 

6. Gloves

 

 

 

Fish have many protective features, sharp spines is just one of them. Crabs have claws, octopus have beaks, urchins have spines, and our local lobsters are covered in spikes. I initially didn’t have this on the list because I didn’t start with them, but then I realized that each of the above have made me bleed even WITH gloves on. So get some decent gardening gloves from your parents if they have em, or pick up some from a store for $5. Do you have to have gloves? NO! But They are really inexpensive and will save you some agony as well as make you more comfortable grabbing some grub.

 

 

 

 

Do it.

 

 

There you have it. I hope this gear list gets you in the water and engaging with the ocean in a new way immediately. I'm confident that there are areas of the world where some of this gear is unnecessary, and others where spearos will swear that you also need something else. Hopefully this is a helpful enough start for people where local sources can fill in the blanks. Dive safely out there, and go catch some fish.

 

 

 

 

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