Spearfishing Gear and Techniques for Panama City, Florida
Freeshafting versus Lineshafting
The epitomy of the KISS school of thought for spearfishing is freeshafting. Freeshafting is simply using a special shaft with a sharpened tip, not a threaded screw on tip, and a single flopper with no line attaching it to the gun. Due to the lower drag this shaft has it requires only a single band to power it while offering improved range and accuracy and shaft speed.
Freeshaft guns have 1 or 2 spare shafts mounted to the sides and can be reloaded very quickly allowing the shooter to land multiple fish in short order or put a second shaft in a fish that is still alittle green. The true secret to freeshafting is in taking highly selective shots that cross the fish at compound angles seriously injuring and disabling the fish if not "stoning" it outright. The trick is getting the fish to give you those angles based on your body language.
Staying 15' or more off the bottom and hovering yields far more productive results than bottom crawling ans actively swimming down a ledge or reef. This is because of your body language. Laid back free floating bubbleblower = no threat, while a bottom swimming bubble blower is clearly up to no good. If you don't think fish can read body language than leave your speargun behind for a camera and see how many more fish will approach you and let you approach them. Only AJs, hogfish and red grouper are curious or aggressive enough to let just anything come near them.
Freeshafting is ideal for bottom fish like groupers and snappers but less so for pelagics like AJs. If a freeshafted fish is not stoned or disabled it will obviously be able to swim dragging your shaft with it. Therefore as soon as your shot is fired you should either immediately begin to reload or charge straight at the wounded fish. Shooting and then sitting back to watch is the worst thing to do regardless of whether you are freeshafting of lineshafting. The fish is wounded and its thrashing is broadcasting that fact to the reef, and as it thrashes it is tearing its body on the shaft.
A lineshaft with tension on the back end (from a diver pulling the fish back to him/her) provides all the leverage the fish needs to tear off the shaft. It is far more effective to swim to the fish avoiding putting any pressure on the line unless absolutely necessary.
Retaining ownership of your dinner is the most exciting part of spearfishing. A dispute with the tax man is nearly inevitable especially on the hard bottom reefs towards the Western part of Panama City Beach. So what do you do when you notice the man in the grey suit checking you out?
Against conventional wisdom and more conventional instincts, the best thing to do is to charge the shark aggressively while yelling in your regulator. If it lets you get close enough give it a nice jab from the gun (finger off the trigger). The shark is very likely only checking you out because it felt the vibrations in the water from a wounded fish and was coming to check for an easy meal. Being confronted by an noisy bubble blowing thing nearly 8' long with a long sharp appendage and foul temper is enough to convince the scavenger/predator that there is no easy meal to be had and they usually turn tail. It is crucial to do this as early in the encounter as possible so that the shark does not get too comfortable with you and feels safe to approach and take a "nibble" of the fish.
4 out of 5 times the shark will simply move along, especially if there are a few ornery bubble blowing things. Some times the shark is too aggressive or large to be intimidated. That being the case simply call the dive and keep and aggressive posture as you ascend. If you encounter a shark that has arched its back and dropped its pec fins and is swimming erratically y will not back it down and it is best to simply leave.
Do not under any circumstances give up your fish, this is not a matter of pride but safety. A truly aggressive shark is more likely to be concerned with running you off its reef than getting your fish and more importantly, sharks that are actively feeding are more aggressive than sharks that are hunting. Also it poor form to teach a shark that divers equal a feeding opportunity and it makes life harder on the next guy. Further, it will probably end up causing the shark to get killed.
Keep your fish closer rather than further away. Sharks do not want to fight since a wounded hunter is a poor hunter, their instincts tell them to be cautious as a matter of survival.
Guns are always tough to talk about as every spearo is probably more proud of and attached to their steel slinger than some family members. However a great many spearos don't fully grasp the different purposes behind different designs and length guns.
First and foremost, gun range is determined by shaft length. The effective range of production guns with optimal power is 2.5 times the shaft length from the gun muzzle. Some manufacturers like JBL claim ridiculous range for their guns and indeed they may fire a shaft that far but you will have to arc the shot considerably and it won't be able to penetrate a medium sized fish by the time it has gone that far.
This tends to lead people to try and "power up" their gun by adding thicker and shorter bands to it. The problem is that this causes the gun to become overpowered, which makes it kick and decreases accuracy past point blank range.
The single largest mistake most spearos make is buying a gun too short for the conditions they are likely to hunt in. That and listening to dive shop staff that don't spearfish or are not proficient at it, everyone has an opinion but it can be hard to tell who knows what they are talking about. The concept of a "beginner gun" is a complete fallacy and it will lead to another more expensive purchase down the road. Which tends to fit the agenda of a shop owner or sales staff but does not look out for the average customer.
For shooting the wrecks and reefs offshore Panama City the minimum is a gun with a 48" shaft. 60" would be ideal especially for the larger jacks, snapper and grouper found offshore.
Stringers and Bags
So you've shot a fish and brained it, now what? Spearos who want to shoot more than 1 fish will need to carry them along somehow. To this end either a lobster bag or a stainless steel stringer is ideal. Lobster bags have more drag and are limited in capacity (no really big fish will fit) and there is an increased risk of losing your quarry when trying to put it in a bag.... but they do remove the fish from sight and they of course hold spiny lobster if you bump into a few during the season. There are a number of different lobster bags on the market, but the most usefull are the type that open with one hand by squeezing the handle. Trident makes a good one.
Scuba Stringers, not to be confused with a string or cable familiar to fishermen and freedivers pictured here
are a rigid stainless hoop with a pointy end that is held closed by a J clasp. Fish are strung through the ocular cavities or through the gills and out the mouth in the case of trigger fish (they'll bite your thigh otherwise). The stringer is typically attached to your BCD and ideally has a swivel somewhere in the attachment so it can twist with you as you add fish to your hoop of death.
There are a number of stringers out there but very few that make your life easier by design. The most common seem to have some plastic handle at the top, and while these are functional they lack a key feature that would make them ideal, a protuding shank on the business end.
So your hand is gill deep in a grouper that is on its way out, but not quite dead, and you have to open your stringer without letting the other fish float off with only the one free hand you have left. That can be alittle tricky unless the stringer has a large enough overhanging shank that you can run it though the fish's eyes while it is still closed, then use the fish itself to force the stringer open. These are the stringers you want, some even have a special attachment point to keep them oriented shank up if you prefer. Ray Odor from www.Spearfishing.cc makes a great one (and other good spearing products.
(note the protruding shank)
Articles on Diving
and diving activities in Panama City.
If you would like to learn to spearfish, the best way is to learn from someone else with more experience. To that end, Panama City Dive Charters
has started offering a monthly "Intro to Spearfishing Class." Its 2 days; 1 in the classroom and one on the boat shooting fish. Its $250 and covers everything; gear selection, laws, safety, ethics, Fish ID and techniques.
divers have a hard time getting into spearfishing because they can't
rent a speargun or guns aren't allowed on the charters they frequent if
they don't have access to a private boat. Panama City Dive Charters allows guns on their boat
on regular charters (in addition to running true spearing trips)
provided no one else objects which seldom occurs. They also have the required Reef Fish Permits that allow the harvest of fish in Federal Waters which makes them the only dive shop to be able to spearfish (legally) on the offshore wrecks and reefs where the bigger and more abundant fish are.