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The Hunt

For spearfishers, the thrill is in relying on their skill to nail the prey

travel Updated: Jun 06, 2010 11:38 IST

They always come to you," says Tony Escartio (56), a resident of Dona Paula, near Panjim, Goa. Escartio has been a commercial diver and fisherman for 40 years. A native of Goa, he heads out with the other "local boys" every evening to catch fish. And he takes interested folk for a trip too.


While we've come a long way from spears that were traditionally used by fishermen back in the day, the thrill of the hunt hasn't died with the more modern equipment used today. For Escartio, spearfishing isn't his primary way of catching fish -- for that he has his nets and trawlers. But it is a passion.

"We spear fish using a sling spear gun or a pneumatic spear gun. But you must have a passion for it," he says.

Spearfishing is an adventure sport recognised by the International Underwater Spearfishing Association and the International Bluewater Spearfishing Records Committee. There are different kinds of spearfishing too. There's shore diving, in which you head out to sea, and fish up to a depth of 50 ft -- that's the sort Escartio does. He travels to Grand Island, south of Goa, and hunts in the clear water there. There's also boat diving and blue water hunting that involves going deeper into the ocean.

The thrill of the catch
Spearfishing may not be big in India yet, but it's a popular sport abroad. Andros Island in the Bahamas is a popular spot. Kyle Barnell and Tanner Parkman from South Caroline plunged 70 feet to spear dolphin fish there last July. "A reef dive in those waters reveals abundant fish life: mutton snapper, grouper and a cornucopia of tropicals," says Parkman.

New Zealand also has some great dive spots, says Kane Grundy, who has been spearfishing since he was 10. "Along the West coast at certain times of the year the 300 kg bluefin tuna can be seen," he says. "The most memorable catches aren't always the largest fish but the ones that were hard to find."

Back in Grand Island, Escartio and his buddies regularly find groupers, snappers, jacks, barracudas, cobia, and lots of reef fish. But his personal favourite is the baramundi, whose tough scales turn a spear gun into putty before it.

"The baramundi is tough to find and tougher to kill. You have to shoot it from the right angle to spear it," he says.

Dive in to it
Most spearfishers who fish in shallow waters do free dives wearing a wetsuit and a mask. At most, they use a snorkel to stay longer underwater. Scuba gear is worn only in really deep dives.

"The thrill of being totally submerged in the ocean with bare minimum equipment and hunting for your own fresh seafood is something else," says Grundy, who has tried scuba diving, too, but prefers freediving with a wet suit.

"We only shoot what we're going to eat. This is just a more hands on way of doing it," adds Escartio.

Spearfishing around the world
The Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Islands such as Vanuatu, Tonga, Fiji and Rarotonga and Bali are hotspots. Each place has different regulations governing where spearfishing is allowed, and the species that can be hunted. For instance, in New Zealand, informs Grundy, spearfishing only happens between November to June and while there is no licence needed, you can't catch the Paua (abalone).