If you told me I’d be diving off boats into the ocean and spearfishing in Florida a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. Before getting my toes wet in the underwater world with my open-water scuba diving certification, I was terrified of the ocean and its unknown depths. Scuba diving opened my eyes to this new world, but when I found freediving in Mexico, I became completely hooked on spending time underwater and the “exhilarating peace” of freediving.
The Spearfishing Experience
I woke up at 4:30 am so I would have plenty of time to eat breakfast, pack my gear and be at the boat by 8 am. When everyone arrived at the dock, we loaded our gear onto the boat and set out into the Gulf. I was the only girl onboard with three experienced spearos, so I was just concerned about knowing spearfishing safety and staying out of everyone’s way.
One cool thing about spearfishing and freediving is that they bring together people from all different backgrounds. Here’s a little rundown of who was on the boat: Ryan who invited me owns a dive shop and is a freediving and spearfishing instructor; the boat owner owns a construction company; the other spearo flies helicopters; and I write, edit and teach yoga.
Learning How to Load a Speargun
As we rode to our first dive spot, Ryan went over the parts of a speargun with me and standard safety tips like the “one up, one down” rule of freediving and spearfishing, among others. Then, he showed me how to load the gun. Considering I’ve never actually been around spearguns, I had no idea how much strength it takes to actually load one.
Ryan demonstrated the way to hold the gun, pull it against your chest and pull the rubber back into the notch to load it, which I couldn’t do—at least not on the boat. Fortunately, everyone on the boat reassured me it’s easier in the water and to not give up. Lastly, he went over which fish were in season and the minimum length each needs to be.
Getting in the Water
Once we made it to the dive spot, we anchored, put on our gear and dove in! Every time I’ve gone freediving in Florida it’s been in natural springs, which require a full wetsuit, but the Gulf was so warm I only needed the top half of my open-cell 3mm wetsuit.
As soon as I dove down, I was amazed to see stingrays blanketing the ocean floor and gracefully floating by. This was my first time diving in the Gulf and I had no idea what to expect. Throughout the day we saw more stingrays, sea turtles and nurse sharks.
Spearing My First Fish
Ryan brought the gun in the water and had me fire it just to feel the kickback—by this time I was seriously stoked to spear a fish! Now it was my turn to load the gun and after serious determination, I finally got the band in the notch. Once Ryan showed me how to safely carry the speargun while swimming and diving, I was ready.
I floated on the surface doing my breath-up with the speargun in hand. I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself and remind myself just to have fun. Ryan had given me multiple tips on aiming, shooting and not scaring away fish, so it was a lot to think about when a few sheepsheads finally came into view. Without really thinking, I took my final inhale and dove down towards the fish. It all happened so fast I don’t recall all the details, put basically: I lined up the gun with the fish and pulled the trigger!
I was as shocked as anyone when I saw the spear go through the fish. Once we brought the spear to the surface, I learned how to humanely kill the fish and hold it on the spear so I could swim it back to the boat for dinner later!
Spearfishing, Cleaning & Filleting Fish
We spent the rest of the day hopping to different spots and spearfishing. I learned different strategies to get close to fish, like leveling with them on the bottom, focusing on rock formations where they hide and stirring up some sand. I switched to a pole spear and didn’t spear anything to keep the rest of the day, but all was good.
Once we were back on land I helped Ryan fillet the fish, which was…interesting. You have to be extremely careful not to cut yourself while filleting fish and I wasn’t so comfortable holding the fish firmly, so I just sliced the meat off the skin once the hard parts were done.
Ryan really gave me a whole rundown of spearfishing start to finish. He showed me how to spear the fish, kill it, gut it and then fillet it.
Takeaway: I Would Totally Survive in Cast Away…With a Spear
I joked all day about how now I could definitely survive on a deserted island. In reality, the entire experience was empowering. Not only did I get out of my comfort zone and acquire new skills, but I made friends in a new hobby that I can do (almost) anywhere in the world!
I don’t think I would have tried spearfishing with just anyone, but since I had already been diving with Ryan and knew how skilled, supportive and patient he was with both students and friends, I thought I was making a good choice. And how right I was!
You better believe #girlswhospearfish, #spearo and all the other hashtags will now follow my Instagram posts! 😉
The Dive Source, St. Augustine
The Dive Source is a family owned and operated dive shop and freedive center in St. Augustine, Florida. It’s the go-to dive shop in Florida for scuba diving, freediving and spearfishing, for both new and expert divers alike. As a second generation dive instructor and spearo with 20 years experience diving across Florida, Ryan Rush makes students and clients feel at ease in the water with expert knowledge of dive sites, safety and a fun approach to diving.
Win a Level 1 Freediving Course With The Dive Source at Our Beach Cleanup
Join our World Oceans Day Beach Cleanup on Saturday, June 8 for a fun-filled day of cleaning the beach with education, live music, sunrise yoga and a chance to win a Level 1 Freediving Course with The Dive Source in the raffle. Knowing proper freediving techniques and safety is step one in learning how to spearfish or getting comfortable underwater without equipment.