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Beginning in Spearfishing

Doubts, tips and risks in spearfishing

All of us have passed the phase of start fishing. Doubts and typical fears have appeared, especially because of the unfamiliarity with the environment, equipment and techniques. For those who have been lucky enough to have a nearby fishing club or experts to advise, it has been easier. Those who have done it alone, spent significantly more complications and risks.

In this small article we will give you some tips that may be useful and it can answer the most common questions as well as prevent risks.

Our first thought when we start is the material: suit, fins, spearguns … in the material section we will have some articles about them more specifically. Here, we will talk more about technique, and only will give a few details about specific material.

The base of spearfishing and all that we must always remember is: safety first!. Never take more risk than is strictly necessary and inherent in the discipline. In this sense, a long apnea or a high deep, is something we should forget. We will focus on learning to fish and in particular on enjoying the activity even if we can´t capture any fish.

Everybody is aware that spearfishing is done in apnea, and we must hold our breath. However, we do not need long apnea to be a great spearfisher. For a usual fishing in Galicia (Ireland is very similar), 30-40 seconds is enough. Something available to everyone. The experience will improve your apnea as well as your movements to dive. It is important to spearfish well equipped, with a suit that isolates well and that keep us warm. The suit has to be our size and not tighten. This issue can complicate our breathing.

The first thing is to be comfortable and warm. At the first sign of cold we must abandon the activity because the risks are multiplied. Risk of syncope, hypothermia, injuries or wounds on the extremities (did not fell blows or cuts if we were cold) increase.

Apnea

Underwater fishing is done in apnea, holding our breath. We must not blind ourselves and think that we will only fish if we have a long apnea or go down many meters. The best spearfisher and the one who captures the best catches is who knows how to fish. And many of them have short apnea and go down a few meters. The most important things are to know the environment, interpret the sea, know where the fish are and how to trick them for their catch.

Increasing apnea can be a great obsession when we start. For reaching this objective we usually try to find a specific training that allow us to increase our apnea or even buy a different equipment that improve our capabilities. This is the issue that causes most accidents. And there is only one thing clear, apnea increases progressively based on the hours that we spend on the water. Although we try to force it, we will not get anything.  The best thing is to focus ourselves on learning how to fish, knowing ourselves and enjoying our feelings in the water. Our apnea will be gradually increased. Therefore, it is better to forget about time or funds, and focus on enjoying.

A typical example is the “cazafotosub” (take photographs of fish in apnea). When people begin with a camera, other factors such as camera control, try to find the fish and approach them and enjoy the environment are considered. People experience that they had a longer apnea if they compare it when they were fishing.  This is because of they were focused on enjoying and not only in finding a result.

Ballast (weights)

We must take into account the ballast. With little weight we will float so much, it will be complicated submerged ourselves, and especially keep us in the bottom.  However, regarding security this situation is always safer. Firstly, we should wear little ballast (although we should look to go perfectly weighted) even if it requires us to have to grab the bottom, rocks or algae, because always ascend effortlessly. Otherwise, if we take a lot of lead, we must be always swimming to stay afloat. Or when you go down many meters feet up will cost much more.

To understand how it affects we should first consider what happens in the water. The suit is made of a material less dense than water, which floats. Besides, the human body with lungs full of air does the same. To compensate for buoyancy, and go down, we must use ballast. How much? Just enough to compensate ourselves and stay neutral. The problem comes when we go down, increasing pressure, the suit is compressed and loses buoyancy. If before we were neutral in the surface, we turn now negative (sinking) and more and more negative while we make go down. Coming to drop like a stone. In the bottom of course we will remain stuck without effort, but we make up a lot of strength to take off, and that is very dangerous.

So we conclude that we float on the surface. And we should be neutral at the bottom where we fish. For this reason, we must know the background to that we will be moving ballast and adapt to it. As the sea is not all alike, and we will be fishing sometimes in a deep, and others go more or less , we can play with varying weights . And we do not mean pendulums, or we leave the belt at the bottom as in certain types of fishing , but to be able to have a kilo or two of lead to get in and out quickly. To play with this ballast we have the buoy. A lead two kilos allows us to be properly weighted to shallow waters , and when we go deeper ,  we leave the anchored buoy and move around it , with two pounds less. There are also some quick leads, with a rubber band ( in a few days will be in the web how to make one ) that we can put on the belt and remove easily and safely.

