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  • Writer's pictureMax Augliere

Beginners Guide to Spearfishing in New England


Spearfishermen in water holding a fish above the water.
A Tautog harvested in New England

Spearfishing is one of the fastest-growing forms of hunting. It's a sustainable way to gather your food with no by-catch. You may have seen some person walking out of the ocean in a camouflaged wetsuit carrying home some Striped Bass, and if you've ever wanted to try spearfishing, we have the perfect beginner guide to getting started.


What gear do you need?

Spearfishing in the cold water of New England requires different gear than the tropical gear you might use in Florida. Cold water doesn't mean you have to be shivering while spearfishing. You can be comfortable and successful with the right gear.


We've partnered with Northernspearfishing.com to get you 30% off any order with the discount code "Coldtribe".


Spearfishing Wetsuit

Water temperatures in New England Summers rarely exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Getting the right wetsuit is key. Wetsuits are measured in millimeters, thicker suits mean you can dive in colder water. Spearfishing wetsuits for New England are between 3mm and 7mm. To get started, we recommend a 3.5mm wetsuit. This suit by Rob Allen is a perfect wetsuit for spearfishing in New England, and if you are planning on diving in the Fall or the Spring, consider getting a 5mm. Be sure to purchase gloves and boots of the same thickness. These gloves and boots are a great option. Can you use a surf wetsuit? Yes. Do we recommend diving in one regularly? No. Spearfishing wetsuits are designed differently, they keep you warmer while underwater.

Spearguns and Polespears

Most spearguns are powered by loading rubber bands onto a projectile shaft that sits on the barrel of the gun. You pull the trigger, and the rubber bands propel the gun through the water. Guns are measured in centimeters, the longer the gun the more range you get. In New England, unless you're hunting off-shore in "blue water", you'll be hunting in visibility ranging from 5 - 25 feet, and you don't require a large gun. This gun is perfect for beginner to intermediate-level spearfishers.


Polespears

If you don't feel ready to use a speargun, a polespear is a more beginner-friendly approach, especially for younger divers. Here's a video of spearfishing Tautog in Rhode Island using a polespear.

Using a polespear gives you less range and accuracy than a speargun, but it's a great way to get more comfortable spearfishing. We personally use them because we enjoy the challenge. This polespear is an excellent one to start with.


Mask and Fins

Spearfishing fins are longer than traditional snorkeling or SCUBA to propel you further with less effort. When holding your breath, every kick counts. In New England, you can easily spearfish from the shore in 5-10 of water, so you don't need an expensive set of freediving fins. Any pair will work, as long as they fit. The same is true with a mask and snorkel, get a mask that fits your face. The best masks and fins are the ones that get you in the water, so don't overthink this one.


WEightbelt

Don't understand how helpful being properly weighted can be when spearfishing. The weight belt offsets the buoyancy of the wetsuit. When spearfishing, you want to be able to easily travel down to the bottom and lay in the prone position to ambush a fish...yes a lot of spearfishing is just laying down on the bottom. The thought of wearing weight while in the water can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be scary. Start small by first getting comfortable snorkeling, then gradually add weight to your belt to help you dive better. 3lbs of weight per millimeter of wetsuit is the standard for being properly weighted, but this will also be based on individual preference and environmental needs. If we are diving shallow water, we like to overweight ourselves to make it easier to get to the bottom. Experiment with what you prefer!


Spearfishing Safety Gear


Dive Flag

One of the biggest dangers of spearfishing is boat traffic. A dive flag warns boaters and other recreators that you are in the area. Much of New England has excellent shore diving where you don't need a boat. For this, we recommend attaching a dive flag to a buoy that is either tied to your gun or hooked onto your weight belt. This dive flag and float package is well worth it.


Dive Knife

A dive knife is a safety device that is used in the event you ever become entangled while diving. You'll mainly use your knife to dispatch fish humanely after you spear them. And to this day, I've never seen a dive knife for fending off sharks, which is what most people who don't dive think they are for.

Freedive Watch

Freediving watches are a great tool to have. They track your surface time, and they start recording once you dive underwater so you can understand how long you've been down for. They are not necessary for starting out, and it's best to get comfortable with your body and understand your own limitations. Using a training app like Stamina is a great way to practice holding your breath.


For a more comprehensive list of gear, you can check out this blog post we wrote on the Spearfishing Beginners Price Guide.

 

Where to spearfish in New England

A spearfisherman sits on a rock holding a fish above his head.

New England is full of excellent spots to shore dive for spearfishing, you don't need a boat, this makes it a perfect environment for learning to spearfish. For starting out, we recommend picking spots that are sheltered from wind and waves. Use Windfinder to find days with low winds or offshore winds, and use Surfline to find days with little to no waves. Google Earth and Google Maps are great tools for finding coves along New England's rocky coastline to practice getting comfortable in the water. Remember to research the spot you are considering diving thoroughly because boat traffic, currents, and other hazards can be dangerous.


