What you require before setting off:
1 – Spearfishing gun
2 – Snorkel gear
3 – An ocean – preferably with some fish
4 – An optimistic fisherman
We were playing on the beach in Panglao, building our sandcastles, that in turn would be instantly demolished by the beautifully delicate hands of Prevelly. At least an hour in and from the sea appears a tall, dark, handsome island native. Wearing a camo wet suit, hair tied back, holding 2 reasonably sized, colorful fish in one hand and a deadly looking spear gun in the other. Quite possibly the coolest guy ever to be seen. Not a light statement considering the present company.
This put spearfishing to the top of the list of must do activities whilst we tour the Philippines. Low and behold, the next day we arrive to the tiny island of Pamilican and our hosts inform us that this is part of their daily routine to catch lunch and dinner for the guests. Jumping at the opportunity I follow my experienced fisherman – Neil, out into the water.
With heavy rain and wind from a typhoon passing through the country the waves are slightly more frequent and larger than I had hoped for. Determined to master the art, or at least provide the family with a light nibble, I spent nearly 3 hours studying and taking on board the how’s of spearfishing. With a very broken English account of the mornings activity we planned on arming me up and letting me loose when the water became less choppy.
The next day I wake to a calm, still ocean. Snorkel and fins at the ready and grasping my new toy for the day. I left for the reef that I was sure would prove to be the legendary location, spoke about for generations to come. The Englishman who defied the current, fought of sharks, befriended turtles and came home with enough fish to feed, not only his family but also the 2000 island residents.
Reality kicked in after around twenty minutes that I was not quite at one with the ocean sea life as I had hoped. Hovering above a vast array of potential food I tried my first approach of diving down and shooting on sight. With a limited range on the gun I had to get a bit closer if I were to spear a fish. With each dive I became more comfortable but was unable to show the same control and composure as my Mr miyagi sensei from the previous day.
Idea two was put into practice as I tried to befriend the fish, slowly try and fit in. Unfortunately, even with a short memory span, the fish cottoned onto my fall proof plan.
Whilst swimming around, admiring the occasional turtle, that I’m sure would come close enough so that I could see the sympathetic look on his face, I hatched my final plan. Lay motionless and let them come to me, hoping that my little Nemo friend would unconsciously swim to the exact point at which the gun was aiming. With a few close calls and a slightly sun burnt back I made my way back to the shore. Head held as high as it could be as I left the sea, fish less and drowned of all hope.
There’s nothing like pancakes, eggs and bananas on the beach for breakfast to give you a second wind and hope of maybe saving a little grace from the day before.
Armed once again with my trusted spear gun and ready to catch lunch I headed out to the open sea. Using all of my experience and lessons learned from the previous attempt I was determined to catch something.
The fish were calmer and seemed to have accepted me into their watery world. They were by no means offering themselves on a plate but the gap had closed and I was within firing range. Now it is very difficult to convey in words as to how close I came to spearing a fish. My confidence was through the waves as I dove deeper with each dive. Not content on just any small Nemo that passed by, I had set my sights on a few rainbow fish and followed as they playfully swam around the shelf of the coral.
To cut what could be an incredibly long story short, not to mention, countless encounters of near misses, I left the sea with only my Snorkel and half a spearfishing gun. On what was to be my triumphant last shot of the day, the knot that attached the spear to the gun had come undone. The spear left with an accuracy and force like never before, with the lonesome metal dart piercing through the water, aimed for the rainbow fish, which was surely, soon to be dinner. Unfortunately it was never to return, merely stand tall in the coral, as a reminder to all who Snorkel past, that Ben was obviously here.
I’d like to think, that maybe, just maybe, a fish was pierced and the skeleton still remains, a sacrifice for the efforts shown by such a brave and noble fisherman.
Whilst my tale may not have inspired confidence for those wishing to try this incredible activity, I have a few pointers and techniques that were learned from a true professional.
Loading the gun – an art in itself as most of the process is carried out in a comfortable manner, under water. The three rubber bands are in turn pulled back and locked to a notch in the spear that is connected to the trigger. This is done after the spear has been placed through a small hole at the front of the gun so that it lays within the groove of the barrel area.
The dive – without over complicating things, there are a few different ways on how to sink but to look like a pro I would copy Neil’s actions. With a 4 kg belt attached, Neil would take a breath, put his arms by his side and sink down for about 1 to 2 meters. Within a second he has turned and twisted so that he is now diving, head first into the deep unknown. With an occasional kick of the fins he maintains his downward motion. After my previous account of my experience it may come as no surprise that I am not a professional free diver. I would strongly recommend becoming accustomed to these skills if you want to be successful and to get the most out of spearfishing.
The army man – a technique that involves laying perfectly still on the ocean floor. It resembles that of the little green, plastic, army men in the crawling position.
The sneak and peak – a method of slowly drifting past the coral shelf and seeing what’s there. Neil would casually glide past the coral sections and when he had spotted a potential catch, he would simply hold his position until the time to pull the trigger was there. The ability to hold one’s breath is an obvious necessity when it comes to this kind of activity. To be efficient at the sneak and peak you really do need to have a good lung capacity.
The shoot/catch – the shoot is something that even a novice such as myself could have performed without a lesson. Simply pull the trigger. It is worth noting that the shooting distance is determined by the length of wire attaching the spear to the gun. After watching Neil it became evident that the closer you managed to get to the fish the more successful you became. There were times that I felt he could have pierced the fish without even firing the gun. Closeness is key. The catch, whilst self explanatory, is not a guarantee, a hard lesson learned.
If you get a chance to experience spear gun fishing I highly recommend you take it and good luck to all those that do.