In summary, we should always check the ballast and never go overweighed, unless we have a lot of experience and only in very specific conditions. Best float up and easy. Never take risks.

Risks of apnea

There should be little difficulty with apnea. At first, we will not have so much apnea due to we are not used to hold our breath. Quickly will notice if we are forcing. However, we should mention that syncope is the greatest danger of a spearfisher and responsible for most of the deaths. First clarify what is syncope. Briefly, syncope occurs when we force the apnea, and there comes a point where there is little oxygen in blood. To solve this situation our body has a mechanism by means of it reserves the remaining oxygen to the brain and vital functions. This issue causes the black out. On land, we would not have excessive problem (hit the ground), but at sea, a faint is synonymous with drowning unless we have someone around who can help us. Syncope occurs because the oxygen partial pressure decreases. This influences directly and strongly the cold. So we should not feel cold in the water (which also decreases quite apnea).

A practice which increases the risk of syncope is hyperventilation. To hyperventilate is not to accumulate more oxygen, but it remains to eliminate CO2, which is the target that has the body , the blood , to give us that feeling of “want of breath “. If we reduce this, it will take more to feel the burden, and syncope arrive unannounced (we skipped the previous phases before syncope). Therefore, one of the most important rules is breathing normally. Nothing overly deep breaths , we ventilate , easy. In addition to hyperventilate noticed some dizziness .

The depth also affects the syncope. Being thoroughly, the partial pressure of oxygen in blood is greater as we ascend by decreasing the pressure , we may already at risk of syncope. Hence him called the six meters dead, where it is more pressure varies . In the first ten meters we will make the doubles going from one to two atm.

In summary, we should breathe normally and never force. The best choice is reach the surface with remain of oxygen.

Ears

The ears suffer a lot when we practise spearfishing if we do not  compensate well. Compensate is to equalize the pressure in the middle ear and inner with regard to the outer. The outer ear is affected by the pressure when we dive, whereby we should breathe air through the sinuses and Eustachian tube in the ear to compensate for that difference. This should be done with the Valsalva maneuver (holding our nose and blowing to make the air go through the sinuses), with movements of swallowing or moving the jaw (the people who already have facility to repay, no need hands). The most important, we should do this as soon as we start to dive, from the first meter. Never wait for trouble. It should be a continuous movement, without noticing nothing and from the first moment. If we do not do that, we will force and can suffer consequences such as inflammation, or even chronic diseases.

As we see, the sinuses and nose play an important role. Therefore, it is better do not fish if we notice discomfort to compensate when we have blocked nose or we caught a cold.  If we force the compensation it may occur that we cannot compensate producing an injury that will take long time to heal, or in the worst cases, that affects our ear with tinnitus or even deafness. So if you have blocked ears, it is better to leave the fishing for another day because we could suffer a lot months without touching the water.

Compensating malpractice can have very serious consequences like chronic diseases that do not allow to fish anymore. There are some examples of this situation in famous fishermen. The action should not be noticeable to compensate if well done. Continuous and progressive, from the beginning, so there will be no hitting or beeps. When we do so we will be pushing and causing inflammation in many cases. A clear example of that compensation is correctly being done is that less effort is needed for doing that as the fishing day progresses.

also may be because we are somewhat stuck or a problem in the ear) This is something that never we miss. And if we see that it should not be stuck we  must go to the ENT .

The cold

As we have mentioned above, cold affects us far beyond being uncomfortable in the water. As a risk of a syncope, cold causes their appearance. In addition, it reduced the apnea. Another factor to consider is that it increases injury risk, contractures in the neck, cuts or abrasions. When we begin to feel cold, we should leave the water. It is not a matter of being more “strong” and keep ourselves in the water. We should have common sense and go out.

To combat the cold we should always wear an appropriate equipment. Suit should fit perfectly us, with adequate thickness. Gloves and socks should be in good conditions without holes. A better solution to resist more time in cold waters is to increase the thickness of the material. We will be more uncomfortable but more isolated.

If we go to fish by boat, we should protect ourselves using windproof warm clothing over the dive suit.  Moreover, we should wear shoes and never stay in socks directly to the deck.

Food before diving.