Laws and Regulations

Spearfishing is allowed in every New England state. Some species of fish are not allowed to be targeted by spearfishing, but these regulations vary by state. For example, spearfishing Striped Bass is not legal in Massachusetts but is legal in Rhode Island. Always check your local fisheries department for specific laws surrounding spearfishing, you can usually call and get an officer on the phone who can help answer questions you may have.


Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a great place to learn to spearfish. The high density of Tautog, coupled with a sheltered shoreline in shallow water makes Rhode Island one of the better states to learn to spearfish. Not to mention, you are allowed to spearfish for Striper in Rhode Island. We wrote the Ultimate Guide for Spearfishing Rhode Island with everything you need to know about spearfishing there.


Massachusetts

Massachusetts is another great place to learn to spearfish, especially the southern coast because it's more protected from waves and wind. You're not allowed to spearfish Striper in Massachusetts, but there is a great opportunity for Tautog, Winter Flounder, Scup, and Black Seabass. If you spend a lot of time in the water there, you might even come across some elusive bay scallop beds and harvest fresh scallops. We wrote the Ultimate Guide for Spearfishing Massachusetts to point you in the right direction.


Connecticut

Connecticut is a great place to spearfish. With places like Groton Point, or if you are feeling brave you can kayak out to Fisher's Island, there are plenty of Tautog in early fall, Black Seabass, Flounder, and Scup.


Marthas Vinyard

Spearfishing on Marthas Vinyard is legal, though shooting Striper is not. You can spear flounder, tautog, black seabass, and Scup. We've also seen Sea Robin in shallow there as well. And, taking a speargun on the ferry and getting strange looks from strangers is always funny.

Block Island

Block Island is considered by many to be the Striped Bass capital of the world. If you've ever wanted to be surrounded by schools of 40+ pound Striped Bass, Block Island should be on your bucket list. We don't recommend Block Island as a beginner spearfishing destination, the water is often rough with strong current, but if you are a dedicated spearo, Block Island should be on your life goals list for spearfishing.

Maine

Spearfishing is legal in Maine. Maine's rocky coastline means you can find plenty of protected coves with calm water, and you are also allowed to free dive for Lobster in many areas. The water temperature in Maine can be very cold, which is why we recommend getting a 5mm wetsuit for Summer conditions to keep you comfortable.


What species to spearfish in New England

Some common and delicious species to spearfish in New England are Tautog (known as Blackfish), Striped Bass, Black Seabass, Scup, Pollock, Flounder, Fluke, and Bluefish. You may also harvest shellfish, such as Oysters, Scallops, Claims, Periwinkles, Lobster, and Crabs. New England also has many varieties of edible seaweed too, we wrote an article on that which you can read here. Each state will have different regulations for each species, you can Google the species, followed by the name of the state and "recreational" to understand the regulations around that species. For example "Tautog Rhode Island recreational regulations".


When to go spearfishing

Most people spearfish in late Spring, Summer, and early Fall in New England. During the winter the water becomes too cold, and most of the fish move to deeper depths. When picking your day, select one with low or offshore winds, and little to now waves in the forecast. Use Google Maps or Google Earth to find sheltered coves and spots you are interested in trying, study the spot and become familiar and remember, when in doubt, don't go out!


5 Tips for spearfishing in New England


  1. Don't go alone. Always dive with a buddy, and if you are serious about spearfishing, consider taking a class such as the FII Leve 1 Freediving Class.

  2. Get comfortable first. You don't need to bring a speargun every time, scouting and getting comfortable in the water is just as important. Consider snorkeling around a new spot before you actively hunt it.

  3. There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. New England is cold, and the ocean is not to be underestimated. Get the right gear so you are both safe and comfortable. Good gear will last many diving years.

  4. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Spearfishing is a lifelong pursuit of harvesting your food and connecting with the ocean. Remember, every time you go you will learn something, but you might not catch something.

  5. Build a relationship with Ocean. Hunting and harvesting must be a two-way relationship with the environment. Think of ways you can give back each time you go. Maybe that means removing trash you find, or buying your seafood and groceries from a local fisherman that goes back into the local economy. When you rely on an eco-system for your food, you realize just hor precious and fragile it is.

Conclusion

New England is an excellent place to spearfish and sustainably harvest your own food. Spearfishing Rhode Island is a 1 on 1 spearfish guiding experience where people can learn how to spearfish and harvest seafood safely and process their catch for eating. If you are interested in learning about spearfishing, check us out here at www.spearfishingRI.com or book a call with us here to talk about your goals with spearfishing and foraging.








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