Diet affects the fishing.  As we can resist more time and comfort in the water. To fish we should avoid citrus juices because they can cause reflux. Coffee and other irritants are not recommended. Always something solid for breakfast: bread, toasts, cereals … Never go without eating something. The night before going to fish is recommended a dinner with carbohydrates. More or less what you would do in any other sport of long duration, but with greater care in not to take anything that can irritate the stomach.  Sports drinks are perfect during the day because of hydration is very important in spearfishing.

When there is lack of hydration, the apnea decreases and even physical response and reflexes. Is usual when we finish our fishing day feeling ourselves “slow” in thinking or acting. It is very dangerous. We will solve it drinking during the day’s journey. If we go from land, we should carry liquids in the buoy. If we go by boat is easier.

We should drink a little liquid very often. If the next day of our fishing we feel badly or exhausted is a signal that we have lack of hydration. Sometimes the next day we are wrong, we are exhausted, it is always due to lack of hydration. And just off the water, drink more and eat something. A banana, some energy bar…

Safe zone

It is very important to know the fishing area and especially to have in mind what to do if the sea is complicated.

Areas where the waves can break, flat shores where the tide might take us over rocks, currents and especially the inlet/outlet water. These things should have very controlled. And if we do not know the fishing area, we should always go with caution. We should, above all, avoid possible accidents.

And above all we must be clear about how we enter the water, and how we will get out. Shallow zones should be dismissed because of the tide variation. Moreover, we should take into account what to do in case of a possible increase sea level. Of course we should always check the weather forecast, and if it´s going to get worse, abort the fishing outing or go to a safe place. However, in some occasions the forecasts are not exacts. For those situations we should know where we will go to get out. For example a beach, a port or a sheltered area could be an option. The beaches are good places because there are little possibilities to hit rocks, and we end up in the sand. However we should be very careful with the beaches because sometimes there are currents that prevent the entrance in this zone. Even though, there will always be an incoming current to access the place as surfers know well. We must always have a plan B if we are in troubles.

Fishing nets

One of the greatest dangers we can have in the sea are fishing gears, especially fishing nets nets. If we see them we should move away as furthest as possible. They are very dangerous because it is very to get trapped not only ourselves but also our equipment: weights, fins, knife, speargun, mask … The best option is keep them as far as possible.

So if we think that a fishing net is near, we should go away.  They should be marked, but sometimes they are not or they are abandoned. We should be careful and as a minimum signal, we should leave the area.

Fishing pots offer less danger by failing entangled because their ropes are thick and do not  have any net. They do not present a high risk, except troubles with the buoy, for example.

Longlines are another risk. Many times in the foam caused by waves we cannot cannot distinguish the hooks. If we got hooked, it could be a problem. Firstly for the injuries that it could cause, and secondly because we could not leave. If we have this accident we should cut the thread from the hook to be free. For removing the hook in case it is embed in our skin we should put the hook upside down (pulling to the side where will tailed) deleting the thread previously. If we even cannot do it, or it hurts, we should go to a hospital. This should not have great problems. But of course, to cut the thread we will need a knife. What would a hurry and only some pain with a knife, the lack of a knife could become fatal if longlines are sunk and we hooked them. It is amazing how tough meat, pulling it would not be able to drop the hook.

Risk of vessels

There is another risk we have to consider: boats. We have our rights with regard to boats, they should maintain a safe distance, but they are often negligent. So it is good to avoid areas of navigation channels, busiest areas … And if we go through them, we should cross quickly and on the surface. One thing is that we have rights and the reason, but if an accident happens we always lose.

We should always have our buoy in a distance less than 25 m. In case that anyone sails near us, do not doubt in report it to the authorities. Although we may not be worth much in that time, if serve as wake-up call .

We should take in mind that we will always suffer more damage. As a pedestrian, or a cyclist with regard to  a car. And always, ALWAYS, near the buoy, not by law only for safety. When we hear in the background a boat, climbing rope buoy is safer. A boat shall avoid the buoy but pass nearby.

Sure we spend potential risks, but we have made a short summary of the most common. We are cautious we will minimize the risks, enjoying our hobby. If we are not careful, a nice day of fishing can become news, and not happy. The important thing is to return home safely, and having enjoyed. Not a single fish is worth fishing if we put ourselves at risk. And above all, we should think about who can leave behind.

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